SAP CTO On Reimagining Business

SAP’s strong technological assets and vision speak for a bright future, according to the company’s recently appointed CTO, Quentin Clark.

Behind SAP’s vision to “make the world run better and improve people’s lives,” there are minds within the company who pour a tremendous deal of thought and experience into the technological basis that will fulfill that promise. In Quentin Clark, SAP’s recently appointed chief technology officer, SAP is fortunate to have a leader with a proven track record in the areas where SAP must succeed in order to defend its current position: cloud, platform, and database. Clark joins SAP from Microsoft, where he worked his way through the ranks to lead the company’s data platform and business applications area.

The SAP CTO recently answered questions about his motivation for joining the company, the arduous but rewarding road to the cloud, and SAP’s golden opportunity to “re-imagine” business for its customers.

Q: After 20 years at Microsoft, you joined SAP in November 2014. What’s your impression so far?

A: The first thing I’ll say is that people here are amazing. I mean, you know, you have a lot of people that have been here for a long time, they’re very passionate, a lot of very smart people, and so I think the people at SAP are definitely one of its core assets. The other thing I would mention is the relationship with customers. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else in the industry.

Q: What’s different about SAP’s relationship with its customers?

A: Customers really have this trusted relationship with the company and it’s a partnership. Most other vendors will have an intellectual conversation with customer about how to use the software whereas SAP more or less puts its arms around the customer and asks “How do we solve this together?” I’ve really seen some amazing things since I’ve been here.

Q: You’ve said that SAP is holding some interesting cards in its hand. Which cards are those?

A: That question goes to the core of why I decided to join SAP. I believe that the entire enterprise software industry has to go through a massive change over the coming years. A piece of that is about changing the experience for every end user in any walk of life in the enterprise, and no one has really done it yet. In order to do that you need to have a combination of things. You need to have data that you can derive analytics from, and you need to be able to take action on things. It’s not enough just to be smart about something, you have to be able to do something about it, and this is of course where SAP has its incredible strengths.

We have the cornerstone of all the data and all the data questions the companies face and that’s a tremendous aspect to get moving forward with. We have the keys all to the kingdom on all the activities. For example, if you want to change a work schedule in retail or you want to change a pipeline likelihood on the sales side, we understand all that and have codified the business process. By leveraging that, we can actually make everything action-oriented, rather than just perform analytics. That’s this huge asset we have.

And the third point comes back to our customer relationships. Allowing enterprises to finding their own way to modernization is not as useful as us working with to discover how we can get there together. And so our trusted advisor role gives us the opportunity to really lead this change in the industry.

Q: You often talk about “reimagining business.” What does that term mean in the context of SAP and the recent launch of SAP S/4 HANA?

A: SAP S/4 HANA is one of the most important initiatives to come from this company in a long time. And the reason it’s going to empower the “re-imagining of business” is, I think, about two fundamental shifts. One shift is from a technology side. SAP HANA is a different category of database that allows you to do transactions and analytics on all the data. Most databases support only one or the other, but SAP HANA supports both inherently

There is another important piece, which is about the user experiences. At the SAP S/4 HANA launch event, Bernd Leukert demoed a watch that helps service technicians understand the right part to use, enabling them real-time access to the right information in the right context at the right time. This is no just about technology; we have to rethink how people should work. And as we do that, we can offer these solutions that people can’t imagine living without. Everything will become this contextual and real-time-driven sort of experience. And we have the opportunity to do that across all walks of life in the enterprise.

Q: You come from a company, which was entrenched in the cloud. What kind of mindset do you think SAP need in order to succeed?

A: We have to embrace the notion, and the opportunity, that competition is done every day, and no longer over long development cycles. But that means that you’re competing every day. You’re competing on the website, you’re competing with user experience, and you’re competing in a service. The good news in all this is that the service will tell you everything if you just figure how to listen to it. As customers use the system, it is generating all this rich information around how it’s going; you just have to learn to listen to it. And you need to listen to it every day.

Q: What do you think could be your major contribution to SAP?

A: One is this whole cloud transformation. It’s a journey we need to go through. And I think one thing that I can help with is just having been through that journey before. And it’s something that I’m eager to help with.

The other thing is in the platform space. We have this tremendous platform opportunity, even responsibility, as we really talk about SAP S/4HANA and how we want to extend it with SAP HANA Cloud Platform as the way forward. We have a tremendous responsibility to get this platform really right and it’s this tremendous economic opportunity as well. So my experience as an architect in the overall platform strategy and solution is another place where I’ll be focused.