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Peter Pluim, President, SAP Enterprise Cloud Services, SAP
Peter Pluim
President, SAP Enterprise Cloud Services

Professional background: In 1995, after graduating from university, Peter launched one of the first Dutch Internet service companies, which he sold two years later. In 1997, he joined IBM, where he stayed for the next 16 years, followed by eight years in senior roles at Atos, the systems integrator. In 2019, SAP recruited him to run SAP Enterprise Cloud Services.

Education: Bachelors in Chemical Engineering - Process Technology, Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen, Netherlands.

By Peter Pluim, President, SAP Enterprise Cloud Services, SAP


Over the last years, my organization has learned not only how to deliver cloud products but also to create a cloud mindset. By that I mean that we have learned to continuously drive innovation in our products and help our customers take full advantage of their power.

Often, the first step is to teach our clients about all the capabilities they already have. We have customers who have built thousands of applications over the last 10 or 15 years, and we have to show them that their subscription to our cloud means they no longer have to maintain any of those homebrewed apps.

A good analogy is Office 365: nearly every corporate citizen out there uses it, but most of us don’t get further than using Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, even though the feature and function set of Office 365 is extremely broad – there’s Teams, SharePoint, and even tools to create video or take pictures of invoices. We help customers unlock all functionalities and benefits of the cloud.

Matching that functionality is not always easy. Cloud computing means standardization. Customers that go to the cloud give up a certain level of customization and individualism in return for better cost, more agility, more resilience, and more sustainability. For us, this means that instead of just saying, yes, and customizing in extreme detail for every customer the way we did 15 years ago, now we need to help customers find workarounds for their challenges that don’t require changing any of the underlying functionality.

New management for the new mindset

This is why the cloud mindset demands creative people – and why it requires a different management perspective too. You can’t be a micromanager: your people need to have room to build the solutions the client needs out of the building blocks you have.

What works best in this kind of situation is a management style called distributed leadership, which was developed in the early 2000s. The basics of the idea come down to this: imagine I have a picture of a dog in my head. I can describe that dog to everybody in the team and tell them all to draw a dog. But I will need to accept that everybody else’s dog is going to look different than the picture of the dog that I have in my head, regardless of how much excruciating detail I use to describe that dog. As long as no one draws a cat, we are doing a good job.

That’s the core of the approach: you drive empowerment, focus on the goals, and then let your people get there, without worrying about the path they take.

This degree of delegation is also essential because we are a 24/7 business. As I still need to sleep, and my leadership team needs to sleep, and we truly are distributed around the world, I need to go to bed at night knowing that the team knows exactly what to do.

Micromanagement is an illusion

The lessons of distributed leadership have many analogies.

One is that effective micromanagement is an illusion. If you manage teams and manage people, they really are people, with their own ideas, with their own opinions, with their own way of doing things and their own approaches. You need to accept that there is no one best way of executing a task or assuming that your way is the best way. The key is that you are all aligned to the same goal.

You also need to accept that speed is sometimes more important than getting everything perfect.  It is better to deliver 80%, fail, regroup, and adapt, than to wait many months or even years to get something 100% right, and then find out that whatever you delivered is no longer relevant.

Finally, it’s important to accept that a lot of people don’t love change as much as you do.  Change takes them out of their comfort zone, so you need to make a business case to do it. You need to show them an upside that will result from the transformation. If things only get worse afterwards, then you’re never going to get all the stakeholders to agree to drive the transformation.

You also need to accept that you’re never going to convince everybody.  On the other hand, when you find people who are proponents, let them run. Don’t start limiting them just because they have a certain sticker on their head or play a certain role.

But you’ve got to maintain your focus. Ultimately, I always go back to the questions I’ve asked myself since I started my career in technology 25 years ago: Can we deliver?  How do we deliver?  How do we optimize and improve that experience for our customers and make sure they get the maximum value out of the investment they have made? 

The Takeaways

It takes creative people to take full advantage of a standardized cloud service.

Manage the objectives, not the paths.

You need to sell change to people, but you don’t need everybody.