The Naked IT interview series talks with innovators about the evolving relationship between IT and business. Please listen to the audio podcast and enjoy the brief excerpts below.
Vishal Sikka is SAP's Chief Technology Officer. Reporting directly to CEO Henning Kagermann, Vishal is responsible for driving technology and architecture strategy across SAP's product portfolio. As CTO, Vishal also leads the company's forward-thinking efforts around emerging technologies and is responsible for mapping SAP's next-generation architecture. He holds a Ph.D. degree in computer science from Stanford University and his experience includes research in automatic programming, information and application integration, and artificial intelligence at Stanford, Xerox Palo Alto Labs and two startups.
Vishal and I spoke about a broad range of enterprise software issues, including his role as CTO of SAP, service-oriented architecture (SOA), relationships between business and technical organizations in the enterprise, IT project failures, SAP's acquisition of Business Objects, and Business byDesign.
If you're interested in CIO or CTO issues, give the podcast a careful listen; it's well worth your time and attention!
On being CTO:
My primary job is to define and articulate the roadmap for our products and technology, bringing coherence and uniformity to the way we govern our architecture and over-arching product design.
On packaged applications:
The basic idea of a packaged application is one size fits all, serving a wide variety of customers. You get economies of scale from packaging that application, functionality, and so forth....Having a packaged application suite that simultaneously fills the need across that broad diversity of industry, country, nature of business...is a very, very difficult problem. There have been generations of companies that have tried to do this and failed. Simultaneously reaching for breadth, depth, and ease of use killed these other companies.
On IT / business alignment:
Lines of business know the what and IT knows the how. Companies in which this "what / how" distinction is broken tend to have difficulties. You have to empower the lines of business and the IT guys....trusting the IT guys know the how and lines of business can articulate the what....The business [should] tell IT the nature of the problem to solve; IT [should] then bring in tools and platforms to [address them].
You [develop] strategic IT by bringing the line of business and the IT guys together to the table [with] mutual respect and empowerment.
On IT extinction:
That is just nonsense.
On reducing IT failures with enterprise SOA:
[SAP combines] IT simplification (technical visibility) with business transformation. Implementation maps [along with] the enterprise services repository and its process capabilities...help get solutions get adopted very quickly [and with lower risk]. The services repository gives [stakeholders] a very public and visible way of seeing how their business relates to the software.
[Stakeholders] can also [share] with other business process experts to get a sense of what others are doing, which Hasso [Plattner], our founder, refers to as "doing business with an open window." Seeing what other people have done, sharing experiences, [provides] extra visibility into [how the software relates] to the business, making the entire process much more seamless, and reducing project failure.
On the Business Objects acquisition:
We closed the strategy to execution loop, which CEOs , CFOs, CIOs, and heads of operations are badly missing....Closing that loop between strategy and execution is something that Business Objects really enables us to do.
The user-centric and the information-centric aspects are fundamental....We want to be in activities that business users [perform]; that are not directly operational, but informational, in nature. We are going to get there faster than any of the other guys.
On innovation in enterprise software:
If you have applications that serve core business processes and live for ten or fifteen years, how do you bring innovation that is non-disruptive to customers? We deliver innovation in consumable packages twice a year in enhancement packs, which also include technology improvements; this is a non-disruptive roadmap for [customers] to continuously innovate. [It's] a mechanism for delivering innovation while preserving stability; of delivering insight while preserving execution.
On Business byDesign:
Salesforce.com talks about adapting and so forth, but doesn't cover even a tiny fraction of the breadth of [SAP's product suite]. On-demand to us is an interesting delivery mechanism.... [However, Business byDesign represents] a more profound shift....
A few years ago we launched an effort to rethink how we build the core software;...it was our generational look at what has to happen inside the core processes. Business byDesign is our mid-market delivery of that vision...It represents a fundamentally modular way of building software that no one in the industry has ever dreamed of building. It is designed for the mid-market but has implications beyond that.