Making big data more accessible to all
German software major SAP AG scents huge growth opportunities in China
Hasso Plattner sat comfortably on a couch as more than a dozen journalists quizzed the 70-yearold on the future of big data, cloud computing and everything about next-generation information technology.
Most of the quest ions would better suit Silicon Valley computer engineers half his age.
Plattner, co-founder of Walldorf, Germany-based software giant SAP AG, is more than happy to explain in detail that he sometimes feels he holds a crystal ball in his hand.
“I think we are on this path that we apply computers to basically everything,” Plattner said at the company’s newly-opened development center in Potsdam, Germany.
He was eager to share his views about a totally digitalized future.
Portable devices have given people around the world “an unbelievable” power in their pockets and palms. People also have to put together the massive amount of data they recorded before moving on. That, the German businessman said, is where SAP comes in.
“From time to time we have to clean up the data, we have to simplify what we have done in order to continue to do more in the future,” Plattner said. “SAP is a major cleanup simplifier.”
Plattner has devoted his career developing analytic software. He and other former IBM researchers founded SAP in 1972, creating software to simplify enterprise accounting and payroll processes.
That was during a time before modern PCs. Technicians used punch cards to control machines and Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple Inc, was still a developer at an arcade game company.
Plattner’s personal wealth
has quickly expanded over the past decades as SAP’s enterprise resource planning business grew. He has put the gains into a range of interests including hockey, IT research and efforts to fight AIDS.
According to Forbes magazine, Plattner controlled nearly $9 billion of personal wealth as of 2013. He is chairman of SAP’s supervisory board, an in-house think tank of the German company.
SAP’s most valuable markets are those with the largest amounts of data that need to be stored. That led Plattner’s company to China, a data gold mine.
In mid 2013, SAP identified China as one of worldwide.
Chief Executive Bill McDermott said he expects China to become one of SAP’s top five markets globally by revenue by around 2015.
The company has about 4,000 employees in China and offices in Beijing, Chengdu, Xi’an and Nanjing. “We have to be able to handle the biggest big data in the world, because China is the largest country in the world” by population, McDermott said.
For SAP’s China team the paramount challenge is to find ways to handle the world’s largest amount of data. Mark Gibbs, president of SAP Greater China, said the company sees massive business opportunities in the country, where manufacturing, oil, logistics and transportation sectors are far more vibrant than in other economies.
China’s State-owned enterprises will continue to be SAP’s major clients and it is also seeking new deals with some leading private firms, Gibbs said.
its strategic markets
projects such as building smart cities will become basic ideas for the rest of the world, he said.
Over the past two years, China designated nearly 200 cities, including metropolises such as the capital Beijing and county-level urban areas, to trial smart-city projects. SAP is the funding partner for China’s smart city project.
Plattner appreciates the beauty of simplicity. “Twodecades ago, wedid a little remake of the SAP user interface,” he said. “In the American expression, weput lipstick on a pig.”
“A system that pretends to be beautiful for a very simple” purpose is overdone, he said.
When global consumer IT giants such as Apple and Google Inc went with their so-called flat design, they simplified the user interface. SAP decided to follow.
“People do not do (over decoration) anymore,” Plattner said. “They would spend two hours or more on personal devices each day. This is dominating the world and that’s how YouTube, Facebook and Google became popular. This is what they do now.”
Plattner praised Google “master” of simple design.
“It is important for the future of SAP to have a user interface which is on par with the Facebookers, with the Googlers, with the ebays because the software for enterprise use is tending to ditch their cold outlook and learn from consumeroriented companies,” he said.
Facebook Inc runs an online social networking site and ebay Inc operates an online auction site.
It is uncommon that a tech veteran who enjoyed dealing with the code lines needed to create software is also willing to spend a great amount of time explaining how important a user design would alter the corporation’s business.
“I can only tell the SAP managers to listen to the customers to whom we made a promise we would change the user interface,” he said. “Let the normal users test the products, the ones who only use SAP products half an hour each day.”
SAP has pledged to introduce a user interface more suitable for modern-day use.