Sunday, 23 June 2019 07:06

Keeping it simple: the recipe for long life in the software business

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Anneliese Schulz: "Partnerships are very important and I think clients expect the software vendor today to be able to orchestrate an ecosystem." Anneliese Schulz: "Partnerships are very important and I think clients expect the software vendor today to be able to orchestrate an ecosystem." Sam Varghese

Fifty years in the software business is an achievement not to be sneezed at, but the APJ president of German integration software provider Software AG puts it down to very simple reasons: a culture that values partnerships, staff who are loyal to their employer and an environment that encourages people to do their best, even if they occasionally fail en route to that goal.

At 37, Anneliese Schulz is probably the youngest person to oversee such a big region for such a big company – Software AG has more than 10,000 business customers in more than 70 countries, is the second largest software vendor in Germany and the seventh largest in Europe. It marked half a century in existence on 30 May.

She speaks with a confidence that she attributes to the support and encouragement she has received during her eight years with the company that has its headquarters in Darmstadt — she is based in Singapore — that have seen her being elevated to the role of president for Asia Pacific and Japan in February.

"I've been growing through the organisation with people who trusted [me] and gave me more opportunities to test myself and explore some of the capabilities that I uncovered over time with different assignments and I feel very grateful for that experience," Schulz told iTWire during an informal chat during a visit to Melbourne last week.

She did not start out in a technology role when she began her career. "In Germany. I worked in for an ICT organisation in the government space, then SAP. I worked with Daimler with the automotive sector, they are very traditional organisations, right and I was fairly young to get a seat at the table and talk with CIOs."

As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated sector, Schulz has been able to push both gender and cultural diversity at Software AG in the region she looks after, a move she says is fully supported by the people in charge, specifically citing chief executive Sanjay Brahmawar.

When she started out in the APJ region in 2016, the percentage of IT-related sales roles was at about 10%; today it has increased to 37% and in Singapore, 50% of the team is made up of women.

Schulz is not sold on the idea of insisting on quotas while hiring women in the tech sector, instead arguing that the move towards equal representation in any sector has to start much earlier. "I think quotas help people to be reminded of the fact that there needs to be a conscious effort made and I think a conscious effort in that regard is not only led by the fact that you need to strive for accomplishment of a quota," she said.

"I think it probably starts with the fact that if you want to achieve a certain culture you need to make sure that education systems are probably really looked at in order to support people having an interest in different domains rather than probably sticking to the classic professional path that they are introduced to.

"There's a lot of well-known programs around STEM, for example, where there are conscious efforts around making sure that females get exposed to fields of learning that they are not naturally [inclined to take up]."

anneliese awards

Anneliese Schulz with the award for Business Leader of the Year at the Women in IT Awards Asia earlier this year. Source: Software AG

When it was pointed out that this approach would end up taking a very long time, Schulz said there was no other way to do it. "I think you can't just rebrand people and say today you need to go into software. I think it has to start with opening up the eyes of young people of what working [with] technology could be [like].

"I think to be honest when I graduated from school, I didn't know anything about technology. I had a laptop at home bought by my father, but I didn't think that I would be one day working in technology. So I think it has to start from the early days of education to have a long-term effect. In the short term to guide people to remind people around looking for options actively, I think quotas could have a positive impact."

And when it came to diversity, she also pointed out that there were areas in tech industries, like human resources or marketing, where men tended to be under-represented.

Her talents are not focused in just this one direction; she won the Business Leader of the Year award for 2019 at the Women in IT Awards Asia recently.

Regarding the company's software integration process, Schulz said digital transformation usually spanned three dimensions. "Number one is typically triggered through organisations being disrupted by new competitors. You look at, let's say the classic transportation segment, and [you have] Uber as an example. So there is a necessity to differentiate and to compete and to drive new revenue streams.

"Typically the second category of use cases are around efficiencies and to gain a competitive advantage in that area or it's about, being able to maintain one's position in the market: tackling the different risks [inherent in] the business that are new, based on new competitors and new business models."

Schulz said Software AG aimed to address all three kinds of transformation through its technology portfolio. "And the way that we do that is founded by platform technology. So we have different independently operating technology capabilities that you can mix and match as to what you need to transform your organisation, but starting with the belief that today everyone needs to innovate through integration requirements.

"Everyone has a need to integrate with external parties, to better integrate internally to make sense of data, and leverage the value of data that resides in an organisation and it is all about integrating new data sources like devices and hardware. Integration is part of the core of Software AG's identity and technology portfolio and we are very proud to be leaders for many, many years in all possible sorts of analyst rankings. Hybrid integration is what we stand for."

Software AG is also the world's biggest IoT platform provider and this, according to Schulz, underlined the company's ability to work with a complex network of partners in order to provide exactly what a customer was looking for. "Software AG has capabilities that provide device management, device integration, backend integration, real-time analytics capabilities, all of these type of things that are required to bring an IoT use case to life now," she said.

"IoT is not a pure software play; you need to work with devices, you need to integrate your devices, you need system integrators, you need managed service providers, you need potentially even a telco who provides you with additional service capabilities in order to fulfil the client requirements. And we have been working, for example, with Telstra, and also with the likes of Dell in order to complement the requirements our customers have, augmenting, say, not only the software part from Software AG, but things that clients need in the area of hardware or additional capabilities in terms of connectivity.

"So partnerships are very important and I think clients expect the software vendor today to be able to orchestrate an ecosystem. So it's not that we play in the software world. I don't expect us to cover everything, but [customers] expect us to have an ecosystem ready for them to support them in meeting their requirements."

Schulz said the whole nature of selling technology had changed. "In the past, I think vendors were used to selling technology based on function and features and making sure that customers really understood, from a technical perspective, the superiority of the product. And I think today customers need more than that in order to buy, and make a decision to buy. Customers want to understand and get the comfort that the software vendor understands the business outcomes that the client wants to achieve.

"It's not only product pushing anymore. It's about understanding business outcomes, business priorities for the customers, mapping solutions against those capabilities and designing new solutions for their clients that might be actually bespoke."

She said her employer had created a custom engagement process that guided sales people to take a step-by-step approach to engage clients in a structured process to meet those requirements. "And many times when we start those processes [they are] a lot about discovery, a lot about understanding how the customer operates and challenges their strategies and things like that and trying to map this back into what this could mean for an IT landscape."

Schulz said she personally had not felt any resistance to her progress in the tech industry. "I never felt resistance. I think it starts actually with your own mind to some extent, how much sensitivity you have about being female versus male. You may have 10 people in the room, one female nine males, I don't care about it anymore. I don't see it even anymore.

"But it starts with your own mindset. The second point is actually I think I had an advantage being a female because I got attention." She said this was due to the fact that people had the impression in the professional world that women would follow up, were trustworthy and took care.

"And I think these are aspects that are valued and make a difference. So I thought always it was an advantage and personally also in the role as president, I haven't heard from any of my team members that they felt they had a disadvantage because of being a female with a customer. In combination, sometimes we feel, in fact, it's a better mix sometimes if [there is] a female sales rep for example and a male customer. Let's say there's some good dynamics that we see."

Asked about the company's longevity, Schulz said: "I'd like to play you back a little bit of the observation that Sanjay [Brahmawar] brought into the organisation. When he took over as CEO one of the first takeaways for him was that he felt a very, very strong sense of belonging among the people who work at Software AG. It's a very strong identification with what we do and how we do it and the technology that we sell and a lot of pride in that, and you see this sometimes in the tenure, especially in the pre-sales organisation on the technical sales side of things."

She said there were people who had stayed with the company for many years after the firms they worked with had been acquired by Software AG.

"Yeah, so 10 or 15 years is pretty normal, to be honest, with pre-sales team members and it's just a showcase of how much they love what they do and the technology side of things. The second thing is Software AG, I believe, is trying to empower people to work at their best and there's obviously been different regimes with different presidents.

"I think with different people you create different cultures, but I would think that even more so today with Sanjay and the Helix strategy - our own transformation journey - we have declared that we want to do, as an organisation, everything possible to enable our teams to be at their best.

"That means they find purpose in what they do, that they treat each other with respect, that they are allowed and encouraged to think outside the box, make mistakes and fail fast and come up again on their feet and try again, and actually innovate with their power of working as a team, respecting different values and different opinions, but actually creating something new for the customer and in order to differentiate [us] from other competitors in the market.

"And these are traits that I think are part of the heritage of Software AG, I think we paint them now in different colours. We have different font sizes [in which] we would proclaim these values now and different colours. But in its core and its essence, I don't think Software AG has changed over the last 50 years in trying in different ways to actually achieve the same goal, which is empowerment of people and making sure that they are at their best when they work for the company."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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