„Failure is ok because it brings you further"

 

Family man, local patriot, soccer enthusiast, Blockchain guru and curious innovator. In January this year, Torsten Zube took over the leadership of the SAP Innovation Center Network from Jan Schaffner. Time to ask: Who is this man working for SAP since more than two decades?

 

Torsten, thank you so much for giving the time to meet the new Head of the SAP Innovation Center Network. You are now almost three months in charge, how was your start into your new role?

Thanks for having me. It’s not a completely new situation for me since I was leading the blockchain team of the Innovation Center Network for one and a half years. However, it`s challenging because I needed to get familiar with all topics and focuses of our unit. Also, I spent the first weeks to visit our teams in Walldorf, Dresden and Potsdam and meet our friends in California, and Nanjing via Telepresence sessions. For me it’s super important to get to know people because this is how you make sure you work together in the best way. Now, we are at the point where we get started executing against our renewed focus. 

So full steam ahead. How do you envision the team to work?

My new job as the Head of SAP Innovation Center Network is to draw a clear picture what innovation at SAP means. How does it fit to the overall SAP strategy? How to make sure that we focus on the right direction? How can we guarantee that everything we do has an impact and can be scaled? To achieve our goals, we need a joint vision with permeable structures, allowing us to transfer to other SAP units and our external ecosystem. Also, we need a culture coined by curiosity, openness and a strong sense of ownership. It requires us to focus on the work we need to do rather than thinking in team or location silos. 

How important is it for a company like SAP to have an innovation unit such as the SAP Innovation Center Network?

The ICN is meant to guide SAP into the future. If we do our job right, the entire company will be able to discover and apply big technology trends and stay ahead of the competition in the next years. Thanks to our global network and strong connections within the world’s most important tech hubs, we have the capabilities and the expertise to move the needle for the company. Since the Innovation Center Network is around, SAP returned into renowned innovation rankings such as BCG’s where we haven’t been listed for more than eight years. I want to help to continue writing this success story.

As the former topic lead, you will also consider Blockchain to be part of this success story. What does your elevation mean for Blockchain as one of our focus topics?

I am happy to have my colleague Christian Sommer leading the entire Blockchain team, consisting of an exploration and incubation part. For us, it’s important to have a strong person driving the topic because Blockchain has top priority for the ICN.

You previously referred to the Blockchain winter and what you mean is that the number of voices is increasing which say Blockchain was overhyped and is still looking for the right uses cases.

And that’s not entirely wrong. Blockchain was much overhyped, it’s not the solution to everything. We as SAP and ICN have been very moderate with our positioning and communication, because we understood that the concept of Blockchain is much more than technology and requires different thinking. Input from customers is essential, that’s why we have a co-innovation program with more than 90 customers participating as well as three industry consortia. With our SAP Cloud Platform services and the sellable returns solution we are not only enabling customers to easily use and integrate the technology but have productized industry-specific solutions. I think we did a good job so far, but we are not done yet. We have to look beyond Blockchain and towards a new way of sharing and orchestrating data to understand how business ecosystems will change.

You’ve been with SAP long time before Blockchain was on people’s radar. Can you tell a little bit more about your journey in the company?

I started at SAP in Walldorf after my A-Level as a dual student in 1998. One of my first teams I worked for was also called “The Gauls”. They did things differently and it felt like working in an own world within SAP since we were able to build solutions outside traditional R3 and ERP. As a young engineer, I learned to work close to customers to understand what they need but also to envision what we can do differently – a similar approach as the ICN has today. By the way, the product we developed on our own is still sold today. It’s called GTS – Global Trade Services – and helps accelerate cross-border supply chains by automating and streamlining trade processes.

Between 2008 and 2010, you have been working as Development Project Manager in Palo Alto in Silicon Valley, where the Innovation Center Network also has a presence since 2014. Did that time somehow influence your approach to innovation?

Back then, I recognized that there are different ways to think about innovation. In the USA, they have a let’s-do-attitude: You have an idea you believe in and you try to make it happen without necessarily thinking about the downsides. In Germany, we think too much about the constraints. That kills innovation. If you have an idea, you should try to fly to the moon and back to figure out how far you can make it and what impact it might bring. If you fail, you will learn from it. That’s how we also want to work at the Innovation Center Network: Failure is ok because it brings you further. 

What made you leave Silicon Valley?

In 2009, and I will never forget this, I was following a keynote of Hasso Plattner about HANA and I was so fired up inspired by his speech that I decided to become part of this endeavor. Unfortunately, there was no possibility in Palo Alto to join a HANA team. That’s why we moved back to Germany although my wife really had wished to stay in California. Back in Walldorf in 2010, I became Area Product Owner and later Chief Product Strategist of the Product & Innovation Board Area.

Sounds you really dedicate a lot of your effort and passion into your job. If there is still some time left you don’t spend working, how do you use it?

There’s a lot to do these days, so spare time has become very precious. I try to spend most of my free time with my family. I have two kids, two and six years old. Also, I am a soccer enthusiast and try to watch Bayern Munich matches whenever I can. My hometown Helmstadt in Baden Wuerttemberg, Germany is only 20 minutes away from the stadium of TSG Hoffenheim. As a local patriot, I also support them. The region down there has nice spots for hiking. In the winter time, I love skiing in the Alpes.   

I guess then we should not consume more of your precious time than actually needed. One last question: What made you start a career in the technology industry?

To be honest: I wanted to study mathematics and physics. My uncle recommended me to apply at SAP for a dual study in Information Technology, but I didn’t really know a lot about the company. Until my job interview, I was more into playing with my computer then doing serious things with it. Sometimes life is like that. You plan on the left side and then there’s something on the right side that you prefer and suddenly catch it. Perhaps that´s something that drives me in general. Plans are nice, but plans are there to change them.