At SAP’s 50th anniversary celebration, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann called for cooperation between the government and the digital economy.

There was plenty of reason to celebrate on Friday evening at the SAP Arena in Mannheim, close to SAP’s German headquarters in Walldorf. Today, 50 years after it was founded, SAP is the most successful German software company and the flagship of the German digital economy, Scholz said in a speech to some 850 invited guests.

SAP’s founding in 1972 was in keeping with the spirit of the times, the chancellor said. Enthusiasm for technological innovation, a spirit of renewal, and a political thaw during the Cold War shaped the world when the five SAP founders sparked their own revolution with an idea. With standard software that maps all of a company’s business processes and makes data available in real time, they turned their startup company into the third largest independent software supplier in the world.

“Today, once again, we are experiencing tectonic shifts at high speed,” Scholz said. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has far-reaching consequences for security, energy supplies, and the global economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused profound social, political, and economic changes, he said.

At the same time, Germany is currently experiencing the biggest transformation of its economy since the beginning of industrialization. “The transformation toward a digital and climate-neutral economy is both a challenge and a solution to current problems,” Scholz said.

He appealed for cooperation between the government and the private sector to harness potential from research and innovation. The Corona-Warn-App developed by SAP is just one example of the potential in digital solutions, he said.

Executive Board of SAP SE with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann

Innovation Creates Hope

“The speed with which we are able to introduce innovation into society is of central importance to our competitiveness,” Scholz explained. In crisis situations, there is always a danger that “many cling to the past,” the chancellor said. But now, he said, we are in “a remarkable phase” in which this is not happening. Steelworkers demand that their companies invest in new production technologies to remain competitive, he said. Workers in the automotive industry expect more commitment to electromobility from their corporations.

“If we can manage to move society forward with innovation, then we can create hope for our society, which is so existential,” Scholz said.

Digital education is also an immensely important topic for mastering the challenges of the future, explained economics professor Ann-Kristin Achleitner. She took part in a roundtable discussion with Scholz and SAP CEO Christian Klein.

However, digital education should not be reduced to equipping students with devices. Instead, it is about promoting digital skills, such as the ability to work in an agile manner. Like Klein, she is a member of the German government’s newly founded Future Council, which promotes innovation and dialogue between industry and science.

Klein, too, pleaded for close cooperation between government, business, and science. Only through cooperation can we find “global answers to global challenges,” he said.

SAP CEO Christian Klein with Kretschmann and Scholz

“Democracy, Freedom, Peace”

Kretschmann, Prime Minister of Germany’s state of Baden-Württemberg, also sees SAP‘s anniversary year as a turning point in history. The turn of the times is not leaving SAP unscathed, Kretschmann emphasized. Europe must do everything in its power to control supply chains, become more independent in terms of raw materials and energy, and be independent and capable of acting in key areas.

One of those fields, he said, is information technology. “We have to be able to imprint our own code on the algorithms, and this code is democracy, freedom, peace.” In this regard, he said, policymakers are relying on close cooperation with the digital economy. For example, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who is working on a national security strategy, recently visited SAP.

“The future will demand a lot from us,” the prime minister explained. But he added that good solutions can be found by taking one’s blinders off, talking openly to each other, and developing tailor-made solutions together.

Cofounders Hasso Plattner and Dietmar Hopp with Scholz and Kretschmann

Collegial Culture and the Courage to Change

Solutions and a customer focus have always been at the heart of SAP’s credo, Christian said. These values have made SAP what it is today, and “we must always hold on to this part of our DNA.” He himself learned from the founders the courage to change, challenge the status quo and “the ability to reinvent yourself again and again.”

In the past, technological advances, such as the switch from SAP R/2 to SAP R/3, or global expansion have repeatedly required a bold approach from the company’s leadership. This is also true for SAP’s current move to a cloud-based strategy, which means a paradigm shift for the company.

It’s not always easy to convince customers of the need for change because they are so satisfied with their existing SAP systems, Prime Minister Kretschmann explained, referring to customers that hesitate when it comes to SAP’s shift to the cloud. “The best is the enemy of the good, so SAP has to beat itself, so to speak,” he said.

Despite the current transformation we’re facing, Klein said, one must not forget to treat each other with respect and understanding, which is also a big part of SAP’s DNA. Referring to the company’s collegial culture as an inherent strength, he said only as a team can you meet the challenges that lie ahead. “In these difficult times, we need more togetherness and the courage to change.”

Photos courtesy of Ingo Cordes