Driving an Information Culture at SAP
SAP has always been a metric driven organization, and systems have long been in place to track data and provide operational reporting. Yet, SAP’s global sales organization did not have an information culture. Information was available to executives, but it was not pervasively available to all levels of the organization to be used by employees in the course of daily decision making.
In 2010, SAP made headlines as one of the corporate early adopters of the iPad with its decision to roll out 1,000 iPads to the business. These iPads were deployed primarily to executives in the field organization, providing those executives easy access to their email and business applications – including access to business intelligence – while they were traveling. This started SAP on the path to the first key success factor in building an information culture: bringing information and people closer together.
When the first 1,000 iPads were rolled out, they were initially rolled out to executives, and this leads to the second success factor in building an information culture: executive support. SAP was already using reports to drive and measure the success of the business. Operations teams were primarily responsible for running the reports and providing information to the business. With the availability of business intelligence on iPads – and in real time – executives now had the latest information at their fingertips.
This led to a slightly unsettling dynamic in business meetings. Gone were the days when a business manager could carefully compose a presentation highlighting only the really good metrics from their business while quietly sweeping the unpleasant bits under the carpet. During meetings executives started to drill in to the data and ask (sometimes uncomfortable) questions about what was happening in the business NOW.
Well, the only way to fight information is with information. If your executive is going to be hitting you with real time information during your business review, you had better have real time information to hit back with. This started a cascade of demand for information throughout the organization. First, real time information was being flung around business review meetings at the top executive level, then at the business unit level and eventually the account planning level. Soon enough the entire organization was having information centered conversations.
None of this would have been possible without the third key success factor in driving an information culture: the investment in expertise and support behind the technology. Information is only valuable when it is accurate, presented in the right context and understandable. The team responsible for the analytics program had to understand the business, know the data and ensure that analytics were presenting a single (and accurate) version of truth to the business. Continued stewardship of the information is required to ensure data is collected accurately and information spaces are updated to reflect business needs. Training and communication also enable employees to be aware of available information resources and learn them quickly. Without this foundation of support, SAP’s information culture might risk becoming a misinformation culture.
Today, SAP has deployed over 23,000 iPads across the organization. Data is no longer restricted to the executive level; it is in the hands (quite literally via the iPad) of every field employee, and when employees ask questions, they turn to that information to help them get answers. How SAP made the shift towards an information culture in its global sales organization was through bringing information closer to all employees, creating executive champions and building a strong foundation of information support.