Daniel Holz started his new job under difficult conditions: until now he had only known most of his colleagues on screens, although he switched from SAP to Google Cloud last October. There he managed the company in the DACH region and in Northern Europe. In this role, he’s supposed to lead a division of the company that has successfully burned billions – and convince customers that their data is in good hands with Google.
SZ: Mr. Holz, I see a gray wall in the background of our video call. It’s an office ?
Daniel Holz: Indeed. I am sitting in the Google office in Frankfurt today. But this is only my third day at the office. At Google, we take a flexible approach to our return to work and adapt as needed.
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Daniel Holz, 51, business economist, has already toured the IT world. After positions at IBM, Siemens-Nixdorf and Oracle, he joined SAP, where he took the head of Germany. He has been with Google since fall 2020.
So you have been leading a team for almost 300 days, most of which have never been met. How does it work, did you arrive correctly?
Starting a new job during the pandemic has been a very special experience. To date, I have only known most of the employees digitally. Even so, it has worked surprisingly well so far.
The work and leisure of millions of people have moved to the Internet. Germany is not exactly known for its rapid digitization. What is your impression: How have the economy, state and authorities brought the pandemic under control so far?
I am truly impressed with how quickly and radically our corporate clients have changed everything. For us as a digital company this remains harmless, but companies with their own production have also been successful in maintaining production. This cliché of Germany as a digital developing country does not apply at all.
Does this also apply to the state, for example with regard to the health system or public administration?
There is certainly some catching up to do. People are used to doing almost everything with their smartphones, but they still have to travel to the office for a lot of things. It’s good that there is this personal option, but it would be better if we had the choice. At the same time, we see that many authorities have their hands tied. Requirements and laws are slowing digitization.
You say that certain regulations are an obstacle to digitization. Do German authorities need less data protection for more innovation?
Restrictive framework conditions are hampering progress in some areas. Much of what would be technically reasonable may not be used by the public sector. This is why we can only offer reduced solutions to public customers. I think if the guidelines were relaxed a bit, everyone could benefit. Germany could take the example of the Scandinavian countries or Great Britain.
When I tell my parents about a cloud, they think of Dropbox or Google Drive. What is the difference between these services for private customers and Google Cloud?
The first aspect is security. Businesses have different needs because they store large amounts of sensitive and critical data. But Google Cloud is more than just online storage. We provide a platform and an infrastructure. An example: there are around five million articles on the Conrad Electronic marketplace. When a customer searches the store, our software makes it possible to make recommendations in real time. The subject of online shopping shows another difference: elasticity. On Black Friday, customers like Metro or the Otto Group have huge fluctuations, they need huge computing power. But with us you don’t have to pay for the whole year, you only pay for that one tip.
In the cloud business, Google is beaten by third parties. How are you going to catch up with Amazon and Microsoft?
Since Thomas Kurian has been on board as Global Director, we have grown rapidly. Several trends make us confident. Many companies not only want to save their data in the cloud, but also analyze, merge or evaluate it. It requires machine learning and computing power, and we can provide good support. In addition, our cloud is based on open standards and interfaces. Our customers do not get any proprietary technology, but can work with software from the open source community. It also makes it easier to use multiple cloud providers at the same time.
Last year, Google Cloud lost over five billion dollars. When and how to become profitable?
We are on the right path. You have to invest a lot in the beginning to build the infrastructure. This is normal when you want to establish yourself in a market. Google Cloud has been around since 2008, but we’ve only started actively marketing the service in recent years. The self-image was this: If we develop a good product, it will work on its own. But you also need to explain what you have to offer. Today, we have consistently high double-digit growth rates. It is enough to become profitable.
If Google catches up with Amazon and Microsoft, three U.S. companies will dominate an industry with sales in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Has Europe still slept too much?
Let’s put it this way: In my personal past, I’ve seen European vendors trying to build their own cloud platforms and scale them globally. But it requires enormous capital and human resources that only a few companies have. Hardware, data centers, technology, research and development all cost money. And you need software developers to keep everything up-to-date and secure. The barrier to entering the market is enormous. At this point, it is hard to imagine that a European company can keep pace.
Google suddenly shut down popular services in the past. Why should businesses believe that Google Cloud will last longer or suddenly increase prices?
Google Cloud is a strategic business area for Google around the world. Google boss Sundar Pichai confirms this over and over again. We enter into commercial contracts with our customers which bind us. We couldn’t just turn off the service. And if we make a decision that we don’t like, a customer can leave us at any time. Unlike other providers, we don’t charge any fees for this.
As an American company, Google is subject to the Cloud Act and must allow investigative authorities to access data. A year ago, the ECJ ruled that no personal data could therefore be transmitted to the United States. Can German companies use Google Cloud without fear of fines?
We have a clear policy: the US authorities do not receive any access from us. When such requests arrive, we pass them on to clients. In our transparency reports, we disclose inquiries and how we handle them. Anyone can watch it. We also protect our customers with contractual clauses. This means that you can be sure that all data protection standards required in Europe are met. At the same time, we work closely with the European Data Protection Board and other institutions. According to the decision of the ECJ, a new basis is needed for the exchange of data with the United States. I am convinced that we will soon find a viable solution.
Regardless of the ECJ, GDPR and legal issues: In your opinion, is there any data that has not been lost in the cloud? Or will we live ten years from now in a world where everything is stored online somewhere?
I think at the end of the day it’s a personal decision that everyone has to make for themselves. There will always be people who don’t want everything to be in the cloud. Some people prefer to put their money in the piggy bank under the mattress than to deposit it in an account. But when I look at the security that we offer, I have no doubts that you can also store sensitive information there without having to worry. After recent ransomware attacks, demand has increased further. Businesses are finding that their own data centers are not as secure as they thought. So you’d rather go to a provider that does nothing 365 days a year other than monitoring its servers.