'People-friendly' technology

'People-friendly' technology

As SAP Asia Pacific's (including Japan) CEO and president, Geraldine McBride has to ensure that the software giant's objectives in the vast region are met.

With more than 20 years of experience in the IT industry behind her, McBride took charge of SAP APJ's operations in January 2007, tasked with tapping on the region's burgeoning growth opportunities.

"I started my career with IBM in 1985 and spent about a decade in sales with IBM before I left to join SAP," McBride says. "My very first role in SAP was to assume responsibility for driving sales in South Africa, followed by various other roles."

Leveraging on experience

McBride joined the IT industry, spurred mainly by her interest in people and business. "I see technology as a means to an end, but not the end itself," she says. "Technology may change, but people are always people and will remain the key drivers behind IT."

This IT CEO notes that technology is today evolving to become more "people-friendly". Consequently, IT professionals need both technical and people skills to better help users maximize the business value of IT.

"My experience with IBM has also taught me never to take no for an answer," McBride says. She explains that despite working with "difficult" client organizations during her IBM days, "a few months of intensive effort" convinced them of the benefits of working with IBM.

"The secret is to do your homework to understand the client organization, know where the pain points are, and let them see how you can help make their business better," she says.

Encouraging performance

According to McBride, Inflationary pressures and the lackluster US economic situation have not impacted SAP's growth and hiring plans in the Asia Pacific.

"When I first arrived in my current position, I set myself and my team the target of trebling SAP APJ's software revenues by 2010," McBride says.

She notes a "very successful" SAP APJ 2007 performance, with "even stronger growth" observed in the first quarter of 2008. In particular, SAP APJ's total revenue for software and software related services grew by 36 percent compared with the same period last year.

McBride attributes the good performance to the Asia Pacific market's "continued vibrancy" and greater customer enterprise awareness on the need to continually evolve and grow amid global competitive pressure.

Strategy for AP

As leader of SAP APJ, McBride is tasked with driving the company's two-fold strategy for key industries in the region. "We help large client companies in other regions expand in the Asia Pacific," she says. "At the same time, we help customer SMEs in the region expand globally.

"By 2010, we plan to achieve a 30 percent compound annual growth rate in our Asia Pacific operations," says McBride. "We are also opening up more offices in emerging markets like China, Vietnam and Pakistan."

She says that about 75 percent of SAP's revenue growth between now and 2010 is expected to come from three primary Asia Pacific markets, namely China, India and Japan.

"Our executive board will continue to invest significantly in China and India over the next five years," McBride says. "South East Asia is also another critical market for SAP."

Competition for talent

McBride firmly believes that people are key to SAP's continued success. Talent attraction and retention is high on the company's corporate agenda, and remains an integral part of its business strategy.

She adds that motivated and healthy employees are SAP's "number one priority", and hopes to "develop a culture where our staff view SAP as a place to grow professionally and personally."

SAP APJ currently employs some 9,000 staff and estimates that it will need 15,000 more skilled workers between now and 2010. In the first quarter 2008, SAP APJ raised its full-time employee headcount by about 1,300 or 14 percent more compared with the same period last year.

McBride contends that competition for IT talent in the Asia Pacific presents a significant challenge. "The IT industry is facing a severe talent crunch, and this is likely to continue over the next five years."

While acknowledging that the challenge is a "perennial issue" for companies worldwide, she says that Asia is unique due to its unprecedented economic growth. "Such growth has been further driving demand for skilled people."

Training new blood

SAP's University Alliance Program (UAP) to develop a pool of infocomm professionals provides students and lecturers access to software training, leading to certifications and potential hiring by SAP and its partners and customers. "SAP expects to grow the program to include more than 300 universities in the Asia Pacific by 2010," McBride says.

McBride says that CEOs are "pressured" to maintain bottom lines, while striving for better transparency and governance. At the same time, technology is becoming more critical at the strategic level.

"CEOs can no longer say "I don't understand IT"," she says. "If you don't have an integrated IT perspective for the business, you don't realize optimal value from your IT investment."

Consequently, leading organizations across public and private sectors increasingly realize that IT is not just an efficiency enabler, but a tool to enhance innovation of business models and processes, McBride notes.

The average lifespan of a CEO's position is only three years, says McBride. She maintains that successful CEOs who last longer in their role have good communication skills, are flexible to change and can translate great ideas into action.

Advice for fellow CEOs

Responds McBride to today's complex business environment: "Competition is intensifying as globalization creates additional pressure for organizations of all types to assess their business models and re-configure both internal and external processes, so as to maximize business value."

Business network transformation, or the use of software to help transform organizational processes and create "value networks", will be a key value driver for enterprises, says McBride.

"Talent management remains a cornerstone to any company's success, and a business is only as good as the great people that populate its management ranks," she adds. "If as a CEO, you are not confident that your people are going to help achieve company vision and targets, you need to make some tough decisions honorably, quickly and with compassion."

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