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SAP Labs North America's chief describes the operation

Rami Branitzky, managing director of SAP Labs North America, offers a look into SAP's Silicon Valley operations.

SAP's staid German roots and the freewheeling culture of Silicon Valley are worlds apart, which is why it was so interesting to speak with Rami Branitzky, managing director of Palo Alto-based SAP Labs North America.

How many people work at SAP Labs North America?

Rami Branitzky: 2,100 to 2,200 people, excluding Business Objects. Seventy percent are in Palo Alto. The majority don't do development, though. There's an ecosystem team. We do ISV work (powered by NetWeaver), research, and SAP Ventures. We're also the host to SAP Americas.

Isn't it confusing to have all those different lines of business, especially those facing the market?

Branitzky: There are a lot of synergies. Take Cisco and Adobe. They're customers and partners. Cisco was interested in our GRC [governance, risk and compliance] offering. They engaged directly with sales and with our GRC development organization. Then the ecosystem team came in because Cisco wanted to create a partnership. It's a similar story with Adobe.

Is there a cross-fertilization of ideas between SAP Labs people in different lines?

Branitzky: Yes. For example, the sales account executives engage directly with our CTO, Vishal Sikka. We have monthly meetings for all lines of business to get together and talk. For example, right now we're assimilating Business Objects, and we're talking about the impact on the different organizations that reside here.

How do you manage the different lines of business?

Branitzky: It's a matrix organization. Each line of business has a global responsibility. In some cases, it's driven out of here; in other instances, we report to Germany. I report to Claus Heinrich in Germany. The Lab is a horizontal organization that transcends those lines of business. We provide infrastructure support and governance to all those lines.

How deeply is Germany involved in governing SAP Labs North America?

Budgets and all that come from Germany, but we are given free rein to generate activities. For example, we announced a sustainability initiative. We are lowering carbon emissions on campus and are thinking about using our own products to maybe measure emissions in the supply chain. This could be a conduit back to Germany.

How would you characterize SAP's relationship with Silicon Valley?

Branitzky: One of the things this lab did was find out about TopTier [a portal company SAP acquired in 2001]. I came over from TopTier. Now we are still SAP's eyes and ears for many things in the valley.

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