Commentary
8/19/2010
06:59 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary

Global CIO: SAP Confronts The Real-Time Culture Wars

SAP hopes to help companies overcome the technology challenges of real-time business, but the cultural implications might be even more daunting.



We'll be taking a deep dive next week into SAP's intriguing new Sybase-enhanced strategies, but as we all prepare to head out for one of the final weekends of the summer, here's a question to noodle around while you're on the beach on the golf course or in the pool or over the grill:

After you've won the battle to deliver an enterprise IT architecture that can truly handle real-time applications that truly deliver real-time business insights, will you then be able to win the resulting culture war precipitated by the radical and unprecedented shift to real-time operations?

Consider this perspective from SAP's eloquent CTO, Vishal Sikka, as he describes the challenges faced by one of the world's largest consumer packaged-good companies as it struggles to not just cope with but indeed exploit the staggering volumes of data and information surging into its global systems.

"Two hours ago, I spoke to the CIO of one of our very largest customers," Sikka said in a phone conversation this week, "and we were talking about the massive decision they have coming up on data warehousing and how they store data. They generate 400 billion records of information every year, but don't have any way to ask questions about that data—not exotic and complicated questions, but just valuable ones."

The large-scale problems this company faces, Sikka says, are similar to those many CIOs are confronting today: "The sources of that data are all over the place: in ERP systems across the planet, with their retailers, with their partners and customers, in data centers all over the globe, and some of the data is managed directly by this company and some by others."

Then Sikka began to wax philosophical, and I knew that was happening because he started talking about ice cream.

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Sikka said his CIO friend on that brutally hot day in Berlin pointed to an ice-cream vendor and said that if SAP could in essence help him accurately predict the demand for ice cream—weaving in weather patterns and forecasts, social events—that would have an incredible impact on the profitability for the entire corporation:

"Today, they spend untold amounts of money solving even a fraction of this problem," Sikka said, noting that the exact same types of challenges exist in in energy industry and retail and financial services and many others.

But imagine the technological problems can be overcome by SAP and others: what happens to traditional processes and traditional behavior patterns and traditional organizational structures when those organizations suddenly have dramatically different views of what the world is likely to be like next week, next month, next quarter?

What happens when guesswork and catchup are no longer the norms?

What happens when all the people across the enterprise who should have access to these new insights gain that access?

"The cultural changes will be huge—massive," Sikka said. "A CEO of a Fortune 50 company said that when they begin moving to real-time operations, he wants to have HR leaders in all of his board meetings because the changes that will spring from this real-time awareness will be widespread and profound."

So it's okay to chew on that one a bit when you're having that frosty Sierra Nevada and watching the kids romp in the pool, but don't think about it when you're contemplating a 3-wood that has to carry 190 yards over a small lake and onto the green—because golf presents more complications than real-time business and real-time technology and real-time culture all rolled into one.

Enjoy the weekend!

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GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].

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