At the photoshoot for this article, Sven Lorenz is asked to write down the one key phrase that summarises his work on a pane of glass. “Digitise IT”, he says without hesitation, “with I and T capitalised”. That makes sense: After all, as Vice President of Porsche Information Systems, Lorenz holds overall responsibility for all IT systems at Porsche. He then proceeds to draw a whole cloud on the pane of glass, surrounding his original phrase, “Digitise IT”, with the words “Big Data”, “Machine Learning”, “AI”, “Production 4.0” and, of course, “Cloud”. A picture of the digital world in the 21st century is emerging. But when asked which three words most closely describe his own role, Lorenz moves away from his list of cool and contemporary buzzwords, preferring instead “Management, strategy and innovation”.
Of course, Lorenz knows that his role is about much more than high-tech jargon. IT management has now become a core element of corporate strategy. “Without a doubt, IT is one of the key forces driving innovation in almost every company and in virtually all sectors”, he explains. “In our industry, people often say that we’re heading towards full digitisation of every area of our lives. No-one really knows who said it first, but that only serves to highlight just how widespread this idea has become”.
However, Lorenz does not completely agree with this sentiment. He believes there are some aspects of life that are immune to digitisation. “I love anything to do with water, wind and waves – and they're all 100 per cent analogue”, says Lorenz, hinting at his own sporting interests, which include deep-snow skiing, surfing and, more recently, paddle boarding. They are the polar opposite to his digital professional life. From time to time, he also enjoys coaxing deep, low tones from his bass guitar, with the ultimate ambition of replicating the sound of Flea, the bassist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “He’s my musical hero”, says Lorenz, when asked who he looks up to. He continues: “In terms of communication and quick-wittedness, I’ve always viewed Harald Schmidt as my role model”. Everything he’s mentioned up to now is firmly rooted in the analogue world – but Lorenz is about to fast-forward to the digital age. “When I think about vision and innovation, Steve Jobs made a huge impression on me when I first encountered him in the 1980s while I was studying in the USA – even though I hear he was a bit of a difficult guy”.
Alongside information technology, Lorenz also studied business administration. “I didn’t want to limit myself to just one technical specialism; I wanted to maintain a connection with the real world, with day-to-day life and work, so I thought business administration would pair really well with IT”. That was back in an age when information management as a subject was still in its infancy; information technology was still a very technical course, and IT was just gradually starting to make its way into production facilities across the world. It was a time of great change, just as we’re experiencing today – but perhaps not quite as radical, or as rapid.
Can Sven Lorenz apply his experience as a pioneer of the digital age to the changes we're seeing today? “I think so. Many of the concepts that we were testing out in artificial environments twenty or thirty years ago have now made it into the real world, because we’ve got access to virtually unlimited computing capacity and technologies such as speech recognition are now available to everyone at home or via smartphones”, answers the IT manager, who focused on the topic of artificial intelligence during his degree and doctorate.
The core role of Lorenz’s specialist department is to support company processes through IT, from development and production to sales and aftersales. However, his team’s involvement with the product – cars or their associated services – is on the rise, and currently accounts for 10 to 15 per cent of the team’s workload. This work focuses not on IT in the car itself, but on the systems outside the vehicle, such as driver profile management systems, or technology that transmits weather forecasts and news to the vehicle.
Lorenz’s department is busy writing the future. “We try to predict and work out what kind of support our customers – primarily my colleagues and all employees at Porsche – need, and then how we can provide it for them”. He adds that some of these forms of support are obvious, but there are others that require the team to look ahead and into the future. To help him see what’s beyond the horizon for our industry, Lorenz can now draw on the support of the young and creative team at the recently founded Digital Lab in Berlin: Another team that knows all there is to know about the cool buzzwords in the IT sector.
1983–1989 Information Technology and Business Administration at the University of Karlsruhe and the University of Oregon in the USA
1990–1993 Doctorate on the scientific processing of natural language at the University of Stuttgart, with scholarship from the IBM Scientific Center
1993–1995 Team Leader and Software Developer at IBM
1996–1997 Consultant at A. T. Kearney Management Consultants
1997–2001 Managing Director of an e-business subsidiary of Deutsche Post
Vice President of Porsche Information Systems and CIO at Porsche since 2002