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The beauty of moving knowledge

In 2015, we talked to Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, on how to achieve true progress. Below, we detail his understanding of progress – for big business and individuals.

Bill McDermott is on top of the clouds. The CEO of SAP, one of the world’s biggest software companies, took the time to answer our questions on ‘Achieving True Progress’ for the Future of Leadership Initiative 2015 as he flew back to his US office in Philadelphia. His thoughts on the subject sore as metaphorically high as his plane yet are still well grounded.

So, what does progress mean for someone who oversees one of the world’s greatest software firms?

“Progress happens if the idea of a deeper purpose overtops profit, if you are dedicated to establishing a vision.”
- Bill McDermott

For Bill, without a powerful vision there can be no progress. Even as we had to perk up our ears to catch Bill’s messages from the sky, we soon had a clear understanding of his vision with regards to information technology.

“Progress is testifying in technologies, the process of democratising of information, our knowledge and learning,” Bill said. “This contains things that result in the modern economy of information sharing, in the beauty of moving knowledge.”

Digital technology helps to create new relationships and initiate global understanding. The challenge is to effectively handle the enormous amounts of data that are constantly being created in the world. Right now, the amount of information available online doubles in less than 18 months. In other words, everything that has existed throughout the entire time of society is going to completely double in the next 18 months.

“With this in mind I consider progress the idea of selecting and processing relevant data real-time, information that can both predict what is likely to happen next and provide all necessary information at hand to make smart decisions,” Bill stated.

“SAP therefore has developed the HANA, an in-memory-technology that finds insights and decisive patterns by analysing Big Data. Progress means providing transparency to consumers, to employees, to business partners, to the next great frontier.”*

Bill McDermott started his business career at 17-years-old with a little deli-shop on Long Island, New York. His first job in the technology industry was at Xerox Corporation. Since then, he has been working in the software business for more than three decades – keeping his focus set on his clients as a priority.

When it comes to McDermott’s vision of progress, of a scenario in the future, his first answer is:
“My vision of progress is a world full of happy people. I think that every person should be entitled to have the same education. It is my certain desire to see everybody getting access to knowledge and information. A core value in society should be the rebirth of curiosity. Also, most importantly, I would see people having access to food and to water and to all the natural resources that are becoming scarcer and scarcer. This should all happen if we start to live our lives differently, behave differently and to use technology in entirely new ways to prepare society for the next mile.”

The innovations that are needed to reach this progress are seen by McDermott in the power of mobility and mobile efficiency. On the one hand it’s about the mobile devices that help to bring people online even in the remote parts of the world. On the other hand, it’s about the capacity of people to connect to networks, to share information and to join interests. 

“I work together with this woman from South Africa, who used to spend 80 % of her business volume traveling in an automobile from town to town to gather information on goods and services of her suppliers,” says Bill.

“By using one mobile application she’s now automated the entire supply chain and all her pains from the road were taken away, electronically. This is a great example of the power of technology. The more you enable networks in these faraway places and provide helpful technology tools, the more the individuals start to develop their curiosity in the modern economy – and find solutions.”

Bill McDermott has clear principles regarding big businesses too. The time of linear thinking is over. Connected lateral thinking is necessary if you want to make decisions that enable true progress. To reduce business to view factors and KPIs as a way to measure success.
“The measures of success have to evolve and to change. Long term principles of a sustainable business have to prevail profit considerations,” Bill says.

When he thinks about a specific place, where progress would have been fully realised, he envisions a smart city or even a smart country where provisions are made for all citizens of society. This means they would be able to actively participate in the economy, would have access to all important goods and would have the tools to satisfy their curiosity. Digital technology would be the underpinning force for this.
“I mean, this would not be possible without the complete digitalisation of the economy,” Bill explains. “As much as a business has to be digitised, society also has to follow that trend. I see the convergence of everything to the device. I see a mobile world. I see the needs for transparency and information and joint governance across the global economy. And this can only be held together with amazing solutions.”

Finally, Bill McDermott makes a suggestion which could be seen as surprising in the highly competitive world of business in the 21st century.
“I think it is fundamental that digital companies collaborate in bringing digital technologies together, coming up with new powerful and connected solutions. This kind of network economy is what excites me as it is the way to digitalise society.”

About FLI Thought Leader Bill McDermott

As CEO Bill McDermott oversees one of the largest software companies in the world, SAP. He began his business career early at the age of 17 with a small deli shop in New York. He then began working in the software industry, where he has since gained more than three decades of experience.

Recently, under Bill’s leadership, SAP developed HANA, an in-memory technology which mirrors a CEO’s vision of the future. It gives users all the necessary information to enable them to make smart decisions using real-time data.

Veröffentlicht in Leadership Stories am 28.09.2023

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