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SAP's new CIO looks to lure young talent with holodeck meetings

'If we do it right, the entire virtual meeting discussion will change,' says German tech firm's new young executive

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 June, 2016, 12:51pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 June, 2016, 3:54pm

The battle to attract millennial talent is fierce and companies have resorted to offering quirky benefits such as free food, cooking classes and even cash to help with new babies.

But German tech giant SAP 's new chief information officer believes going for cool technology holds the key to attracting the next generation's brightest minds and leaders.

Thomas Saueressig, only 31 and a millennial himself, wants SAP's meetings to boldly go where no one has gone before: to the holodeck.

He's bringing holographic technology, popular in science fiction, to meeting rooms. While existing video conferencing technology already allows participants in various geographies to virtually attend a meeting, Saueressig, who has been in his role only a couple of months, is aiming for a full augmented-reality experience - a meeting room filled with holograms of people as they work together.

"With holograms, it will be different in how I can interact with [another] person... if we do it right, the entire virtual meeting discussion will change and you get a different kind of trust level if you see people in a different way," he says.

It's a concept popularised in the long-running Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series, in addition to other science fiction universes.

Holograms are part of augmented reality (AR), which overlays the real world with digital information or virtual objects that can theoretically include virtual projections of people. By contrast, virtual reality (VR) immerses a user in a completely virtual space.

Making meetings more exciting isn't Saueressig's only plan for AR.

He's also looking at deploying it inside SAP's data centers, which house volumes of information in servers and racks. Hiccups during servicing the hardware in those data centers can disrupt front-line employees' access to vital information, potentially translating into business losses.

"If you upgrade and exchange the components of the hardware [with AR], you directly get real-time information of the racks in the data center," explained Saueressig. The information, likely accessed through AR glasses or other devices, can tell the service personnel which components need to be changed, provide instructions on how to change it and even hold video conferences with other support staff in case problems arise.

Both AR and VR technologies have been garnering investment interest. Data from Digi-Capital, a firm that advises AR/VR, mobile and gaming companies for M&A, shows investment in AR and VR reached US$1.1 billion in January-February of this year alone.

Holograms aren't Saueressig's only technology initiative aimed at attracting and keeping millennial workers.

Instead of dictating employee hardware, he's allowing them to choose the kind of devices they want to work on, although it is limited to a pre-approved list of mobile devices, including iPhones and Android-based Samsung phones, and laptops, which are then fitted with the necessary applications, software and security policies.

That can be key to keeping millennials engaged with their employer.

A survey from consulting firm Deloitte earlier this year found 77 per cent of millennials wanted to have greater mobile connectivity at work through tablets and smartphones, while 75 per cent said they wanted to work remotely from other locations that could add to their productivity.

"You can work everywhere with your devices and do your job, which means you don't need to always come to the office," Saueressig said. "You don't need to choose between making a career and having a family."

Saueressig and his team can control the devices using SAP's Mobile Secure Cloud; if they are stolen, the devices can be remotely wiped clean of any sensitive materials inside.

Keeping work flexible is important to retaining millennials, said Saueressig, adding the age group is focused on the impact they generate, rather than titles and hierarchies, and prefer a seamless blend of their work life and private life, he said.

That was borne out by the Deloitte study, which found that aside from financial considerations, good work/life balance, opportunities for progress/leadership and working flexibility were the top three considerations for millennials when it came to evaluating job opportunities.

In the end, Saueressig said his ultimate goal is to ensure his employees are satisfied.

"I fundamentally believe that at the end of the day, happiness is a competitive advantage."

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