Meet Thomas Saueressig, your go to SAP board member for all things product

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett June 9, 2020
We recently took a briefing from Thomas Saueressig, executive board member SAP Product Engineering. He has a lot on his plate.

Thomas Saueressig SAP
Thomas Saueressig (via SAP )

If you are an SAP customer, you might have heard of Thomas Saueressig, executive board member Product Engineering. A quietly spoken person, Saueressig recently walked me through his background, the current portfolio of responsibilities, and hints about his planned presentation during SAPPHIRE Now Converge.

There have been many changes at SAP over the last year, and, with such a large firm, it is essential to understand how the current organization operates since there are many potential touchpoints within SAP. In short and as a customer, you need to know whose throat to choke and that in turn means understanding where the responsibilities lay. 

A long and varied career

To say that Saueressig has been around the proverbial SAP block is a gross understatement. A 16-year company veteran, which in SAP terms means he kind of knows what he's doing, he started as a CRM consultant. Later, he spent time in the Bay Area working on the 'eco hub,' a digital commerce effort that ultimately failed:

The idea was sound, but the timing wasn't right, but it served as a good learning experience. 

Following that experience. Saueressig gained exposure to SAP's most important customer support escalations as an executive board assistant to Gerd Oswald, who ran SAP support for many years. When Oliver Bussman, then SAP's global CIO, introduced iPads to SAP, Saueressig came up with the idea of tying the acquired Sybase mobile capabilities to the iPad to provide a platform for mobile apps.

I was given a headcount with which to develop mobile apps. It was a sweet spot for me because it exposed me to IT and development. Over time it allowed me to progress and become global CIO in 2016. The experience in mobile impressed on me the need to be user-focused. All the value of SAP lies with its people, and it is clear to me that if you're going to get the best from your employees, then you must be user-focused. 

In 2018, Saueressig moved to IT development, which has since led to his appointment to the executive board with responsibility for business applications including product strategy, product management, engineering, cloud operations, and also product support including for all the acquired companies, except for Qualtrics, which is separate.

That's one heck of a portfolio but, crucially, all organized under the umbrella of an individual with global responsibility. As I pointed out to Saueressig, how SAP has organized itself in recent times and, as implied in German-speaking media outlets, has led to the effective reGerminification of SAP, representing a step back to how SAP was organized in the 1980s and 1990s. For instance, questions have been raised about the firm's leadership in the US, a critical market for the company. 

I see how that view might be held - four out of the five executive board members are white people based in Germany and one woman. But you have to look below the surface. I believe that it's not just about executive boards. Think about all the leaders which we have around the globe. And this is why I still believe that having diverse leadership teams, a global and diverse executive team. As of today, the executive board is not set up in the form of worldwide distribution. But it's undoubtedly also diverse from a mindset perspective.

What's happening at SAPPHIRE?

One of Saueressig's many challenges comes in explaining how the product portfolio comes together and especially how the parts will work together. That topic has been rumbling around the SAP ecosystem for quite some time and has come into sharp focus as customers realize they need a much more coherent approach to their SAP landscapes. It is something Christian Klein, CEO SAP hinted at in 2019 when he talked about having the central SuccessFactors integration completed by years end. But the story starts before that. Here's what Saueressig told me:

SAP did not do a good job explaining how the entire portfolio comes together. And this is something that I will try to explain at SAPPHIRE in my keynote session, to explain how the pieces fit together actually, in a product context. We also believe that if we combine all the assets, that is the differentiating strengths that SAP has. But also in a down to earth manner, because I sometimes believe SAP was always great in talking about nice strategies for the next couple of years, but not what did we achieve? What are the next steps in the next one or two quarters? It is a balance between vision and reality. 

All of this to be delivered inside 45 minutes? That's quite the ask, but Saueressig seems confident it can be done. 

My take and wishes

With a newly constituted executive board in place, work to do to flesh out the team and work still to do on crisp messaging, Saueressig is sticking his neck out. That's not a bad place to be given that he is ambitious about the SAP portfolio's potential. 

Field reports suggest that he is respected internally for his willingness to listen, a trait I saw in Klein, but also his experience across the many parts of the portfolio. Where I am not so convinced is on the development side of things. You can have all the world's ambitions, but if you've misread the extent to which you have to devote development resources, then your plans can quickly come apart. 

There's also the problem of the industry solutions, another topic we briefly touched upon. My recommendation to Sauressig was to go beyond promising to talk functionality but instead let attendees know the extent of SAP's commitment. 

Finally, we know enough about some of the major talking points to know that SAP will focus on the supply chain. Here, the firm must think in terms of a different approach to the tried and true of the past. The sheer volume of signals coming into today's supply chains from SAP systems runs the risk of overwhelming planners. Here you can expect to hear about an important but unusual partnership. I'd also like to hear about risk-adjusted demand planning and the extent to which AI is either used or partnered in the context of demand planning. 

Finally - and we didn't touch on this - I'd like to hear more about reducing overlaps and genuinely simplifying the SAP portfolio. The number of SKUs is bewildering. 

We will be following with interest on June 16th and in the following days.