SAP's "Third" CEO: Vishal Sikka

Early on at Sapphire 2010, CTO Vishal Sikka took on a somewhat starring and surprising role, even with his co-CEOs on stage.

to Applications |
He's not as well known as legendary SAP cofounder and chairman Hasso Plattner. And his profile isn't as glamorous as SAP's new co-CEOs, Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe.

But the stock of SAP CTO Vishal Sikka appears to be on the rise.

SAP CTO Vishal Sikka

You'll recall that SAP's senior management and executive board endured a shake up (to put it mildly) early in 2010, and Sikka came through the carnage without a scratch: He was granted a seat on the SAP executive board from his home base in Palo Alto.

Plattner has, for all intents and purposes, dubbed Sikka (who was SAP's first-ever CTO) as the tech heir apparent as well as a worthy partner—the Robin to Hasso's Batman.

Sikka's presence and expertise among senior SAP management was on display on the first morning of SAP's Sapphire show in Orlando. During the dual-continent opening press conference (McDermott was in Orlando, Snabe in Frankfurt), there were several questions from the assembled analysts and media in which the co-CEOs deferred to Sikka, who was sitting in the front row and not up on stage with McDermott).

Once or twice, Sikka didn't even wait to be asked for his opinion, charging up to the microphone and handling the question. He answered smartly, succinctly (if somewhat dispassionately) on topics ranging from in-memory databases, the brand-new Sybase acquisition, Oracle's Exadata threat, joint partnerships with IBM, Intel and HP, and the status of NetWeaver ("Alive and well," he stated dryly).

No one would expect McDermott or Snabe to hold court on the intricacies of, say, in-memory database innovation. But what I found interesting was both Sikka's confidence and the co-CEOs deference. Sikka wasn't afraid of addressing larger business issues, either.

As I have stated before, SAP has worked hard to shift the conversation from the personal and political strife that lurked behind the scenes at the German software giant last year, and put the emphasis back on the technology. So Sikka's ascendance is entirely predictable.

Being tight with Hasso doesn't hurt, either. (That's some good "grooming.")

I spoke with Sikka in June 2009 for a profile on CIO.com. He has more than a thousand employees working under him as well as "partner customers" who aid in SAP's co-innovative efforts, he says. His most important and challenging task, however, is to innovate, innovate, innovate. Which is easier said than done, especially given the cloud pressure facing the world's number-one business apps vendor.

During the press conference this morning, McDermott mentioned SAP's "crown jewels" several times, referring, implicitly, to its suite of business applications. He could also have been referring to SAP's CTO seated in the front row.

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