Q&A with Tom Raftery, Global VP at SAP

MEDIA 7 | September 19, 2019

Tom Raftery, Global VP at SAP is an Innovation Evangelist, Futurist, and international Keynote speaker. Prior to joining SAP, Tom worked for a number of companies at Group IT Manager/CTO level, and as an Industry Analyst. Tom is a global thought leader and ranks among the top 10 Internet of Things influencers in the world. 

MEDIA 7: If I were to say to a bunch of people who know you, ‘Give me three adjectives that best describe you’, what would I hear?
I would like to think that I am a good communicator, maybe smart and hopefully generous. You will have to ask people other than myself though. They would be a better judge.

M7: What is the role of a technology influencer in driving environmental sustainability?
The role of someone like me would be to raise awareness of the issues that are happening and potential solutions to them, particularly technological solutions. A lot of people are busy in their day-to-day lives and they might not be aware of some of the more pressing environmental issues that are happening in the world and that might impact them. So, raising awareness with people, of the importance of these issues, and the potential technological solutions to them is the role I think that influencers should be playing.

"Raising awareness with people, of the importance of environmental issues, and the potential technological solutions to them is the role that influencers should be playing."

M7: SAP is celebrating the 10th anniversary of strategic sustainability this year. What are the initiatives being taken by the company to help the world run better and achieve the UN sustainable development goals by 2030?
We are involved in a lot of different projects in this front. We work for example, with Vestas Wind Systems who are the only global energy company dedicated exclusively to wind energy. We help them with their backend systems to help optimize the delivery of windfarms and turbines to windfarms, so that they are keeping their costs down and deploying the windfarms with the highest efficiency. We work with Munich Re and the European Space Agency. Munich Re are one of the largest reinsurance companies in the world and for them, they need to predict, and try and mitigate the damage of natural disasters. We use data from European Space Agency to help Munich Re do that.

We work with Brazilian company, Stara who are an agricultural company. They manufacture agricultural equipment, and the work we do with them is what’s called precision agriculture. Precision agriculture means that we can help their machines be far more precise in things like spreading fertilizers, spreading seeds to make sure that the seeds don’t overlap, the fertilizer doesn’t overlap and you’re doing it row by row. You have to sow the seeds and spread the fertilizer very accurately to avoid an overlap. Because if you have overlap with fertilizer, it can reach toxic levels and damage the plants that you are trying to help. If you have overlap in seeds, you can have excess competition between the seeds and then you get reduction in yield. Whereas if you are optimizing using precision agriculture, you are massively reducing your inputs and you are maximizing your outputs. So, you are able to feed more people with less land and less resources which obviously, as we are reaching higher population levels year-on-year, this becomes more and more important.

We work with NGOs like this one in Africa, called Elephants, Rhinos and People which was founded to preserve and protect the wild elephants and rhinos in Southern Africa. We work with local people to make sure that it’s more profitable for them to protect wildlife than it is to be poaching wildlife. We put collars on elephants and rhinos with geo-tracking in them. We use drones, to track the elephants and rhinos and if they start approaching borders of the parks that might expose them more to poaching. We send off alerts and help move them back into places where they are safer. Since we started the initiative in that area, no elephants rhinos, or humans have been harmed since the deployment of the tracking.

We work with Swiss Federal Railways, the largest energy consumer in Switzerland and they are also an energy producer - they produce electricity. So, we work with them to help reduce the peak loads, the peak demand for electricity by flattening their load which then means, they don’t need to build extra generation plants, reducing their carbon footprint and making their organization more efficient.

"Making our workforce aware of what we are doing as our external constituents is important for our employees to feel engaged and part of something important."

M7: You have been on the SmartCitiesWorld Advisory Board. How does SmartCitiesWorld help in developing smart cities of the future?
The SmartCitiesWorld is a publication. It raises awareness of smart cities initiatives that cities can take to make the cities run better, reduce their energy requirements, reduce their footprint, increase their air quality, reduce noise pollution, and lots of different initiatives like that. So, as a publication, it’s primarily responsible for raising awareness and helping cities find better ways to increase quality of life for their constituents.

M7: How does SAP embrace an innovative culture in the company?
Obviously, as a technology company it is very important for SAP to embrace an innovative culture in the company and what the company typically does is, it spends a lot of money on research and development and it does a lot of communication internally and externally highlighting the innovative solutions that we have come up with for our customers. And making our workforce aware of what we are doing as our external constituents because it’s important for our employees to feel engaged and part of something important. And as a consequence, every time, every year, we run this survey internally on how happy our employees are working for SAP. And our rate of employee retention is extremely high.

It’s not unusual in Europe to talk to SAP employees who have been working for the company for 10 or more years, which in the technology industry is unusual. So, that’s how we embrace the innovative culture and we talk of the things that we do, we work closely also with our customers because we do a lot of co-innovation projects with our customers where we take our customers into our co-innovation centers and we talk through their problems with them and come up with innovative ways to solve any particularly gnarly issues that they might have.

"A lot of people are busy in their day-to-day lives and they might not be aware of some of the more pressing environmental issues that are happening in the world and that might impact them."

M7: What is your favorite part of working at SAP?
I started working for SAP in September 2016, so it’s just over 3 years ago now. And, prior to working with SAP, I had worked primarily with startups and small companies. I have never worked with a global mega vendor before. So, I was wondering what it would be like and I had my doubts, and if you would ask me in 2016, I would have said, “Yeah, I’ll probably last about three months with SAP”. But, three years later, here I am. And, a lot of that is down to the fact that the company is so big, and it has close to 100,000 employees, it means there are always people I can approach, if I need help in any country or in any industry. Because my role is across industry. So, if I need to talk to somebody who is in the transportation industry, I can just go straight to the transportation business unit and talk to people there. If I need to talk to people in the hospitality industry, same story. If I need to talk to people in the airline industry, the mining industry, the electricity industry, we cover all industries, we cover all regions globally. And, there’s a culture within SAP of helpfulness which is great. Apparently, it’s unusual. For me, it’s the norm if people bring up and ask me for help, I would say, “Yeah sure, absolutely, no problem.” And that’s the way most people in SAP are! You pick up the phone or send an email, and they are happy to help, no matter what. Apparently, that’s not the norm for big companies, but it is the norm for SAP which is great and that’s why I love working for SAP.  

M7: When did you start working, how old were you, and what was it?
My first job was when I was 14. I worked on a building site where I was a builder’s mate, helping raise the scaffolding on the building and also help ferry bricks that were delivered to the site from the ground up to the brick layers on the top floor. So, that was my first job.


SAP is a global software application vendor. SAP is the market leader in enterprise application software, helping companies of all sizes and in all industries run at their best: 77% of the world’s transaction revenue touches an SAP system. Our machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT), and advanced analytics technologies help turn customers’ businesses into intelligent enterprises. Our end-to-end suite of applications and services enables our customers to operate profitably, adapt continuously, and make a difference. With a global network of customers, partners, employees, and thought leaders, SAP helps the world run better and improves people’s lives.