Monday, May 27, 2024

Maximizing Efficiency: Integrating AI into Corporate Processes & Information Technology

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Dr. Benjamin Blau was recently appointed chief process and information officer and head of Corporate Processes and Information Technology at SAP. Here, he shares how he defines his new role as well as the future of his organization and the impact of artificial intelligence (AI).

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Blau joined SAP in 2010 and has held various executive leadership positions with a strong track record in process management and business transformation. As chief process and information officer (CPIO), he represents the Corporate Processes & Information Technology (CPIT) organization with the main objective to enable SAP to scale and increase productivity through process transformation and optimization powered by AI. At the same time, the unit functions as the company’s own best reference customer showcasing how SAP runs SAP.

In this interview, Blau discusses his role and the transformation of the IT industry in general.

Q: For those not familiar with the Corporate Processes & Information Technology organization, what is its role within SAP?

A: It is widely recognized and acknowledged that the traditional concept of IT Services has undergone a significant shift in recent years, thanks to advancements in cloud computing, AI, and Big Data. Companies need to double down on their core strength and USP while demonstrating their ability to scale. To do so, IT has become a strategic instrument to enable every business to be more adaptable, scalable, and intelligent.

At SAP, we have invested a considerable amount of time and resources in this transformation, turning IT into a strategic enabler for business growth and a trusted technology partner. However, companies need to rethink their strategies to outperform their competitors by demonstrating operational efficiency and accelerated scalability. We see a substantial requirement to focus on process excellence and automation powered by AI. This means unleashing productivity through simplification and standardization of processes, powered by business AI and SAP’s own technology.

With that in mind, our strategic focus has evolved beyond information technology to support end-to-end process excellence with clear accountabilities that drive autonomy and quick decision-making. And that is the leading aspect of the CPIT organization.

Q: How would you describe the difference between the CIO and CPIO?

A: For me, the key difference lies within the approach to problem-solving. Rather than focusing solely on products or tools, the CPIO tends to tackle issues at the process level, where the root causes are often found. Especially as a SaaS company, we tend to solve every issue with another tool or a customization and/or a worst-case modification of a system, while in many cases the problem can be solved by standardizing and simplifying the way we work.

Hence, in addition to our information technology strategy, it is crucial for our organization to fulfill our mandate as SAP’s business process design authority, emphasizing our responsibility to oversee and optimize business processes. This means the business defines the strategy and clear objectives — aka the “why” and “what” — while we define “how” to get there in the most end-user friendly and productive way.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in your new role? 

A: Coming from my former role leading Industry Engineering for SAP, I love working close to products and customers. To this extent, I have the perfect job as we are SAP’s customer and first adopter of new technology, all while I am in the luxury position of being able to authentically talk to SAP’s customers about our challenges and solutions, being their trusted “peer” in the industry. This also means demonstrating how we boost productivity for SAP mainly through our fast-growing AI portfolio.

Q: The past five years have seen a tremendous amount of innovation, especially with the rise of generative AI. How will this influence the role of CIOs or that of an IT organization in the next two to five years?

A: In the coming two five years, the influx of generative AI promises to revolutionize the landscape of IT organizations and the role of CIOs. Let me give you three examples.

First, it will significantly boost IT productivity by automating repetitive tasks and streamlining processes, which will free up valuable resources to either “do more with the same” or elevate those roles to even higher value-adding ones. Second, as CIOs in SaaS companies are customer zero, it is our task to showcase how AI can unlock value in highly differentiating parts of our value chain as innovation leaders of the industry. Third, with data even further emerging as a crucial competitive advantage, CIOs will increasingly focus on harnessing and maximizing the value of data assets. This entails not only owning and controlling data, but also developing new data products and mastering provisioning, management, and analysis, thereby cementing data management as a core responsibility of the IT organization.

For SAP, this clearly is the competitive edge in the AI game, as we have access to the probably largest amount of business data to feed high-value AI scenarios.

Q: Considering the fast-tracked development of AI and its potential impact, what is your approach for CPIT and SAP at large?

A: The strategic role of my organization in that context is twofold. First, we are the early adopter of every AI case ideated and developed at SAP, with an obligation to challenge the level of quality, maturity, and value on behalf of our customers. Second, I expect my team to also come up with new ideas and potential AI use cases, try them out, and be equally strict in their assessment regarding desirably, feasibility, and especially viability.

At the end of the day, business AI is about quality not quantity. To accelerate AI innovation, we have started an internal initiative to identify use cases with the highest value. This includes a process that also ensures we focus on the most effective solutions. By implementing quality gates in each step of the process, we also prioritize quality over quantity. This enables us to implement use cases that clearly demonstrate business value.


Marcus Kabat is head of CPIT Business Operations at SAP.

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