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“IT plus cloud equals perfect synergy” – an interview with SAP CIO Ingrid-Helen Arnold

Originally published by Andreas Schmitz, SAP News, on September 5, 2014


Ingrid-Helen Arnold was appointed CIO and member of Global Managing Board of SAP SE in May 2014. A business administration graduate, she advocates mentoring, values the trial-and-error approach, and is proud of SAP Simple Finance, which she describes as “nothing short of revolutionary.” We reflect on her first 100 days in office.

SAP: Since becoming CIO, you’ve covered a great deal of ground. Are you satisfied with your first three months as head of IT for the SAP Group?

Arnold: The first 100 days in my new role as CIO and member of the Global Managing Board (Editor’s note: comprising the Executive Board of SAP SE and selected additional members) have been very exciting. And strenuous too. But in a positive way. I attended SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando and took part in Hasso Plattner’s keynote. It was my job to present the SAP Simple Finance solution, which my team and I were responsible for implementing internally at SAP. I also participated in my first SAPPHIRE NOW press conference, which was a completely new experience for me: I’m still a bit of a novice when it comes to that kind of public relations work. But that will soon change!

While I was in Brazil, I had the opportunity to speak to Germany’s Federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, meet with Latin American customers, and watch the German soccer team play in the World Cup final. I’ve also held extensive meetings with my team to discuss how we will address the tasks that lie ahead.  And, take it from me, there’s plenty to be done!

You’ve been at SAP for 18 years now. Which of your roles have made the most lasting impression on you?

From 2012 through 2013, I headed Enterprise Analytics & Innovative Solutions at SAP ― an area that is very important for the company because it is responsible for driving the adoption of innovative SAP solutions (such as SAP Simple Finance) internally, before they go on to be implemented for customers. That’s a mammoth undertaking. By working in close alignment with development on innovative projects, the team is always able to fine-tune solutions to ensure that they function correctly. SAP can then adopt these best practices when it is implementing solutions for its customers. Which means that implementations are both effective and fast.

SAP’s CIO is responsible not only for IT, but also for SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud and for cloud operations. Surely managing IT at a multi-billion-dollar corporation is a big enough job in its own right, isn’t it?

SAP is on track to becoming THE cloud company powered by SAP HANA. That, if you will, is our mission and our primary ambition. And we’re well on the way to achieving it. Our second-quarter figures are evidence of that: We’re the fastest-growing cloud company, with cloud subscriptions and support revenue increasing 39%. We already have more than 38 million users in the cloud. And we’ve raised our full-year 2014 cloud subscriptions and support run rate to between €1 billion and €1.05 billion.

“For me, the combination of IT and cloud creates the perfect synergy.”
Success in the cloud depends on having the right IT infrastructure …?

Exactly. So we need a cloud team that provides reliable and secure data centers in which our customers can use our cloud software and that also offers the delivery methods our customers want: public cloud (such as SuccessFactors and Ariba), private cloud (such as the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud), and hybrid environments that incorporate on-premise solutions as well. That’s where our strength lies. Our IT teams have years of experience in ensuring that SAP’s infrastructure and data centers run smoothly 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. SAP’s expertise in this area is unparalleled. For me, the combination of IT and cloud creates the perfect synergy. And I can assure you that I am immensely proud of the work that these teams do.

Adapting innovations internally was one of your core tasks: Can you give us a couple of examples?

We implemented SAP HANA Analytics and SAP Business Suite internally on the SAP HANA platform. As a result, all of SAP’s business-critical systems now run in the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud. And if I can just refer back to the Q2 figures for a moment, we now have 1,200 customers for SAP Business Suite powered by SAP HANA – a tally that is growing all the time.

At SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando, I was joined on stage by fellow CIOs from John Deere (the global market leader in agricultural machinery) and ConAgra (one of North America’s largest food companies). Both enterprises have been with us on our SAP HANA journey for many years. Their respective CIOs told the audience how SAP HANA assists them in identifying issues in production, in maintenance, and in the entire process sooner, in triggering countermeasures, and thus in enabling their customers to make better use of the services they provide. And, even more importantly for these companies, SAP HANA gives them up-to-date analyses on which to base their future planning. This is a major business benefit that was simply never open to them in the past. That’s innovation.

You recently implemented SAP Simple Finance internally. How significant is it for SAP?

Taking an entire core application from SAP Business Suite to the cloud is a massive step. But we’ve eliminated data silos and, in so doing, created a homogeneous, simplified data structure and basis. From the finance and accounting perspective, that’s nothing short of revolutionary, because it means we can work at line-item level, without repeated reconciliations. Consequently, we can complete a quarterly financial close much faster than before and, thanks to a simplified user interface, the system is much easier and quicker for personnel to work with. We expect this solution to really shake the market up. And that is what is meant by the “Run Simple” message that CEO Bill McDermott presented so impressively in his SAPPHIRE NOW keynote.

SAP Simple Finance: “From the finance and accounting perspective, it’s nothing short of revolutionary.”
Can you think of examples of solutions that didn’t yield results but that were helpful from a trial-and-error point of view?

You always experience that scenario when you’re developing a solution ― and even when you get as far as implementing it. I wouldn’t wish to single out any particular solution here.  The important thing is that you learn from your mistakes. That’s the basis for the entire design thinking principle that SAP operates by: Make your mistakes early on so that you can avoid them further down the line. Getting things wrong is not a crime. Far from it. However, it would be wrong not to learn from your mistakes and to carry on making the same ones over and over again. But that applies to life in general – not just to IT (she laughs).

What is SAP doing to foster talent?

We have set up special programs to attract talented young people – both male and female – to our organization and to help them develop and grow professionally. Stefan Ries is an exceptionally good Chief Human Resources Officer, who is right behind the cause of fostering talent at SAP. Not only that, but we have an excellent diversity officer in Anka Wittenberg and a very well organized Business Women’s Network that encompasses all SAP locations. We value all the generations within and outside of SAP, and we place great emphasis on “inclusion” – in other words, on bringing together and harnessing the diverse forces and resources of all groups and employees within SAP. The reason why we have such a huge pool of talented people in our company is that we nurture a healthy mix. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, if you don’t have a mentor with extensive professional and life experience to point you in the right direction now and again, you won’t get far. That is my firm belief.

If I’ve understood you correctly, SAP is making strong progress in encouraging women into management roles. What, in your view, needs to happen to make jobs in IT more attractive to women generally?

IT is an attractive profession for women. It offers a broad spectrum of opportunities. And I’m not just saying that. I’m living proof that it’s true. But I do agree with you that women are still an underrepresented group in the IT sector. And there’s no escaping the fact that you do need an affinity with IT if you want to work in this industry. That applies equally to men and women (she grins). If you are passionate and enthusiastic about all things IT, then SAP is a great place to work ― no matter what your gender.

“There’s no escaping the fact that you do need an affinity with IT if you want to work in this industry.”
SAP recently staged a hackathon with the Berlin Geekettes. What was the idea behind this event?

Our aim was to offer a podium for talented female IT innovators. Taking “Talent and Technology Solving Today’s Challenges” as their motto, developers and designers had the opportunity to work together to create innovative solutions and spend an entire weekend turning the vision of a “digital city” into reality. The SAP Innovation Center in Potsdam, near Berlin, provided the ideal venue. And the hackathon actually killed two birds with one stone, because it addressed a large number of talented young female innovators and presented SAP as a desirable place to work at the same time. It was a great success.

As I mentioned earlier, the Business Women’s Network provides a valuable platform for exchange in-house, making it much easier for women to find their feet at SAP. I’m delighted to be able to support the virtual Business Women’s Network and help women be successful in management roles. Finally, I’d like to stress one very important point. In today’s working world, the home office is a reality. We must make sure that we make full use of all that technology has to offer to help people who work from home and improve their feeling of inclusion.

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