Last week, I wrote a post about SAP NS2 and its CEO Mark Testoni, and how the German software giant managed to gain a foothold in providing technology for secure and sensitive U.S. government operations. What warrants elaboration here is the general nature of some of the work SAP NS2 is doing and, just as importantly, the amazing work SAP NS2 is doing to serve U.S. military veterans.
As I noted in that post, SAP NS2 was established in 2011 as a U.S. company that is independent of SAP, so it’s just as American as any other U.S. technology vendor. To further explain that, Testoni described the organization structure this way:
We have a board of directors that I work for, chaired by Frances Townsend, former Bush and Clinton administration [national security] appointee. We have three other outside board directors, and I’m one of three who are inside. The board provides the management structure over the company — SAP does not have the ability to do that. What SAP gets are the business results of what we do. It’s a really interesting model — it gives me what I would consider to be the best job in the world, because I have the ability, with the support of the board, to have wide-reaching authority to prosecute the business, to make investments.
Testoni went on to describe the work that SAP NS2 is doing:
We basically have built a software company here — we sell it, we implement it, we have our own product support organization. We have a cloud organization we’re setting up to deliver this in the cloud. And we even have a small developer organization. But one of the other things that’s interesting is we also set up a venture fund to make investments in small companies that are building out capabilities on our HANA [high-speed data analytics] platform and other technical platforms that support the work we’re doing in the national security space. The HANA platform is the kind of thing we’re working on in the national security space, looking at problems like cybersecurity, patterns of behavior, and fusing intelligence data together really rapidly to give our government’s operations an edge. We’re definitely not our parents’ SAP over here.
So the projects SAP NS2 is involved in basically fall into two categories, Testoni said:
One would be, how do we create the new intelligence paradigm? We have traditional methods of collection in the intelligence space, the national security space — we do human intelligence, signals intelligence, electronic sensors, all those things. Now we have this whole new pool of exploding information called ‘open source’ — the digital footprints that you and I create and leave every day, including in this phone conversation.
The second area is cybersecurity. How do we create a culture of cybersecurity awareness? That’s a leadership issue that we have in every company and organization. And how does tech better support detection and apprehension of these threats? There’s a lot around user behavior analytics, pattern of life, all those data types that we see as opportunities.
I asked Testoni what the toughest part of his job is as CEO of SAP NS2. He said it’s convincing customers to make a change:
It’s so hard when you aren’t an incumbent — there have been traditional players and providers, like Oracle and IBM. I don’t compete with them as much as I compete with inertia. We have to get people to think differently. How do you get someone to do something new? All of us are creatures of habit — we all read ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ We love routine. How do you get somebody to take a chance, and do something different? That’s the hardest part of the job. But it’s so rewarding when they do change.
When we look at the threats that are out there today, we have to make this change. I mentioned cybersecurity — when you look at the breaches that have taken place, something like 99 percent of them are attributable to human error, not a technical issue. Secondly, we have to have a new thought process, or mental approach, that says, ‘Hey, we have to make the presumption that somebody has broken in,’ instead of believing we’re protected in every way, shape, and form. By presuming that somebody has broken in, we’ll be more vigilant. So changing that kind of culture is really important — that helps drive new ideas and solutions. People are getting that, don’t get me wrong. But it’s really a hard pull.
Testoni pointed out that government agencies need to be more open to fixes that lie outside of the realm of government:
One of the things that’s important related to this is commercial technologies are becoming critical in arenas like cybersecurity and rapid information fusion — that is, fusing traditional intelligence methods with this new, vast world of open-source information from the digital footprints we create on the Internet. The government has to get better, and we have to help them get better in adopting commercial technologies rapidly. We need to better understand the threats to this country by exploiting that open-source information on the Internet — that’s a huge thing that we need to be able to do in this country in the coming years. We think we’re going to be part of that at NS2.
I began wrapping up the conversation by asking Testoni if he could have one do-over since becoming CEO of SAP NS2, what it would be. He said he probably would have moved a little faster to make changes when he first took over:
We pulled together components of three companies — SAP Public Services, Sybase [acquired by SAP in 2010], and Business Objects [acquired by SAP in 2007] — into one company. Each one had its own leadership structure and culture, and then of course there was my culture, which was probably different from the others. I knew I had to make changes, and I probably could have accomplished it six to nine months faster. You have to assess who is on your team and who isn’t — some people, when change like that happens, it’s not that they’re bad people, they just don’t want to do it. I tried too long to bring some of them along. I’m generally a fairly action-oriented guy, but I was probably a little bit more patient than I should have been in that regard.
What may well have been the most important part of the conversation came at the very end, when Testoni told me about NS2 Serves:
One of the things we do is we try really hard to give back to the community that we serve. About two-and-a-half years ago we established a veterans training program called NS2 Serves. I told you earlier I have the best job in the world, and one of the reasons is this program. We take a pretty good chunk of money out of the company and we put it in this non-profit. We take the hard-to-employ veteran — not the military officer who’s going to have three or four job opportunities, but the enlisted guy with no college degree. Usually the profile is they got out of the military in their late 20s or early 30s, they have a family, and can’t get a job. We turn them into SAP consultants around the HANA platform — we bring them in for 12 weeks, and then we get them employed. We pay for everything — we bring them in, we pay them, we put them up in housing.
On May 20, we graduated our fifth class, and we’ll have put 101 people through. And every one of them will have a job opportunity, with an average starting salary of roughly $65,000 a year. I’m really proud of it, and it’s kind of unique—we were at the White House [on May 5], where our program was recognized by the First Lady’s Joining Forces initiative. There are some amazing stories — you can’t imagine how people’s lives have been impacted. Probably no one’s life has been impacted more than mine, to get to watch it all. It’s pretty amazing stuff.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.