SAP's Not-So-Secret Weapon: Its Own CIO

Oliver Bussmann, now a year into his tenure as CIO for SAP, has re-invented and raised the profile of the ERP vendor's CIO role. One key: Sharing with customers his ongoing experiences with a huge SAP environment.

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One Face of the New SAP

Bussmann may have been hired by Apotheker during his short-lived seven-month reign, but Bussmann represents nothing of the old regime. He's a part of what many are calling the New SAP.

Inside SAP, Bussmann's rising prominence has been a blessing for CTO and SAP board member Vishal Sikka, himself being elevated out of the carnage of Apotheker's departure.

"Oliver told me back in June that 'I want to be your first customer,'" recalls Sikka. "I had heard this before, so I said: 'Are you sure?' But this man is a machine. He is first or one of the first customers for all products done this year."

According to Sikka, the list includes: Duet, the joint SAP and Microsoft collaboration and data-access tool; HANA, SAP's in-memory computing engine; and running SAP's sales dashboard on iPads.

One pillar of SAP's three-pronged strategy is "on device"—enabling the availability of critical business information and analytics to employees running SAP software no matter where they are. Bussmann has responded and been at the forefront of a massive iPad deployment within SAP: more than 2,000 iPads—one of which even co-CEO Bill McDermott was spied using, according to Sikka.

Bussmann's profile has risen accordingly. Thomas Otter, a research director at Gartner, recently had this to say on Twitter: "SAP CIO Oliver Bussmann is probably SAP's best marketing resource, especially for the mobile strategy."

[ Read's 7 Essential CIO Leadership Skills That Get Results ]

Identifying enterprise computing trends and how they might fit with SAP's strategy is significant piece of his duties, Bussmann says. For instance, SAP is ensuring that its software will run not only on iPads but also on RIM's Playbook tablet and Android-based devices in the future.

There is a great need for speed right now, Bussmann says."In other industries, you might wait and see what happens," he says. "But in a high-tech company, we need to be quick and fast." These types of first-mover tactics are not just CIO decisions made on a whim, however. "It's a joint implementation with the business folks," he says. "There has to be business value."

At the same time, Bussmann has had to overhaul the 1,500 global IT staffers he inherited. (Prior to joining SAP, Bussmann was regional CIO of North America & Mexico at Allianz.) Initially, he says that he was looking for IT staffers "who are willing to go the extra mile."

What he found were "good pockets of people willing to spend extra time to work on innovative programs." Bussmann points to the success that a small team of five people had in quickly ramping up the iPad rollout during this past summer.

Even with the legal turmoil at SAP, new strategies and executive shake ups during the past year, Bussmann claims that it's a "fascinating" time to be the CIO. "There's a huge demand for IT support to help change the business model," he says. "To me, that's a perfect time to join the company."

Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for Follow him on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. E-mail Thomas at

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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