CTO Sessions: Jens Krueger, Workday

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? "Technology is there to support the business goals, so you have to start with those."

cto sessions jens krueger workday

Name: Jens Krueger

Company: Workday

Job title: Chief Technology Officer for EMEA

Date started current role: March 2019

Location: Berlin - but as Chief Technology Officer for EMEA he spends a lot of time travelling around Europe and working with the Research & Development team in Dublin.

Dr. Jens Krueger is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) EMEA at Workday.  He brings a wealth of experience, spanning product development and strategic consultancy, and is now focused on sharing the power of Workday’s solution with customers, prospects and media. Prior to joining Workday, Kreuger worked at McKinsey Digital as an Associate Partner, where he advised brands on the selection and implementation of enterprise applications, as well as supporting mergers & acquisitions.

What was your first job? My first job after University was as an app developer for SAP. I started as a student in 1999 and became an SAP consultant three years later in 2002. 

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, my studies focused on business administration specialising in IT and a career in technology was always the goal.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a PhD in computer science from the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany, and a Diploma in Business Administration from the Freie University of Berlin, Germany.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I spent over fifteen years in the SAP ecosystem reaching the role of a Senior Vice President. When I left, I decided to take a sabbatical before joining McKinsey in 2017 as a strategy consultant. It gave me the chance to approach technology from the other side, working to support the customer. My time at McKinsey gave me a much more rounded perspective.   

What type of CTO are you? I like to get deep into the technology - if you want to talk about bits and bytes, I’m happy to do that. But I’m equally focused on the business requirements. For me it’s all about finding the intersection between what the technology can do and what the business needs.

It’s no good having tech for tech’s sake. You have to start with a business perspective. That’s one of the things I learned during my time at McKinsey.  

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Machine learning, but not only machine learning. It’s not an emerging technology but, when combined with the power of AI and machine learning, data is becoming the most important part of an organisation. Data is the connecting tissue that allows organisations to capitalise on some of the most exciting developments in technology.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Blockchain. I think it has a role to play within larger systems to address very specific use cases. For example, we recently announced we will be using blockchain to help HR teams verify credentials when onboarding new staff.

But more broadly, I think the hype around blockchain outweighs the potential, especially as the technology is discussed without specific business outcomes, which should be at the forefront of the discussion. I also think it’s unwise to abandon the concept of trust when it comes to doing business.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? The last 12 months have involved some big changes. I’ve been proud of the work I’ve done to help customers change the way they think about technology, and in particular the “best of breed” approach.

I’ve spent a lot of time working with customers to help them get to a point where data is facilitating a smart platform approach.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? No, but I have been working with customers on their own digital transformation initiatives and supporting them on that journey. One of the things that I continually emphasise is customers will only realise software’s full potential if they have a transformational mindset in how they implement it - go live and then continue to improve over time.

For me, it’s not about operational efficiency versus revenue growth. The two should go hand in hand. 

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? When I was at McKinsey we surveyed CIOs to find out their biggest challenge. It wasn’t emerging technology, the main challenge was simplification of landscape, process and data.

I believe there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of helping business leaders to understand how to become an agile organisation, so they can keep up with how their business is changing.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? Technology is there to support the business goals, so you have to start with those. You have to be resolutely focused on the outcome for the customer.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Workday runs its business on Workday so we have a very customer-centric view of our own technology. We’re the first to experience every new feature we roll out. We also regularly interact with customers to learn about the challenges they face so we can bring them back to the product management team to improve the experience. This customer-centric view ensures our product strategy and our technology strategy stay closely aligned.  

What makes an effective tech strategy? One that can be efficiently implemented and supports the product strategy without any detours. Even if that means having to re-platform.

This is the problem that most software companies are struggling with. You have to be bold enough to say “ok, we have to re-platform”.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? Over the last decade, the most successful companies have all been tech companies at their core. In the future, the role of the CTO is going to be more important than ever, helping to take businesses on transformational journeys as they become increasingly tech driven.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I was part of the founding team of the in-memory database research project “HANA” that started in 2006 in cooperation with SAP at the Hasso Plattner Institute. We implemented the first prototype of an in-memory database showing the feasibility of the proposed architecture.

Our idea of putting data into a memory has helped to define business applications today and it’s why I joined Workday. They are doing it like no one else and I’ve been a part of that journey from day one.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Put more focus on my family. It’s one of the reasons why I took a sabbatical after leaving SAP. The best way to build relationships is to simply be there and invest the time. I learned that a little bit late in life.

What are you reading now? I enjoy reading books about sailing, which is one of my hobbies. I’m currently reading a book about how to improve your skipper skills and recently finished Johannes Erdmann’s account of his single-handed crossing of the Atlantic.

Most people don't know that I… plan to sail across the Atlantic myself, although not single-handed. One day soon I’d like to complete the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers - over 200 yachts take part each year and cross the ocean from Gran Canaria to St. Lucia.

In my spare time, I like to…Besides sailing, I like to be in the garden. I love being outside and it’s something totally different from the day job. I like to grow my own vegetables and recently built a raised bed where I’m currently growing lettuces, broccoli and cucumbers. It tastes so much better when you’ve grown it yourself.

Ask me to do anything but… Walk into a pointless meeting. You know the type, no clear agenda and full of people who don’t really know why they are there. I normally last two minutes, or long enough to pour myself a coffee.