SAP’s Thomas Saueressig is one of the youngest CIOs of a major company anywhere in the world and brings a millennial viewpoint to his position. In a wide ranging interview with author and IT consultant Peter High, Saueressig discusses tech trends, his role and how IT is enabling business.  

Below is an excerpt from High’s blog that appeared recently on the Forbes web site. You can read the entire article here

When Thomas Saueressig became CIO of SAP on May 1 of this year, he was among the youngest CIOs of a multi-billion Euro company at 31. Though young, Saueressig came with a long history at SAP, having joined the company while he was a student in 2004 as part of a cooperative program at his university in Mannheim, Germany. He quickly accumulated a wide array of experiences beginning with 40 software implementations. He took on rotations around the company and around the world. He was particularly influenced by the culture of innovation during his six-month stint in Silicon Valley.

Peter High: Thomas, you are one of the youngest CIOs of a German DAX company or of a major company anywhere in the world. SAP has touted the advantages of having a millennial as a CIO.  What do you see as the advantages?

Thomas Saueressig: There is more than one advantage. While I am not officially a digital native, I am of the generation that grew up with personal computers. I could write Basic code at the age of six – long before I could write a grammatically correct sentence. This level of comfort with PCs means I completely understand and relate to how millennials expect their work environment to function. They want to be flexible, they want instant access, and they want applications to be seamless. This makes them both happy and productive.

High: Many CIOs follow predecessors who have been asked to leave, and therefore a major change is required. You are following a CIO who has been promoted. To what extent has your strategic plan been one of continuity versus fundamentally new priorities?

Saueressig: In my role as head of IT Services, I was charged by the then-CIO with leading the delicate balancing act between driving innovation while ensuring stability. This is absolutely critical not only for SAP but for all companies facing transformation in the digital economy, and it continues to be a strong pillar in my strategic plan. I evolved the strategic plan to become a user-centric IT and to enable SAP to become a digital enterprise, meaning providing the most modern workplace as well as enabling new digital business models. Additionally, we are accelerating our move to the cloud and to transform the IT delivery into agile. This has a direct impact on the IT workforce. Hence, a key priority is the development of our people, to ensure the right skillsets, but also to foster the right mindset, spirit and culture in the IT organization.

High: You have noted that part of your role as CIO and global head of IT services is to play a fundamental role “in driving the digital transformation at SAP to truly become a digital enterprise which runs simple.” Can you describe what you mean by this?

Saueressig: This has multiple aspects. As I described, SAP is on a continuous journey to become the cloud company, powered by SAP. This significantly changes SAP and the IT organization needs to enable the new business models. In parallel, we need to automate and optimize our business processes to enable sustainable growth and high volume business scenarios like the business networks.

High: You also enable new business models. Can you describe some of these new models, and the rationale used for the changes?

Saueressig: The rationale is SAP must meet new customer expectations, and by customers we mean literally anyone, including small, medium, or start-up businesses as well as individuals. Some of these expectations are things like in-app purchases and renewals, pure digital products that you only need a credit card to buy in addition to products priced by the number of users per month. Within minutes customers can scale their solutions to their needs. In a digital world, this needs to be fully automated and able to run at scale.

High: What technology trends particularly excite you?

Saueressig: I am very interested in finding ways to feed technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and voice recognition into the SAP workplace. With my strong affinity for technology, it is a priority for me to keep an eye on these developing trends.

Peter High is President of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. His latest book is Implementing World Class IT Strategy. He is also the author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs. Peter moderates the Forum on World Class IT podcast series. He speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.