SAP co-CEO sees big future in lots of data

— -- What do Apple iTunes, Disneyland and Procter & Gamble all have in common? Each runs its business on SAP's enterprise software. Co-CEO Bill McDermott is on a mission to spread the word that consumers, in many of their day-to-day experiences, are touched by the business software giant's products. He visited USA TODAY Thursday and spoke with editors and technology reporter Mike Snider. Here's an edited version of that discussion.

Q: What all does SAP do?

A: We are the No. 1 business software company in the world. If you have the iPad and you order on iTunes today, you are running that on an SAP system. If you order a car from General Motors, the entire supply chain up to the delivery of that car is running on SAP.

If you are at Disney, and you are going into the theme park, they are running that whole customer experience — including the analytics that tell them they can sell more ice cream when it is hot than when it rains — all are happening on SAP software. So we do a lot of things.

We do things you perhaps don't realize like … (for the United Nations) our software is smart and can tell you that women in Pakistan benefit more from education and advanced education on a financial basis than men do because we have the deep drill-down analytics.

We have 180,000 customers in 130 countries. We said, "If we can help make public and private businesses run better, we can actually make the world run better."

Q: What global business trends are you seeing?

A: Obviously huge is this idea of big data. Data in the world is doubling every 18 months. The problem isn't in having enough information. Everyone has too much information. How do you make sense of it all so that you can make intelligent decisions?

The other movement is the cloud, this idea of putting infrastructure and aggregating data centers and heavy artillery, as it relates to hardware and IT, into a cloud. If I put 10 more servers in your business tomorrow and give you another PC refresh, it is not going to change the way you run your business. We want to take down the (spending on) things that don't matter, so we can free up cash for things that do.

And then mobility. By 2013, most all the computing experiences in the world will go through a smart device. There are about 6.5 billion people in the world by 2014 that will be experiencing applications on their mobile device in one form or another.

Mobility, big data and cloud computing, where you can grab things on the fly from the cloud, are going to change everything. And that is really what we built our strategy on.

Q: How does the cloud make things more efficient for business?

A: There is a structural change going on in IT today to move from 85 cents on a dollar being spent on hardware … to 60% being spent on hardware and services and the other 40 at least being spent on software and innovation. The cloud is a way to change that.

Q: But doesn't moving data to the cloud create new security issues?

A: You will see private clouds, public clouds and hybrid clouds. What we see most companies doing is protecting the precious assets of their business, the mission-critical data and business processes … either in a private cloud or on premise. … They are very careful with that data. That's the crown jewels of their company. Because of security issues, you will see people doing things publicly, privately and in hybrid clouds to protect mission-critical data.

Q: Why co-CEOs?

A: We are the third-generation co-CEOs. From the original founders, the company was based on a balance of power between co-CEOs, and in our company that really works. Very often, my co-CEO and I are on different continents doing different things. So two is better than one.

Finally, when it comes to big decisions, isn't it nice to have somebody by your side that has a different skill set and different perspective and point of view? People do that in their homes everyday. You can, oftentimes, come up with a more mature answer that saves you from making big mistakes.

Q: Why do you carry and use an iPad for business?

A: The second I saw how beautiful business applications are on it, I knew the world was going to go to the device. We were the first big consumer of Apple iPads. In fact, Steve Jobs himself gave me a call and said, "Why are you guys buying so many iPads?"

We like to take credit for helping the world run better and helping visionaries like Steve fulfill their dream.

Q: SAP doesn't market itself that way.

A: That's a good point. We need to stretch the brand a little bit and (in ad campaigns) make the consumer the hero. That's where we are going to stretch the brand in its next evolution.