SAP.info: The role of Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) is a relatively new one at SAP. At this time, there are only a handful of SAP regional market units looking at having CINOs: UK & Ireland, France, Belux, Netherlands, Italy, and Nordics. What is the purpose of this role, and how did SAP decide which markets to introduce it in?
Adrian Simpson: The main purpose of the role is for us to help spread the word about SAP innovation and product strategy to our customers, partners, influencers, and SAP employees. It is a spokesperson type of role, sometimes called Chief Technology Architect.
Not just an ERP company: Shaping SAP perception as a leading innovator
What we are really trying to achieve with it is to help shape the perception of SAP in the market as a leading technology innovator, showing the strength of our portfolio against people’s perceptions of SAP as just an ERP company. SAP has changed massively over the last few years and we need to be able to articulate the importance of these changes to our customers.
The role is in a pilot program at the moment. We want to see if this is a role that could be successful for SAP. The regional markets it’s being introduced in meet certain criteria: for example, is there an appetite to invest in this kind of role in the market? Is it the right size of market unit? Has it got the right kind of growth profile? Is there the capability within the SAP organization to have this kind of role? So, the decision where to introduce the role is being linked to capability and desire within those regional market units, and to find out if the role adds value to the organization.
…would you say this is an evangelism role?
Simpson: It’s slightly different. Evangelism is part of the role definitely, but I think there are other things that go with it, as well. The difference for me is around the thought leadership angle. This is not just us evangelizing about what SAP does. It’s actually about us having opinions on what’s happening in the industry, technology, and the trends in the marketplace.
What is your motivation to do this work?
Simpson: For me the motivation is the joy I get when talking to a customer, and I can see there’s a light bulb moment and they say, “I get it. I understand why you’re moving in that direction. I understand its value to me as a customer of SAP.”
That to me is so satisfying – that I am able to bring knowledge and information that allows people to do something new, to understand how we as SAP can support them in their journey. That to me is the most enthusiastic part of the role.
UK & Ireland User Conference: the importance of major events
What are the customer-facing responsibilities of this role? In terms of customer interaction, why are big events like the UK & Ireland User Conference important for you?
Simpson: That really splits into two parts. The customer events are really important for us to be able to reach a large number of customers, and to be able to spend time having 1:1 conversations, as well. These kinds of events are good for the high-level strategy presentations and views that we offer.
The UK & Ireland SAP User Group in particular is great because it is something that is run independently of SAP. That’s also important for us – that we are looking at how we can communicate not only to the people we would normally speak to, but also to the people who might not think of SAP in a particular space. That’s a really important part of the role.
Next page: How the CINO supports partner co-innovation
Customer interaction for me centers on the 1:1 meetings I have with a particular customer around our product strategy and how that aligns to their industry, their situation, and their future plans. That is a very important part of the role for me – spending time individually with the customers, understanding their pain points, understanding their challenges, and being able to articulate how SAP’s innovation agenda can support them and solve problems for them.
In recent years at SAP, we have placed increased emphasis on the role of partner co-innovation in SAP strategy. How does the CINO support this effort? Would you consider partners to be an important audience for your work?
Simpson: Yes, definitely. Partners are absolutely key to what we are doing here. Partners are often on the cutting edge of what we are doing in development. They are the people who are in effect beta testing for us and really uncovering how the technology works and how it can be enabled. From my experience in the UK, we’ve got some really innovative partners who are willing to invest very early, willing to try things out, willing to work with their customers on how this might be useful – and they really bring that scale in ability that SAP couldn’t achieve on its own. It’s really important that partners are supported on that and understand the value they bring to SAP, because we can’t do it on our own. We have to do it with partners.
Speed of innovation: the value for SAP customers
Within the last 3 years, SAP has reduced the cycle for the release of major innovations from 14.7 months to 7.4 months. What implications does this new “speed of innovation” have for the customer?
Simpson: On the positive side, we are therefore quicker to market; we’re quicker to react to industry trends; we’re able to bring innovations to market much quicker – and therefore the value customers get from these innovations is accelerated. These are all absolutely positive things to do.
At the same time, customers are telling us it’s difficult for them to keep up with our speed. We’ve done a lot of work and made a lot of progress in how we can make those innovations non-disruptive to our customers’ businesses. I think we are really unique in that respect, compared to our competitors.
We are in the second wave of digital business, owing largely to the Internet of Things and Big Data analytics. What can CEOs do to move to a more adaptive, flexible, data-driven business?
Simpson: This is a really hard dilemma for CEOs of our customers. On the one hand, they need to reduce costs in their existing environments. On the other hand, they need to look at innovation and think about where the next market trend is coming from, and what their competitors are doing.
I think there is a decision to be made on how you invest in the latest technologies and on how you use innovation to unlock business value. It’s around looking for differentiators. What can you do as an organization differently from your competitors that would differentiate your business in the market? There are lots of trends in the various industries that could apply. For example, in the retail industry: the concept of real-time offer management, and real-time stock and inventory management. There are things that apply to each and every industry we work in to help them unlock that business value and differentiate themselves from what everyone else is doing.
Disruptive technologies around cloud, Big Data, and mobility; M2M acceleration
What are your predictions for disruptive technologies in 2014?
Simpson: I think we’ll see a continuation of the current disruptive technologies – particularly around cloud, Big Data, and mobility. I also think we will see further adoption of social media, particularly for organizations that are consumer facing. I think we will see much more adoption of bringing social aspects into how companies interact with their customers.
There is one trend that has been talked about but hasn’t really taken off yet. That’s machine-to-machine communication. I expect we will see acceleration around this in 2014. I think we’re going to move much more into a connected world this year and see some exciting developments in how embedded technology communicates with other embedded technology.