Oliver Bussmann, CIO at SAP, boasts he has 6,000 followers on Twitter. He also makes a point of attending trade shows like the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to grab ideas on new innovations.
Every year, he speaks at least a couple of times before college students, if only to monitor what will be on the minds of his potential workers in a few years.
"I think about how I can bring my IT team closer to these technology topics," he told Computerworld at CES. "They ought to know the trends coming from the consumer shows, because my customers are consumers."
Bussmann has 4,000 IT workers who in turn manage about 50,000 mobile devices globally.
He has used the architecture team and others at SAP to research what's on the minds of users, and their input is often included in technology used by 18,000 SAP developers and product managers.
So far, there are about 50 applications used internally that have resulted from these efforts, most of them focused on productivity. Some will end up as products that SAP sells to external customers.
As with other IT shops, Bussmann's group has faced the tyranny of the consumer device crowd, but has tried to learn from the high expectations that workers now bring. Apple stores and their store reps have had an influence, he said.
"If you walk by one of our 15 solution centers, we support Apple, Android, RIM and Windows 8," he said. "You can test drive the devices. We have our genius bar and a training area."
By contrast, the older concept of IT support was a drop-off counter located in a basement. "Our end users have a high expectation level for support," Bussmann said.
The influence of the iPhone and other consumer products has also transformed how Bussmann sees his role. He said he measured mainly on three things: his efficiency, his ability to grow the business, and how he embraces innovation. "By that, I mean how I bring the business closer to innovation, and that's real value," he said.
Out of the innovation approach, various applications have evolved. One real hit with SAP workers is an SAP variation of the cloud-based filesharing service Droppox for document management, simply called SAP Box. He wouldn't comment on whether SAP Box will become a product that SAP markets externally.
In terms of specific innovations that could matter to his business in the future, Bussmann said he has developed more interest in machine-to-machine technology and what it might mean for users with smartphones. Pricing of sensors is dropping, which will boost the use of M2M.
"If you look at a typical smartphone, it has 15 sensors that are not being used fully," he said.
Various Google applications can be developed that use GPS when combined with a person's calendar on a smartphone to notify the user that he will be late when driving to a meeting because of traffic ahead. That information could be used to automatically generate an email telling those attending the meeting that he will be late.
"The functionality of mobile devices is going up and the desire by the user to move from a specialized device to a multifunction device will continue," he said. "We'll see faster processors, flexible displays and more. In three to five years voice and gesture input will matter more as we move away from the keyboard and mouse."
Inside SAP, there's a strong desire to have one device, something like a hybrid or convertible tablet that can be used by travelers as both a tablet and a laptop, Bussmann said.
Many workers inside of SAP desire the latest device, such as the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy S III, but there are still 16,000 BlackBerry users of 50,000 mobile users in all.
Bussmann said nearly all want a smartphone with a physical keyboard, and will probably stay faithful to BlackBerry should the coming BlackBerry 10 smartphone rollout in late January prove successful.
"If they do a good job with all the features I saw in the BlackBerry 10 [pre-release version] in December, they have a chance," he said. "There's still a community willing to take the next step."
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Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].
Read more about consumerization of it in Computerworld's Consumerization of IT Topic Center.