Roman Knap


“I do not only set targets for myself, I fulfil them.”


Roman Knap, Managing Director SAP, Czech Republic

Roman Knap, Managing Director SAP, Czech Republic

When I interview leading personalities from IT corporations I sometimes feel like being on a different planet. This is not only due to the range of topics related to new technologies, disruptive trends and discussions about cloud or IoT (internet of things), but also due to many of these being beyond common comprehension of most users. I very much appreciate positive energy, optimism and passion that leaders in IT authentically show. Interviewing and photo shooting Mr. Roman Knap, MD SAP Czech Republic, was no exception.

As we come to the end of 2016, let us begin with a review. How was 2016 from the IT and SAP perspective?

This year has been for us, as well as for our competitors, very successful. As the economy is growing, so is our industry. Today, all investments and projects are linked to IT in one way or the other. Even in areas that are not primarily linked to IT, we cannot avoid IT completely, be it on a private or business level, and it is essential to make this clear. Based on this reasoning, when SAP is doing well, both our partners and also our competitors prosper. I am always being careful when someone claims he is doing fine while the rest of the industry is negatively affected.

Talking about competition, is there still such thing in IT? In this field, many former competitors were forced to collaborate, so it seems that the paradigm shift from collaboration to completion has proven to be working…

Yes, competition still exists; however, now we talk about a new type of competition. After a period of consolidation and purchases of smaller players by large multinational corporations, new competition has emerged in the form of dynamic, young start-up companies. These new players and challenges have built their business using IT principles. Multinationals usually react in two ways, either they try to change the way they themselves operate to become more flexible and dynamic, or they start to support young companies to secure markets also for themselves. And so we are back to the claim that IT technologies are backing up all ideas and projects and so everybody is using technologies from big IT companies.

Your saying “there is fun in IT” has attracted a lot attention. I had the opportunity to attend the SAP Forum in September and I can confirm that it was a lot of fun. The computer selected a beer for me, when using 3D glasses I was able to ride on a scary roller-coaster and I passed the test proving I am not suffering from IT dementia…

This statement has been quoted quite often and I have the feeling that there is even more fun than ever in IT. When I was appointed the MD of SAP in the Czech Republic, after being MD in Slovakia, I had two priorities. The first one was to give SAP a human face. The second priority was to invite people from other industries to collaborate, so the labelling “these are those from IT” would not be valid anymore. And such approach has also affected the way we organise our events. We started to pay more attention to people coming from various backgrounds and industries and directly from our customers, we stopped using IT language, those facilitating our events are not from IT and to our regular SAP Forum in spring we invite various customers to speak about their user experience. The feedback from customers confirms that our different approach is working. Before, they had no clue how much fun they can have with us, how much interesting and also enjoyable the IT segment as such can be. And as we discussed diversity of backgrounds, I would like to mention also gender diversity. I am proud to announce that SAP has gained the global certification for its gender equality and the Czech Republic was one of the branches that met the criteria.

Let us now take the pink glasses off for a while. It is a sad fact that the Czech Republic, albeit a leader in exporting digital technologies, cannot IT use efficiently. How can we improve the use of IT in the public sector?

Well, even this situation can be viewed as an opportunity. This can be a role just for us. I personally do not believe in voluminous strategic documents, as these might be great projects only for consulting companies, the reality is simply different. Many things have already been designed and discussed, so why starting from scratch over and over again? I believe that it is important to start with baby steps. We have enough visions and strategies, so let us start implementing them. Alternative solutions will always exist. It is only an illusion to divide the project part from the realisation part. And one more thing is important – to set an example. If top leaders start using technologies and so will start explaining the benefits to others, everything will be easier. Right now, with regards to the young generation not willing to participate in the elections, e-government is often cited as a solution. As a citizen, I know how I am being served. I still have to run to various offices. Information is not shared. I do not see my balance account vis-à-vis (towards the state). Starting a business is a very lengthy and complicated procedure, which becomes even more difficult in case of a foreign body that wants to start own subsidiary here.

Your optimistic approach is also based on the claim that the Czech Republic is an attractive country. Compared to the others, you do not cry over the lack of qualified IT specialists since you are able to attract enough foreigners to come and work here.

The Czech Republic is attractive thanks to its location, history and I often stress that we have many clever and educated people here. It is true that as SAP is growing we would need even more people, because we ran out of local sources. All foreign employees confirm that they have a good life in the Czech Republic. It is a safe country with good infrastructure and the cost of living is not enormously high. So most of the conditions needed for people to feel good are fulfilled.

By now, I truly perceive that optimism and positive approach is inherent to you. However, it is often the difficult moments that define great leaders, the moments when one has to overcome a barrier. Which moments do you recall as transformative and challenging ones?

I remember that when five years ago I was appointed a new MD of SAP in Slovakia, it was a new country for me, a new team and a company that had no history on the market. At this moment all people coming to me were mentioning all possible problems which could arise. I was warned that the Slovaks rarely accept Czech managers, I was told how specific a Slovak market is, and how MD is the position with the least stability, even with the negative affects on the personal life and much more… All various risks in many forms. However, for me, this was an enormous opportunity. How many times can you get such a challenge? What was the worse thing that could happen? To return back to the Czech Republic. Personally, I really like Slovakia and I really enjoyed working there. I was able to get the support from the team, build relations with customers and so I started to build upon the first successes. I promised my team maximum support in return for the support from them. And together we were really successful.

What is your definition of a leader? And do you see leaders around?

Each leadership training starts with a definition and so I could also cite a few. However, I would like to make a parallel to a good salesperson. A good salesperson is the one who customers like to buy from. Well, and a good leader is the one who is being followed with joy. I see many leaders around myself at SAP and I like to learn from them. As long as they are on their positions, I have a reason to believe that everything will be ok. You know, IT environment is truly unique. Making a parallel to IT from the point of implementation of a complicated system, you work on a testing system and when everything runs smoothly then you apply it in real case scenario. Can you give me any other industry where you can do the same? Can a doctor afford to test a new approach on a patient? Or an architect or an engineer?

Let us discuss the theme of Corporate Social Responsibility that we share. Nowadays, corporations, thanks to their activities in this sphere, are considered bearers of value of civil society.

Our mission is “Run simple to improve people’s lives” and this can be fulfilled in many ways. One of them might be enabling creative people world-wide to fulfil their vision for SAP company. The second level might be represented by charity or volunteering. Each October, we have “a month of service” when employees take part in a specific project to help raise money for charity organisations. We are glad to see how many and how much employees are interested. As I have already mentioned, I very much appreciate being recognised for the diversity and the certification we have received is the proof. The third level of best practice is best documented by the project Autism at work. At SAP Services (former SAP BSCE) we employ people with autism at various positions. The main motif of this programme is not CSR as such but the unique chance to hire very talented people. These people will on the other hand get an interesting and stable job, so it is a truly win-win situation. Large corporations simply must lead by example and prove that embracing diversity brings benefits to all concerned. I am personally a Board member of Junior Achievement. I have already been involved in Slovakia and now I am looking forward to continuing the cooperation.

And now the last question – where do you see yourself and SAP in twenty years?

Such long term horizon is a bit hard to grasp for me. Allow me to simplify it as we all know that corporations tend to operate on a quarterly basis. Personally? As opposed to some determined people, I do not set targets for myself, I’d rather fulfil them. In order to be able to fulfil the targets, I need to work with teams in such an environment that enables me to react in a flexible manner to a fast changing environment. And SAP is definitely such an organisation. I am not afraid that in a couple years our products will be outdated. It is incredible to be able to witness the transformation we have been able to partake during last five to ten years. And this is true from the point of view of products, customer communication or market reputation. SAP is no longer a system tracking late invoice payments, accounting financial consolidation or materials used. Now, SAP is present and active in areas that were not connected to IT at all, such as health care or sport: for example, the link between SAP and football, ice hockey or tennis is common. Czech people must be happy to know that SAP has the solutions as to how improve efficiency and performance of a football team. Analysing game situations increases the quality of training and helps in video-coaching. During the ice-hockey world championship there were cameras installed analysing game situations. This helps not only coaches during training but also fans who can access real-time statistics and so they are able to enjoy the match much more. Strategies are again backed up by data. No coach can afford that players just skate in the arena without having necessary information. SAP was the only sponsor of Ice-hockey World Cup. I can share another example – from the Formula 1 environment. In each racing car from McLarenHonda is more than 200 sensors sending information to technicians. Processing and visualisation of 50 MB data runs on SAP HANA in real time. All these are examples of positive disruption mentioned by Stefan Höchbauer. For me personally, the topic of Industry 4.0 is fascinating. Such topic is as attractive as sport because it affects the whole society. I would rather use the term initiative Society 4.0, as this agenda talks about education, employee qualification, changes at the workplace, implementing new technologies in production, making use of Internet of Things and overall robotic automation. Until now, there have been machines working on one side and humans on the other side. The next wave will affect the very direct collaboration between machines and people. I am looking forward to technological innovation programmes that will help to prepare society for all these changes. I hope that by now I have managed to persuade readers that IT is everywhere but it is now about experiences. I personally very much enjoy the industry and I am looking forward to enjoying it even more in 20 years.

By Linda Štucbartová

Photo By Vladimír Weiss

Note. See also our interview with Stefan Höchbauer