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Accelerating the Pace of Innovation

by Q&A with SAP executives | insiderPROFILES

July 1, 2010

In this Q&A with six SAP executives, find out how SAP is innovating to help customers become better-run businesses. The experienced panelists answer questions about how customers’ current expectations influence SAP’s innovation, how customers are validating new SAP technologies, and more.

Success depends on a company’s ability to rapidly innovate in order to add value and become more agile. To help customers benefit from innovation and become better-run businesses, SAP is accelerating the pace of its own innovation while addressing changing customer needs.

Supporting this effort, customers and partners are influencing new products and technologies by engaging with SAP throughout the development cycle. Customers are making strategic innovation decisions that generate quick results, using standardized products in order to reduce their TCO, and adopting innovations with minimal disruption to their business.

Working together, SAP and its customers are developing the rapid innovations needed to succeed. To highlight the effectiveness of this strategy, several SAP executives who are actively driving innovation shared their experiences with insiderPROFILES:

  • Ike Nassi, Executive Vice President and Chief Scientist, Technology and Innovation Platform, SAP
  • Rahul Sood, Senior Vice President, Basic Edge Program and PCN Co-Innovation, Technology and Innovation Platform, SAP
  • Marco ten Vaanholt, Vice President, SAP Community Network, Global Ecosystem and Partner Group, SAP
  • Jeff Stiles, Senior Vice President, SME, Volume and Ecosystem Marketing, SAP
  • Laurent Bride, Senior Vice President, Architecture & Prototyping, Technology and Innovation Platform, SAP
  • Heinz Haefner, Senior Vice President, Cross Product Management, Technology Group, Technology and Innovation Platform, SAP

Q: How do customers’ expectations today influence SAP’s innovation?

Sood: Customers now want quicker product releases and more standard solutions. They want faster results — to complete deployments in less than nine months. Customers are willing to adjust their scope and standardize their processes to avoid using unique solutions that take longer to enhance and support. For example, a key customer sponsor of a new on-demand application told us the product should be a generic solution and not built to its unique specifications. The sponsor actually helped SAP set up meetings with its competitors to validate the requirements as generic.

Nassi: Customers are looking for a more consistent user experience across applications. As a result, we’re developing more components that are shared across the applications, providing consistency, among other benefits.

ten Vaanholt: Social media tools have created a shift in the customer-vendor dynamic, deeply empowering customers. SAP Community Network (SCN) is a trust-enabled social media platform and the main source of information and collaboration for our customers. It allows SAP to tap into huge sources of knowledge to inform our product, marketing, and sales teams.

Stiles: Today, small and midsize enterprise (SME) customers are more comfortable with cloud and on-demand solutions as a compelling alternative to traditional in-house solutions. On-demand solutions provide a way for SME customers to leverage new technologies with minimal impact on working capital. These customer demands have influenced the development of SAP’s on-demand offering, SAP Business ByDesign, and the creation of a subscription-based hosting option offering a flat monthly fee.

Q: How does SAP collaborate with its customers to co-innovate?

Sood: CIOs are under tremendous pressure to deliver innovation. They are urging us to go faster and cheaper and to do more. For example, we are co-innovating with a refinery customer to develop a unique, user-configured desktop portal. The customer contributed one of its top developers to work onsite at SAP’s offices to drive the capabilities and influence the features of this role-based portal. While SAP will offer the portal as a standard product, the customer will be the first to use it.

Bride: We engage the customer early in the product innovation process so we can validate ideas within real business scenarios before investing too much in the actual development. We share our progress with customers and then adjust the scope based on their feedback. Using this approach, we have evolved an agile and powerful development process, resulting in quality deliverables such as the new BI Widgets, now part of SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.0, that help end users search and organize BI content from their desktop.

ten Vaanholt: SAP has introduced a scalable way for customers to provide feedback and for product managers to aggregate, filter, and respond to it. The SCN Idea Place is an online crowd-based idea platform where anyone in SAP’s ecosystem can participate in developing and voting on ideas. Also, fostering and capturing co-innovation between SAP and the SAP developer community is essential to the enhancement of SAP solutions. SCN’s Code Exchange supports this through code sharing and collaborative co-development.

Stiles: Through the SAP Business ByDesign Charter Client program, customers communicate directly with SAP to help define capabilities for future releases of the solution. SAP hosts Partner Advisory Council meetings with SME resellers and development partners that contribute to the development cycle. The micro-vertical industry solutions for SAP Business One born from these meetings were a direct result of the close co-innovation between SAP and our partners.

Q: How are customers validating new SAP technologies?

Sood: We’re seeing that customers now want a total immersion experience when it comes to innovation — they want to be closely involved. For instance, I recall meeting with the entire management team, not just the CIO, of a leading distribution company to discuss co-innovation. It was refreshing to see line-of-business folks you would normally not expect to be in a typical technology meeting. This experience shows how critical technology-led innovation is to our customers.

Bride: We leverage our public SAP BusinessObjects Innovation Center website to publish prototypes and get customer feedback firsthand. Many customers participated throughout the prototyping process for evaluating SAP BusinessObjects Explorer on the iPhone. We adjusted some of the application’s features and design as a result of customer comments. Visit

Haefner: Companies are getting involved in the Customer Engagement Initiative (CEI), a collaborative effort that enables them to provide requirements and feedback directly to SAP product teams during all phases of development and through the prototyping process. Over 500 customers have participated in CEI over the past year to influence the development of various SAP products and research topics.

ten Vaanholt: SAP EcoHub, the community-driven solution marketplace, is where customers can discover, evaluate, and buy SAP and partner solutions. Ratings and feedback are used to build new apps that fit customer needs, such as enterprise micro-apps (e.g., iPhone applications).

Stiles: Customers work closely with us through Usability Testing and our Customer Advisory Boards. Their feedback greatly influenced SAP NetWeaver Business Client 3.0.

Q: How are customers implementing innovations while minimizing business disruption?

Bride: Customers expect easy-to-implement innovations with very little disruption to their business, along with a quick ROI and high value for their users. They tell us that from a technology and deployment perspective, a mix of an “on-premise” and “on-demand” approach to innovation is minimizing disruption with the flexibility it offers.

Nassi: I see a lot of SAP development momentum around putting advanced capability layers in place for new applications while preserving legacy applications and interfaces.

Stiles: We ensure that SME customers can implement innovations by offering multiple options. SAP Business ByDesign, as an on-demand solution, has all upgrades and maintenance done seamlessly for our customers. Enhancement packages for SAP Business All-in-One apply incremental innovations and maintain a stable product core. And pre-integrated, pre-packaged content lets customers adopt new solutions as a “plug-and-play” experience.


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