43-year-old giant re-invents itself; AWS to be more enterprise-centric
Cloud, SDN, security and privacy to dominate enterprise world
FOLLOWING my colleagues’ – Karamjit Singh’s and A. Asohan’s – honest look at what they believed were their best stories of last year, it’s now my turn to do the same.
Frankly, it’s always a hard act to follow the two of them; Karamjit, because he has access to all the high-powered executives in the country; Asohan, because his stories are so thought-provoking and challenge the mind and time – try his more than 4,000-word story here – when you read them.
But nonetheless, I shall endeavour to keep up with what they’ve started. Unlike my colleagues, I shall go down my list chronologically, according to when I wrote them.
SAP's reinvention, through its cofounder’s eyes
My first favourite story is a two-parter reflection (second story here) on one of Germany’s oldest tech companies – Systemanalyse und Programmentwicklung or System Analysis and Program Development, otherwise known as SAP SE.
The German software giant had invited journalists from all over the world to the launch of its innovation centre at a small town called Potsdam in February 2014. Two things struck me about this trip: First, where in the world was Potsdam and why was it being held there?
I learnt later that Potsdam – about 35km southwest of the capital Berlin – was the town SAP cofounder Prof Hasso Plattner had chosen to be closer to the startup community based in Berlin, as well as to tap talent from the universities that were nearby.
The 71-year-old visionary and driving force behind SAP’s progress since its inception believes that the centre, which features wide open spaces, a variety of seating options, and games facilities – all of which mimicks office designs found in Silicon Valley – will foster a much more collaborative environment amongst staff, leading to more creativity, an essential part of software development.
“I recommended Potsdam to SAP because of its beauty,” he said. “The atmosphere here inspires thinking so that people can innovate and do radical things. People should break out of the mould that they build for themselves. This is my whole theme [for the centre].”
The second thing that struck me was Plattner, the chairman of the SAP’s supervisory board – a group of executives tasked with steering the company’s executive board – spoke candidly about how the 43-year-old company he helped built had, in the past decade, lost its competitive edge and hasn't been responsive enough to what its customers.
In reflecting on the company's successes and missed opportunities, Plattner said one of the biggest stumbling blocks has always been its complicated, somewhat impractical and unattractive user connection, or what is commonly known as the user interface (UI).
“For years, we knew we had to do something but we didn’t because we thought it was too much work,” he said. “[This is] the wrong answer. You cannot postpone a change that has to happen for too long as that hurts you more. [When that change happens], you have less energy to fight back.”
This is atypical of a company’s senior executive, who in this case was extremely honest in reflecting on SAP’s failures. But true to the man Plattner is, he’s not giving up and urged his people and company to re-invent themselves.
When asked in an interview with Digital News Asia (DNA) as to what he thought SAP’s future looked like, Plattner aptly summarised the point of my story, “Kaizen [Japanese for 'change for the best'] is not good enough anymore. We tried this for many years, we learnt it from folks in Japan on hardware, but it’s not good enough anymore.
“You have to do more than just protectionism and you’ll have to move forward, otherwise you slow down relatively, and probably even worse, your competitors eat into your business,” he candidly shared.
The cloud is an inevitable force: Amazon Web Services
It’s not every day that you get to meet a really bigwig in the enterprise world but following the privilege of meeting SAP’s Plattner, I jumped at the chance to meet Dr Werner Vogels (pic) of Amazon Web Services (AWS) when he came to town in April last year.
In my hour-long exclusive interview with the 56-year-old technical head honcho of the world’s leading public cloud service provider, l learnt quite a few things.
In a nutshell, Vogels outlined how AWS sees the new enterprise world – one that would be powered by the public cloud rather than the age-old private cloud model.
The AWS executive said that the real impediment to the cloud is not that enterprises and their respective management do not believe in the cloud proposition, but rather in traditional change management.
“Every change made by any business has an impact to that business,” he argued. "And when new things impact the business, there is a need to find the right advocates within the organisation to champion these changes. This is what traditional change management needs to overcome with regard to the cloud.”
The interview was made more interesting because when I met him last April, revelations were rife about how tech behemoths like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft were allegedly colluding with the US Government, via the much-feared National Security Agency (NSA), by providing data through a programme called PRISM.
First revealed in June last year, PRISM is understood to be a clandestine national security electronic surveillance programme administered by the NSA since 2007.
This was exacerbated by the revelations made via the systematic series of disclosures released by Edward Snowden – a former government security contractor – to two media giants: Britain’s Guardian newspaper and US-based The Washington Post.
Vogels was however unequivocal in his denial that AWS had anything to do with PRISM and stressed that the company has never been part of the programme.
“This means that AWS has never received a request from the FISA (Financial Intelligence Surveillance Act) court,” he said, adding that this also implies that AWS has never divulged any of its customer information, in any form, to anyone.
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