SAP Mentor Spotlight Interview: Chris Kernaghan


The SAP Mentor Spotlight Interview Series highlights key strategic topics, such as emerging technologies, learning, and other topics, and provides insights from Mentors and SAP leaders on turning ideas into innovative approaches that impact people, process, and technology.

Big-picture thinking is key to understanding what is possible both today and in the future.

From time-to-time it is helpful to take a step back and see the bigger picture, whether it’s tied to business, technology, sustainability, civic engagement, or using modern day advancements to respond to a disaster. Looking at the broad view helps us recognize where we are heading and can provide a clearer vision of the path forward.

When we take the time to gain perspective it can instill a greater sense of purpose.

For Chris Kernaghan, SAP Mentor and Chief Product Officer at Centiq, he has made it a practice to look at the bigger picture. He has a passion for sharing knowledge with others, while learning from them at the same time. From co-hosting the podcast, TechForGood, to his community engagement both locally and around the world, Chris takes the time to help us see the forest through the trees.

It was a pleasure to connect with Chris and learn more about his early professional journey and some of the ways that he’s helping both business and IT unlock value.

Allie Trzaska (AT): From your days at the Methodist College Belfast (aka Methody) to The Manchester Metropolitan University for computer science to your current role at Centiq as the Chief Product Officer, what was it about technology that interested you enough to make a career out of it?

Chris Kernaghan (CK): Great question, there are 3 things about technology that I love…

  1. There is always something new to learn and play with every day.
  2. I have worked hard to be able to relate technology to others and help them understand it – there are lots of disconnects on both sides, so if you can help with understanding and collaboration then you have a lot of opportunities to work with some very interesting people.
  3. Technology has the ability to change people’s lives and make the world a better place.

I was lucky during my industry placement in 1999 to see first-hand how dependent the world was on technology and be part of a project in a major UK bank to protect it against the risks of the Millennium bug.

During this project I found that I actually was pretty good with technology, not just in a consumer sense but within an enterprise. That experience gave me a lot of focus and desire to complete my degree with good grades and stay within the industry. I had no idea where it would lead me or the things I would do as well as the things I have yet to do.

AT: Given your passion to share knowledge and learn from others, you have co-hosted a podcast, TechForGood, where you highlight stories about how technology is being leveraged for good. What are 2 or 3 high level examples that you find compelling?

CK: Hosting TechForGood with Tom Raftery is a major highlight in my professional life, we had so much fun during the podcasts. Of course, Tom’s passion and mine is for implementing sustainable solutions and many of the stories reflect that. I’ll share a few of my favorite examples…

  1. Over the years that we were working on the podcast, the price of Solar and Wind dropped by a massive amount and rivalled fossil fuels. Even during the early podcast episodes, we discussed it as a massive achievement, but I never thought it would happen so quickly.
  2. The use of technology during the pandemic has been fascinating – from the deployment of technology to supporting people during lockdowns both in their personal and work lives. The cutting edge technology used to develop vaccines as well as discover variants has been awe-inspiring.
  3. Using technology to respond to disasters in cut off areas that need assistance. For example, enabling drones to deliver medicine, and also using telecommunications to provide telemedicine to reach those areas.

AT: How did you become an SAP Mentor? What has the experience been like for you? Are you and fellow SAP Mentors still practicing “Random Acts of Kindness” within the community?

CK: I became aware of the SAP Mentor program at SAP TechEd (2010 I believe) during the Innojam. I thought they were such an amazing, smart bunch of people. I resolved to work hard enough to be able to join and support the community. During the following year, I was fortunate to attend a few events around my favorite subject of Cloud and work within the community through blogging and doing some hackathons which led to being nominated as a Mentor.

I was inducted into the Mentor program in 2012; it’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years! The program has changed so much over the years. As with everything, those changes reflect a shift in the world. What has not changed, though, is the passion of the people within the program for SAP and the ecosystem.

Lastly, “Random Acts of Kindness” within the community is something I have not had as much opportunity to do in person for a while – like most folks. Although during the pandemic, it was a great time to reach out to friends and colleagues and just have a chat to see how things were going. I also am heavily involved within my own local community, so helping out with food deliveries during lockdowns was very rewarding, as well as supporting local groups in their activities.

AT: You shared that you have a personal and professional interest in “hacking” centered around “things that interest you within technology and outside of it.” When you speak of “hacking,” are you referring to “tinkering,” or are you interested in cybersecurity? What more can you tell us?

CK: I completely lack the extreme discipline to be in any way useful at cybersecurity, so my love of hacking is absolutely taken from the original meaning of the term to tinker with stuff. My notebooks are filled with ideas of things which would be cool to try and test out, my main constraint is my time which is stretched a lot of the time. I hope that my kids enjoy tinkering as much as I do, and we can do some projects together – that would be pretty awesome!

AT: You have a wide range of technology expertise ranging from enterprise architecture, product development, big data, programming, and multi-platform operations. Can you share a high level [anonymous] customer use case example where you and your team have addressed priority business requirements and translated them into an SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) end-to-end use case?

CK: I had a customer within the last 2 years who had a real push on business process automation – they were working very manually in a number of areas and the pandemic made that really tough. They engaged us to look at providing access to a platform which would allow them to start to easily consume automation features within their business.

One of the key tasks they needed to do was to update their SAP technical layers because they had a lot of technical debt – in doing this we realized that they should move out of their data center to a hyperscaler.

The customer chose Azure and from there we worked to perform the migration as well as set up the connectivity to both SAP BTP and Azure native services. The business is unlocking value from the ability to consume these services quickly and effectively – services like analytics, process automation and Machine Learning (ML) services.

AT: Given your career journey as an SAP customer, partner, and practitioner, you have clearly experienced a lot of lessons learned. When you come in contact with students and recent graduates who want to become an Enterprise Architect and Chief Product (Information or Technology) Officer, what guidance do you share with them which can lead to working with good people in a leading organization and a quality job?

CK: You don’t ask easy questions, do you?

I suppose it depends on the person and what their interests are, but the core advice stays the same:

  1. Learn the fundamentals of how things work – technology is a system which is based on rules, if you know how these rules work, then you can solve problems.
  2. I have spent a lot of my career as the translator between the really smart technical people in the room and the really smart businesspeople in the room – soft skills matter and so you need to learn them.
  3. Enjoy what you do but be realistic about your expectations – not every day is going to be a fabulous day. Doing great and interesting work is demanding and challenging, it is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are amazing.
  4. Find a mentor to coach you as you grow and develop.
  5. Finally – do not be scared of having conversations with people about roles and opportunities. It is not disloyal; it is a conversation, and it can lead to some interesting outcomes.

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