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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation

Jugend forscht – Portrait Kjell Oppermann

Lord of the Licenses

Today, Kjell Oppermann heads software purchasing of Siemens. In 1992 he won a special prize in Germany’s “Young People in Research” (“Jugend forscht”) competition, in the category for mathematics and IT.

Twenty-five years ago, the images from magnetic resonance tomography units were no clearer than the flickering on a TV screen after a station signed off. Of course, experts could make things out, but young Kjell Oppermann couldn’t. In the early 1990s he was attending a school for gifted youngsters in Berlin, now known as the Heinrich-Hertz-Gymnasium, and a class required him to deal with those flickering images. A portrait of a past winner of “Young People in Research.”

The students were called on to amplify the signals that resulted from the barely measurable vibrations of hydrogen nuclei during the imaging process. “Suddenly a light went on for me and I realized here was something I could improve that would ultimately help people sometime,” Oppermann says. So he dug into the topic – so deeply that in 1992 he won a special prize in the “Young People in Research” (“Jugend forscht”) competition, in the category for mathematics and IT.

Jugend forscht competition 1992: Kjell Oppermann (left) and Frank Schönian demonstrated how NMR spectroscopy could be optimized by dampening noise.

New Data Quality

“I was always very tech-oriented,” says Oppermann. “The atmosphere at the Young People in Research competitions got me so revved up that I absolutely wanted to do something in that direction too.” Oppermann and his research partner, Frank Schönian, who was also 19 at the time, had no clear idea how they’d achieve their goal. So they tried various algorithms, changed the signal analysis sequence, and combined their steps until the software put out a new level of data quality.

In their “anti-noise” computer program, they developed an analytical software that permits very effective processing of raw data – as the jury confirmed. But they didn’t quite make it all the way to the top of the competition. “It’s more like we were theoretically on the way – very much under the influence of our school, which in those days was considered a hothouse for mathematicians,” Oppermann recalls.

Software as a Simplifier

After graduating from high school, Oppermann enrolled in the mathematics program at Berlin’s Technical University. But during his first semester he noticed that he felt more drawn to practical questions. “I wanted visible results. So I switched to information technology, with electrical engineering as a minor. I wanted to use software to simplify life,” He says. The step to Siemens-Nixdorf, a leading player in computer technology at the time, seems logical now, but it was more a matter of chance. He noticed a Siemens-Nixdorf flyer at the university, which led him to apply for a work-study position in Munich. And finally, after earning his degree, that’s where Oppermann started work.

At work: Kjell Oppermann at his office in Munich.

For a few years, Oppermann worked as a software architect on projects that brought noticeable changes for his colleagues – such as the software that significantly speeds up travel expense reimbursements at Siemens, and electronic logging of vacation time. Finally he was offered a position at headquarters that hadn’t existed in that form at Siemens before – license management for software. “There was central license management only for SAP software,” he recalls. “There were certainly master agreements with suppliers, but ultimately each unit ordered for itself.” That was the situation in 2009.

Scan First, License Later

A software purchasing manager’s best friends: a laptop, a headset, and a calculator.

Today, all laptops and PCs at Siemens are regularly scanned. That gives Oppermann an overview of what software is installed on what computers, and also how often the programs are used – if at all. “We know exactly how many installations we have, how they’re being used, and how many licenses we’re paying for,” he says. Formerly, all-inclusive license packages were getting purchased because it wasn’t clear how or what parts of a software package were being used. “Those one-size-fits-all solutions cost us a lot of money,” he says. The new knowledge makes it possible to cancel unused licenses, or to move them elsewhere in the company within a short time. That alone saves Siemens millions of Euros every year.

Now that central software purchasing is pooled under Oppermann’s leadership, Siemens has complete transparency. In combination with Purchasing, it’s considerably easier to negotiate with vendors of software like Office or CAD programs. “We have practically no unused licenses anymore,” Oppermann says. “Software products are also being paid for more and more depending on use, including programs from Microsoft.”

Software purchasing and licensing does not appear to be a fascinating topic at first glance, but Oppermann explains his progress with such enthusiasm that his pleasure at making the improvements is obvious. His time with Young People in Research made a crucial difference. “When I think back on that, I can see how much it has motivated me right down to today,” Oppermann says. “It was just incredible to see what young people invented on their own initiative.” 

Norbert Aschenbrenner
Picture credits: from top: 2. picture Stiftung Jugend forscht e. V.