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Influence at the Highest Levels — ASUG's Executive Exchange Program Brings SAP Customer Voices Straight to the Top

by Abbe Mulders and Rick Lloyd | SAPinsider

April 1, 2007

by Abbe Mulders and Rick Lloyd, ASUG SAPinsider - 2007 (Volume 8), April (Issue 2)
 

Abbe Mulders
Chair, ASUG CIO/CTO
Executive Exchange

Rick Lloyd
Director, ASUG Influence Program

Lack of communication — especially at the highest corporate levels — can be the downfall of many IT initiatives. That's why ASUG's CIO/CTO Executive Exchange program, one of many avenues of influence that ASUG offers its members, facilitates direct, candid, results-oriented interaction between senior executives from ASUG member companies and senior SAP management. This program is an opportunity for ASUG member companies, through their senior leaders, to voice their strategic needs and business requirements to SAP and to gain insight into SAP's vision for future solutions.

Abbe Mulders, chief information officer for Dow Corning Corporation, is the current chair of the ASUG CIO/CTO Executive Exchange and has been participating in the program since its launch in 2003. Rick Lloyd, the manager of HCM Implementation Readiness at DuPont and director of the ASUG Influence program, leverages his experience managing DuPont's relationship with SAP to help guide the program.

SAP Insider spoke with Mulders and Lloyd about the CIO/CTO Executive Exchange's evolution, their roles in ensuring that the program keeps pace with SAP's strategic direction, and their vision for how the program can continue to benefit participating companies.

Q: What value do ASUG members receive by participating in the CIO/CTO Executive Exchange?

Lloyd: In addition to the chance to network with both SAP senior executives and other CIOs and CTOs in the industry, the Exchange provides member-company executives opportunities not only to identify common challenges that add to their total cost of ownership, but to share that information at the highest levels within SAP. Companies participating in the Exchange meet several times a year with key SAP executive board members, including Claus Heinrich and Shai Agassi, to gain insight into future SAP solutions.

Mulders: As a group, ASUG continues to make progress through executive-level communication to help SAP understand common business challenges and how their software can solve these challenges through automation.

"I have always found at least one new contact or tidbit of information at each meeting that made it worth attending. It's what brings me back the next time."

— Abbe Mulders, discussing the Executive Exchange

Q: What's the average profile of a participating Exchange member?

Mulders: The program is designed for senior executives of ASUG member companies; participants include CIOs, CTOs, VPs, and directors of IT, corporate systems, and business solutions. The number-one requirement for participating members is that they are responsible for the strategic direction and management of their organization's IT operations, or for their company's SAP relationship and implementation strategy.

Beyond that, the membership mix is diverse — it's cross-industry and represents our larger membership, with participating executives from both large and small companies. Not all challenges are of the same scale, but we can boil the issues down to a common base and build upon it as we help each other — and SAP — find solutions. This adds to the value derived from participating.

Q: What are the participation requirements for member executives?

Mulders: There's a commitment of roughly six to eight business days per year. The program includes teleconferences and online meetings, along with three or four face-to-face executive workshops, typically held in conjunction with an event sponsored by ASUG or SAP, such as the ASUG Annual Conference or SAP TechEd.

On occasion, we may also form sub-teams with SAP employees to tackle specific issues and make recommendations to the larger group. Some participants have gone on to leadership positions within the ASUG board of directors, which brings them great opportunities for face-to-face dialog with the SAP AG board and SAP leadership in the Americas. The more time and energy that executives invest, the more payback they enjoy.

Q: Can you describe what an average Exchange "looks like"?

Mulders: Because the topics we cover evolve alongside our members' business challenges, there really isn't a "typical" meeting. Each Exchange, however, is comprised of both customer-led and SAP-led presentations to provide both groups' perspectives and give SAP an opportunity to respond to inquiries and help resolve challenges that members are facing. Members' input helps set each agenda, which also includes new technology topics that SAP would like to introduce and gain feedback on.

With three or four face-to-face meetings per year, each about two days long, there's a good mix of presentation and discussion around each topic. We allow ourselves enough time to deal with the agenda topics and still get to a point where both the customers and SAP walk away with specific action items.

Q: How exactly do members of the Exchange exert influence on SAP?

Lloyd: It happens on a lot of different levels, from something as simple as working with SAP to improve ongoing maintenance and operations upgrade strategies, to something as complex as bringing about wholesale change in the way SAP's field service organization manages customer relationships.

Mulders: That's a great example. Rick is referring to an Account Management sub-team comprised of members from customer companies and people within the field service operation. The team existed for about two years, and the results of their collaboration included a set of tools to better manage the relationship between customer contacts and SAP account management teams. That sub-team also implemented a pilot program at an ASUG member company to test the tools and processes, including account planning sessions and executive meetings. SAP has shared this best-practices model internally, rolling it out to SAP's field service organization across the country.

Q: What are you currently working on, and what new initiatives would you like to see added to the Executive Exchange program?

Lloyd: Since IT departments are being challenged to find innovative ways to apply the latest SAP technology capabilities to enable business growth and competitive advantage, we are looking for ways to include senior business leaders in these Exchanges. They have a unique perspective that would bring us additional insight into how these forums can help expose hidden opportunities in which the application of technology can lead to business value.

Mulders: We're also working with ASUG headquarters and SAP liaisons to develop upcoming agendas, attract new member participants, and ensure that the group's members gain value from attending and participating in the meetings. To keep the busy CIO engaged, we try very hard to create that value, but it's a responsibility we share equally with participating CIOs and SAP executives.

We will continue to see more great things from this Exchange as part of the larger Influence program. As SAP technology evolves, so too will our influence offerings to ensure that our members' collective voices are heard. We encourage SAP Insider readers to visit us at www.asug.com/ciocto for more information on participating in this valuable program.

Stefan Kneis
ASUG Executive Liaison
Vice President,
SAP America, Inc.

SAP Embraces the Executive Exchange

The ASUG CIO/CTO Executive Exchange is supported at the highest levels within SAP. It is sponsored by Senior Vice President and SAP Americas Executive Committee member Jane Vaughan, who reports the program's progress back to Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP Americas.

The Exchange has become a trusted advisor to SAP and we look forward to moving the program into other aspects of the business. Today, high-level senior executives in the IT arena drive the program, which provides SAP with great insight and value. SAP believes, however, that including technically savvy business process professionals will help us address the challenges companies face in making IT more strategic to the business.

Because the Exchange has been so successful in helping SAP shape our products and go-to-market strategy, it has become a critical component of the ASUG/SAP partnership. We look forward to the program's continued success.

 

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