Gero Bieser joined the SAP Industry Business Unit Utilities twenty years ago, in 1997. He is currently holding the position as Solution Expert in the Industry Business Unit Utilities focusing on how to leverage the latest SAP technology to integrate IT and OT systems to enable smart electricity and water networks.
I had the chance to interview Gero about his life inside and outside SAP.
Tell us about your life before joining SAP
Before I joined SAP in 1997 I worked on my PhD thesis at the Technical University of Munich. My group investigated what happens during photosynthesis during the first picoseconds, that means in the time range of 10-12 seconds. The final goal of this kind of research is the ability to build artificial photosynthesis to convert sunlight to electricity or to hydrogen for fuel cells. This is by the way still a research topic, with quite some progress in recent years.
And the topic of generating electricity with artificial photosynthesis lead you to work in the IBU Utilities at SAP?
Would be a nice story but it is not really true. Of course, if you study physics you probably have a bigger interest in the utility industry than in some other industries. But the main reason to join the IBU Utilities was a different one: In parallel to my work as a PhD I also wrote some articles for German newspapers and a science magazine and my first task at SAP therefore was to write the “Functions in Detail” document for the first release of the utility specific IS-U solution. Back in the 90ies these “Functions in Detail” were still pretty detailed hardcopies with up to 200 pages.
Typical work environment at a customer project – in this case Sao Paulo 2006
What have you experienced during your 20 years at SAP?
Though I have spent most of my time at SAP working for the IBU Utilities, the tasks and experiences have been very diverse. It was a mixture of supporting implementation projects at customers, conducting training courses, taking part in standard development projects and I also joined some research projects. In my opinion, you benefit a lot from these diverse experiences. If you work on site at the customer this helps you to run better training courses and vice versa. And the same is true for the input you can bring to development and research projects as this also benefits from experiences with the customer.
Which of these activities did you enjoy the most?
During an IS-U training course in 2004
Difficult to answer. In any case I would never like to only run training courses or only work on development projects. It is really the mixture that makes work interesting in the IBU Utilities. There is however one aspect that was special for the training courses: You get instant feedback if you meet the expectations of the participants during the training and afterwards in the evaluation. This can sometimes be a bit sobering but also very rewarding.
I remember one training in Ireland when I explained the SAP Variant Configuration and could see that I lost the participants with my typical service connection example. We then went for the lunch break in a sandwich bar, where we had to choose the type of bread, the salad, the dressing and the meat – and thus configured our sandwich. After lunch I explained the SAP Variant Configuration again, this time using the sandwich configuration example. Now everybody seemed to understand the concept and the atmosphere in the course was especially pleasant for the remaining days.
What have been the biggest changes in the last 20 years?
There have been of course all these changes in the utility industry, that you hear about in many articles and conference presentations like deregulation, smart meters and grids, renewable energy and so on. The industry has really changed completely.
And there were also big changes in IT industry and in the way, how we all work and live. A tiny example that comes to my mind: During my first customer implementation project in 1998 the consulting team shared one analogue modem connection that allowed us to synchronize our emails once or twice a day. You could more or less personally welcome every bit arriving through that connection. In no way comparable to today’s smartphone experience.
Where do you think the industry is going and how can SAP help the utility industry in the next 20 years?
The only thing I am pretty sure of is that change will not slow down. I believe that it will get even faster and in addition the focus will shift from electric utilities also to gas and water utilities. I can’t predict which of the current hype topics like Blockchain, Machine Learning or Prescriptive Maintenance will affect the utility industry most and which other topics will arise during the next years. But in my opinion a solid basis of consistent data from all kind of data sources, the possibility to process and analyze the data in the most performant way, and drive activities and support decisions based on this analyzes will always be the cornerstone. By providing these capabilities SAP will support the utility industry also in the next 20 years.
Thank you, Gero for giving us insights to your life!