Interview with SAP’s Muhammad Alam: Transforming for the Future

Muhammad Alam joined SAP from Microsoft on January 31 as president and head of product engineering for Intelligent Spend and Business Network. In this role, he leads the engineering and design teams focused on procurement in SAP Ariba solutions and SAP S/4HANA, travel and expense solutions in the SAP Concur portfolio, our external workforce solution in the SAP Fieldglass portfolio, as well as SAP Business Network.

Almost three months into the new role, I caught up with Alam to hear about how he is adapting to life at SAP and his priorities for the coming months.

Q: Having spent the last 17 years working in a variety of roles at Microsoft, what attracted you to SAP?

A: In the spirit of being open, transparent, and honest, I must admit that after being with Microsoft for so long it was a difficult decision to leave for this new opportunity with SAP. I think the single biggest reason I joined SAP was because I see a clear opportunity for us as an organization to fundamentally transform how business applications will work in the future. If I look around, there’s no other company in the world with the depth in business applications that SAP has. No other company really knows the business application space as well as SAP and, if we marry our intellect with the depth and breadth of SAP Business Network, that could really be fundamentally transformative.

Another reason I chose to move to SAP is the leadership team. The drive to succeed and collective intelligence, along with the extensive knowledge that Christian Klein and Thomas Saueressig have in this business, is phenomenal. Not to mention their customer-first attitude and their emphasis on driving a positive culture across the organization – two focus areas I am also extremely passionate about. I want to be part of really transforming something that the industry hasn’t seen and do this with a set of leaders that are committed to the same goal. I am grateful to be in this position, working with highly talented folks to drive transformational change in an environment that’s fun.

How will your previous experience help shape your new role?

I see the experience and lessons that I learned from working on Microsoft’s transformation helping with SAP’s transformation. As part of Microsoft’s holistic transformation, we asked ourselves many in-depth questions including how and why the products are built, who they are built for, and what the fundamentals of the product are. We also wanted to understand what our current engagement models look like, both externally with our customers and partners and internally with all teams extending from engineering to sales and support. We questioned how we should engage in today’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) world and what was needed to get there. So, my transformation experience is one element that will be extremely relevant here as we look to the next chapter of what SAP can become.

My experience is one thing I can carry into this new role, but my learnings are a core part of that too, such as the importance of user experience (UX) and making sure users can use product features in a way that’s intuitive and can add value to what they’re trying to do. Ensuring UX availability, reliability, and product integration is essential so the value that our customers get from our solutions really gets exponentially charged. Compliance is also another extremely important topic that I will focus on. Not only making sure we are compliant, but also ensuring products are available in the geographies where they are needed and executing on that with a continuous customer-first mindset.

We must drive product innovation, making sure we add value for our customers and help them with whatever challenges they are facing. I want to be relentless in this space, making sure we continue improving our products by making them more intelligent and value-based for our customers.

Can you share some insight on what we can expect from the Intelligent Spend and Business Network Product Engineering team over the coming months?

SAP has a compelling strategy, along with an undeniable set of market-leading products. We will continue to improve UX, making our products more intuitive, while also looking at opportunities to invest in artificial intelligence across all spend categories so our customers can derive maximum value.

I will also have a strong focus and an acute level of execution on our fundamentals, including UX mentioned above as well as integration, hyperscaler migration, availability, and performance and platform adoption. These are non-negotiables that only show their importance and impact when they are broken. Compliance, security, and regional availability are also key parts of our strategic plan. We will uphold the promise we made to our customers who depend on our solutions to help solve their challenges and move their business forward.

I always think of the quote from Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It does not matter what our plans are or what we want to achieve, because if we don’t have the right team with the right culture, we cannot deliver. Shaping the right team for long-term success is of utmost importance to me, and it’s something I have already started working on with my leadership team.


Sarah Dolan is part of Corporate Communications for Intelligent Spend and Business Network at SAP.