TECH TALK: Good Books: Realtime

Michael Cusumano writes about this software company: [It] is a good example of firm that combines horizontal and vertical market segmentation.[It] initially developed about a dozen back-office software packages designed to meet different horizontal enterprise functions.[It] is Europes largest software company and one of the top software companies in the world. It is SAP.

Hasso Plattner was one the team of five that founded SAP in 1972. A story in Business Week (July 23, 2001) traced Plattners early days:

Born in 1944 in Berlin, Plattner’s earliest memories are of sailing with his parents, Horst and Inge, on the lakes around the rubble-strewn city. His father, an eye surgeon, did not fight in the war. Still, there was a sense of peril. Plattner remembers seeing British jets landing with provisions during the 1948 airlift that broke Russia’s Berlin blockade, and he saw one plane crash. Rather than becoming fearful, he grew up confident. “I’m a Berliner–fast, loud, obnoxious, industrious, brutally open,” he brags.

The battler in him emerged during adolescence. After his parents divorced, he was sent at age 15 to a strict, military-style boarding school in Bavaria. It was like moving from Manhattan to Texas overnight. “I had to become a street fighter,” he recalls during a recent dinner of beef-cheek ravioli at Babbo, a trendy New York restaurant. Despite jet lag and an overstuffed day of meetings, Plattner is full of energy. His eyes grow wide and he fingers scars on his wrist and hand as he tells how upperclassmen picked on him because he was a city slicker. “Once I pushed a big guy into a glass cabinet, and it shattered. I still have the scars,” he says.

Other early influences shaped Plattner’s career. He worshiped John F. Kennedy. “He had a vision,” Plattner says, shifting into a nasal Boston accent to mimic Kennedy’s voice: “We want to get to the moon in 10 years.” For a kid growing up in beaten-down Germany, Kennedy represented the promise of a new, can-do era. When Kennedy was shot, Plattner was devastated. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I went to bed and listened to the radio.” Plattner followed in the footsteps of a grandfather and studied engineering–intent on being where the action was.

The future, it turned out, was to be built on electronics. In college, Plattner studied telecommunications, since a computer science program wasn’t available. Upon graduating, he got a job as a sales consultant for IBM in Mannheim, Germany. That didn’t last long. He left with four colleagues in 1972 to form SAP after they were rebuffed by IBM when they suggested creating a financial-software package for corporations. Their novel idea: to replace expensive custom applications with off-the-shelf packages. Since then, Plattner has been the company’s cheerleader and visionary, mapping out technology and strategy while the original chairman, Dietmar Hopp, managed the business. Plattner became the No. 1 executive in 1998 when Hopp resigned and has remained SAP’s spark plug.

SAPs vision of the real-time enterprise is well on its way to being realised for the worlds largest organisations. SAP has faced many challenges during its existence, but it has conquered them all and emerged stronger each time. Plattner has laid a very strong foundation which the next generation of leaders is now building upon.

To commemorate his 60th birthday, SAP has published a book Realtime as a tribute to Hasso Plattner. From the description and review on the website:

In the book, 30 well-known colleagues, customers, and partners put forward their ideas on the subject of the realtime enterprise, and in doing so, pay tribute to a vision that Plattner and his companions have been forming since the foundation of SAP and, thanks to their software, have already had some success achieving. In a realtime enterprise, business processes are largely automated, software systems are adaptable, and all of the relevant data is available to the management at any time at the touch of a button.

This book recognizes Hasso’s accomplishments as it relates the history of the real-time enterprise and invites you to share in its future.

You’ll review SAP’s vision for real-time technology, analyze the transformation produced by client/server computing and the all-pervasive network, explore the interaction between organizational structure and the capabilities of real time, and recognize the challenge confronting user interfaces and human/computer interaction.

Finally, you will observe how the emerging nervous system of RFIDs, voice recognition, virtual collaborative environments, and other leading-edge technologies is shaping our world.

The contributors include Ravi Kalakota (Mobility Unleashed), Vinton Cerf (Everything-to-Everything Connectivity), Carly Fiorina (The Integration Story), Bill Gates (Seamless Computing, described in two pages), Michael Hammer (The Process Revolution and ERP), Vinod Khosla (The Real-Time Enterprise), Geoffrey Moore (Context versus Core in the Real-Time Enterprise), Craig Barrett (Real-Time Hardware, in a page), and Esther Dyson (Cultural Change in the Real-Time Enterprise).

Plattners dream and SAPs mission of creating real-time enterprises endures with the focus now on the last frontier the small- and medium-sized enterprises of the world.

TECH TALK Good Books+T

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.