Digital Transformation And The Customer-Centric IT Organization

Thomas Saueressig

In today’s digital economy, only the most agile and adaptive companies survive. Think about the new heavyweights such as Uber, Airbnb, and Facebook. Using emerging technologies in creative ways, these companies have developed entirely new business models that are loved by their customers. Why? Because they deliver better experiences and more convenient, improved outcomes.

The challenge from companies like these is causing market disruption. Compare the top 10 global companies of 2016 to those of 2006, and you’ll see that 70% of them are new. As for the Fortune 500, 88% of the companies have either disappeared, merged, or contracted.

To keep pace, traditional companies need digital transformation – which is something we continuously talk about at SAP. It’s essential to keep in mind that digital transformation to us is as obligatory as it is for our customers. In fact, our own transformation journey helps us better understand the challenges faced by our customers.

Empathy to action

This is crucial for the way SAP operates. According to our CEO Bill McDermott: “Empathy is a race without a finish line. We’ve only just begun to show our customers that every action we take is driven by their experience and satisfaction. The customer is the only boss.”

The question is, how do you put this empathy into action? One of the ways SAP does this is with customer-centric IT.

In my role as global chief information officer at SAP, I’m on the front lines of our own digital transformation. This helps me understand the experiences of our customers every day. In the past few years, SAP has moved from a business model based largely on license fees and maintenance (for customers running on-premises solutions) to one based on subscriptions and service consumption (for those running cloud solutions). Throughout this transition, we’ve emphasized the following core principles:

  • User-centricity: Focus on the people who use the software and services you deploy. Pay attention to how they use them and what they want.
  • Agility: Embrace a mindset of change, develop a culture that thrives on it, and use SAP Cloud Platform as an innovation platform to quickly deliver new solutions and ongoing improvements.
  • Cloud value: Realize value faster with software-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service offerings that help speed deployment and minimize capital expense.
  • Business-mindedness: Help the business achieve its goals by continuously improving business processes using machine learning and other leading-edge technologies.

Today, we operate based on the understanding that in order to increase the productivity of SAP, we need to increase the productivity of our own people. Therefore, our cloud and enterprise mobility capabilities make it easier for people at SAP to work wherever they need to work – all with simplified access to more information than ever before. Today we have more than 200 cloud apps on SAP Cloud Platform and more than 80 mobile apps of all kinds.

In addition, we were a forerunner in the use of chatbots and other alternative support methods. Every app we design includes easy ways to send feedback directly to the app owner in IT. We’ve also established local IT Link Centers that act like Apple Genius Bars for in-person support. Even continuous learning is simplified by accessing training on demand and on the go, if wanted.

But what really drives our ability to empathize with customers is that fact that we run our own software to help our organization run simple. All of SAP, in fact, runs SAP software – software that SAP IT implemented and continues to support.

A positive mindset and a force for change

At SAP IT, we encourage experimentation and embrace change. The IT organization at SAP acts as an internal innovator and implementer of SAP solutions with deep customer understanding and a feedback loop into development. Our goal is a virtuous cycle that delivers a win-win outcome where SAP and our customers understand how to best navigate digital and business transformation.

For meeting this goal on a daily basis, it’s important to put the emphasis on a mindset of agility. SAP IT is constantly looking for people with an openness to change – people who have fun implementing software that drives new business models and who thrive in a culture of innovation where it’s fine to fail in order to learn. Because the willingness to change is what drives success.

Share your story

My leadership team and I will continue sharing stories about SAP’s digital transformation journey – stories on themes such as Run Simple at SAP; enterprise mobility; the intelligent enterprise (machine learning, virtual assistants, etc.); agile development and DevOps; and multi-speed IT architecture with SAP Cloud Platform. All stories will be true, too – focusing on the challenges we faced and how we’ve overcome them.

If you have a story to tell about your organization’s digital transformation, please contact Jean Loh,, who manages the CIO Knowledge section of the Digitalist. We look forward to hearing from you.

Thomas Saueressig

About Thomas Saueressig

Thomas Saueressig is chief information officer, global head of IT Services, and a member of the SAP Chief Technology Officer circle. In his role as SAP CIO, he represents the entire IT organization internally and externally. He works to enable SAP’s IT organization to become agile, user-centric, and business-driven, with a cloud-first approach. His teams enable new business models and optimize business processes by leveraging the latest technologies and innovations, to provide a modern workplace. Thomas has vast experience in the global IT organization, starting with building up the Enterprise Mobility organization and leading all cross functions, over to heading the entire IT Project Delivery and Client IT organization globally. His focus is to create a user-centric IT organization, that delivers great user and customer experiences and changes the perception of IT. Prior to this, he supported Executive Board Member Gerhard Oswald as Executive Board Assistant in his daily operations and strategic projects. Thomas started his career in SAP Consulting where he successfully led multiple CRM customer projects. Thomas was honored to be included on Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list in 2016 and was recognized in 2017 as one of Constellation Research’s Business Transformation 150, a list that recognizes the top global executives leading transformation efforts in their organizations. He has a degree in Business Information Technology from the University of Cooperative Education in Mannheim (Germany), and a joint executive MBA from ESSEC (France), and Mannheim Business School (Germany).