SAP's Helen Arnold on why women make great CIOs

During a conversation at SAP Sapphire, Arnold opened up about women in the board room and how she's putting SAP's own software to work inside the company.

ORLANDO -- For SAP's chief information officer Helen Arnold, preparations for the company's annual Sapphire Now user conference were especially daunting.

SAP CIO Helen Arnold

Over the last three months, Arnold led SAP's internal deployment of S4/HANA, the company's revamped business suite. The goal was to have the platform fully deployed before Sapphire kicked off this past Tuesday -- and it came right down to the wire.

SAP went live on S4/HANA on Monday.

"There was a huge celebration," Arnold said, referring to the process as a "condensed three month exercise."

In addition to her role as SAP's IT chief, Arnold is also a member of its Global Managing Board. This means she not only oversees the company's IT functions, but she's also involved in charting SAP's strategic direction.

Those positions give Arnold an incredible amount of influence at SAP, and make her somewhat of a unicorn. Arnold is the only female in SAP's executive ranks and on its board, and while she jokingly refers to the SAP team as her boy's club, she lamented the lack of women found in similar roles.

"Women connect differently, we can be more empathetic," Arnold said. "And that is where I think women have a particular asset to bring to the table."

"Being a CIO is the most exciting role you could imagine because it's always about innovation," she continued. "It's not just about technology. It requires collaboration across all different roles and all different functions across an organization."

On the CIO level, Arnold operates in close coordination with SAP's development teams, often implementing new releases of SAP software before they roll out to customers. By using SAP as a sort of software guinea pig, Arnold is able to pinpoint problems before they're passed along to customers.

"We are usually the first ones going through it and ironing out the issues," she said. "We did this with HANA, for SimpleFinance, S4 and hybris commerce. We try to transmit our experiences to our customers as best practices."

SAP is no stranger to using its own technology for internal operations. Arnold said SAP uses its entire cloud portfolio, including SuccessFactors for human resources, Fieldglass for vendor management and Ariba for procurement. All of the Apple devices used by SAP employees are managed on HANA.

SAP is also using hybris, HANA and SimpleFinance to run the recently launched SAP Store, which houses the company's new digitally native applications.

Looking toward the next phase of innovation for SAP, Arnold envisions a future ruled by cloud and fueled by data. On the cloud front, Arnold expects rapid development to bring about still unforeseen shifts in the industry. As for data, Arnold said it will be the CIO's job to find more ways to harmonize data and surface the intelligence behind it.

"We need to discover what is new and the hidden champions," she said. "I think these will completely change the way we operate on a professional level."

And of course, a little more girl power couldn't hurt, either.