Colleague Focus: Catching Up With Tarun Luthra, Director of Technology (Mobility/Integration), CoE NA
Name: Tarun Luthra
Team/Title: Director of Technology (Mobility/Integration)
Based out of: Newtown Square, PA
What is your background with regards to your career at SAP?
I started at SAP in 2003 so this is my tenth year anniversary at both SAP and Active Global Support (AGS). Currently I’m the director of technology in CoE responsible for mobile, middleware/integration solutions and Cloud topics dealing mainly with innovation topics.
What aspect of your work do you consider to be the most rewarding?
What I like most about my work is the variety of challenges we are confronted on a day-to-day basis. I get a kick out of going and managing critical situations at a variety of customers that have diverse pain points. For example, at times I am solving technical problems, and then I could be talking to the CIO, or managing employees. The diversity of things I get to do in my role in AGS is what keeps me running.
What do you think it takes to be a successful leader in COE?
I firmly believe there are no shortcuts in life. You have to go through different rungs of the ladder to be a successful leader. Leadership in AGS means not just understanding customer issues, but driving a customer in a direction that works towards resolving those issues. To be truly successful leader in AGS you must demonstrate the technical and leadership skills as a role model and walk the talk. To quote Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Leadership: the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he/she wants to do it”.
You are currently the director of CoE Mobility, Frontend and Integration. Can you tell me a little about what you and your colleagues do?
We handle a wide variety of tasks as I like to do. We handle escalations, services for customer projects, and co-innovation with customers who develop new solutions on mobile development solutions and cloud. Not only are we delivering traditional safeguarding services, we also drive new innovation topics where we can go out and do co-innovations for customers.
Obviously Cloud technology is something that people are very excited about right now. Where do you see that going and what is the potential for that?
The Cloud is not hype anymore; it’s inevitable, and I think SAP has taken that lead. SAP is taking a holistic and integrated approach to Cloud. The main strategy is HANA on Cloud, which means deploying not only Business Suite applications but also custom HANA applications to support real time business on a managed cloud environment. SAP also offers other cloud based solutions for procurement (Ariba), HCM (SuccessFactors) and BusinessByDesign solutions. However, it is important to remember cloud adoption (especially public cloud) could take some time because customers are little skeptical for security reasons. The customers will start with topics like procurement or recruitment or talent management, which are not as mission critical/data sensitive. In AGS from a MaxAttention perspective we are responsible for making sure the integration happens between on premise and the Cloud on demand solution. We are first looking at the integration aspect and next will be functionality Ariba and SuccessFactors. The future direction of SAP is Cloud-based solutions powered by the HANA platform.
What is something you are working on right now that you are excited about?
I’ve moved within the organization across different roles supporting a variety of products and technologies, and to be honest that keeps me motivated. In the last two years we worked on mobile, starting from ground-up to a point where we are the best in class experts. In the Integration team we are starting to work on the Cloud integration and HANA Data Services. The team is very strong and excited to work on innovation topics. I am also involved in a program to help increase HANA Platform adoption at key customers in the region. We will do that by delivering value proposition story to customers as a workshop that helps the customers develop their roadmap for HANA projects. The AGS strategy shift towards co-innovation is certainly something that puts a lot of liability on delivery teams but keeps us ahead of the curve. After success with mobile delivery, I believe that we can do anything and everything.
What motivates you to be successful?
Since childhood I am deeply influenced by the lines from Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” I feel the same is applicable to my professional career today, I like changes and diversity, I like to be more in the uncomfortable zone going out and learning new stuff be it for technical topics or leadership or managing teams. Recognition and acknowledgement from management is another aspect that keeps me in overdrive. We have a culture in SAP that recognizes and rewards top talents for individual as well as team achievements. The experience I’ve gained going through the ranks from management/subordinates and peers, I like to give those teachings back to my own teams and build next leaders in the organization.
What made you decide you wanted to pursue the leadership path?
The nature of my work instilled in me that I had those leadership skills. For example, when you go on escalations it’s not just about solving problems; it’s about managing a customer and communicating with them and leading the escalation team to make sure the escalation is successful in the end. Going through those iterations I started to feel that this was something I could do and of course it’s the next logical progression as well. What I’ve realized in the last few years is if you motivate your team and align them with organization’s vision/strategy, they will not only achieve but over-achieve the objectives. Like I said before, there are no shortcuts in life and at this point in time I feel I made the right move into a leadership position.
You mentioned that you have a talent for picking the right people for your team. What do you look for, for someone in CoE?
The most important thing for us in leadership roles is identifying individuals with a right balance of required technical skills but more importantly right behavioral skills and attitude. In AGS you have to be flexible to come into work any day and fly out to a customer the same day away from your family and not know when you will be back. We need people who have the fire and attitude where they are ready to take on challenges with short notice and manage customer situations. The most important thing is to be able to see when hiring somebody do they have that DNA, do that have that attitude, do they have those kind of leadership skills or the potential to develop such leadership skills.
How do you motivate your team?
I believe in the philosophy of transformational leadership, providing an environment that motivates employees to achieve performance beyond existing goals and expectations and to consider new ways of performing their tasks. First you need to have the right people with right attitude, followed bycoaching. You need to be able to know what each team member is aspiring for and motivating them by giving them new challenges. I believe in providing team members autonomy so that they feel empowered and accountable to lead themselves. Another important aspect of motivating employees is to give feedback as a mentor/coach, otherwise they keep making the same mistakes and will not grow to realize their potential. I always believe in transparency and clarity as if the employee feels aligned with the objectives they will be more focused on the work. Employee engagement in today’s corporate world is a key differentiator between successful and unsuccessful organizations, engagement is energized and sustained by intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivation something that keeps the team members doing their best even when nobody is overseeing them. We have in COE developed a very healthy competition in our talent fostered by frequent reward and recognitions based on achievements and performance. I believe this has helped in developing a culture of engagement and success.
What would you like to see for the future of CoE?
I am very excited with the new direction of co-innovation in AGS that we are going in with. We are not only solving problems, but co-innovating solutions on the innovation platforms (HANA, Mobile and Cloud). I think it’s very important that AGS takes the lead and sets an example. We have customers where we are already going out and doing co-innovation. It’s not like we are competing with our own consulting organization, but our efforts will only open new avenues for SAP sales to get new contracts. However this puts a sense of liability on COE to develop new skills with the change of direction as COE is heart of AGS delivery and a key component in the overall picture. We have to adapt our skills according to the shift in strategy. In the past few years as MaxAttention we were very close to IT with our safeguarding programs. But with the new trend of cloud based model, we have to now work more closely with business, to understand their pain points and help deliver solutions to their requirements. We are almost at an inflection point and with the divergence of new trends will need to empower the COE engineers and architects to go outside our comfort zone develop new skills far more end-to-end than before.