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Collaborate to Innovate: 4 Key Innovation Approaches SAP Uses to Deliver Tangible Results for Customers

by Barbara Holzapfel | SAPinsider

July 1, 2010

How does SAP approach innovation? This article discusses four collaborative innovation channels and methods—including innovation with customers and partners—providing insight into how SAP ensures that the best ideas and concepts are identified, cultivated, and developed to benefit its customers.

An instrumental component of any organization’s success is innovation — the generation and execution of new ideas, products, services, and processes that will differentiate your company from the competition.

Leading companies recognize that sustainable innovation cannot be achieved through internal resources alone. Rather, it’s about leveraging ideas from various channels, including partners, customers, academics, industry specialists, and internal teams.

Keeping the feedback loop vibrant, with open communication channels from concept through delivery, is critical to successful, meaningful innovation. SAP embraces this open, collaborative approach, leveraging insights and expertise from a variety of channels and driving ongoing innovation at an accelerated pace to deliver tangible business results to customers.1 This article discusses four key innovation channels and approaches.

1. Innovation with Customers: Engaging Customers to Help Shape the Future

SAP customer co-innovation engagements include a breadth of joint SAP and customer activities, such as identifying business needs, scoping solution requirements, prototyping, co-locating development resources, and delivering jointly developed solutions. Customer co-innovation programs are structured to address a specific customer’s business needs while delivering a solution that the broader market will embrace.

Consider a refinery customer that has offered one of its top developers to work on-site at SAP’s offices to influence product capabilities for a unique, role-based desktop portal. SAP will offer this portal as a standard product, and the customer will be the first to use it at the end of the six-month co-innovation period.

2. Innovation with Partners: Collaborating with the Industry’s Best Minds

To ensure we consistently deliver solutions with high customer value, SAP collaborates with various co-innovation partners:

  • Vendor partners engage with SAP to develop targeted solutions that have wide market appeal. Leveraging the expertise and resources of both SAP and our partners, we create robust, industry-leading solutions. A recent example is the prototype of a collaborative workspace called InSite Studio, developed jointly with Cisco, Microsoft, and Stimulant.
  • SAP works closely with external entrepreneurs, technologists, and industry experts who provide guidance and ideas and who often work beside SAP to create independent external start-ups or internally incubated business teams. The “incubator model” is currently being used to deliver solutions that leverage SAP’s on-demand platform, expand SAP analytics offerings, develop expanded offerings for mobile solutions, and more. These exciting initiatives foster insight and thought leadership that will drive next-generation solutions. Throughout this process, we engage with customers for feedback from idea development through commercialization.
  • SAP collaborates with universities around the world to develop unique, forward-thinking prototypes that address business needs in new and creative ways. These projects have addressed areas such as conducting business in emerging countries and developing automation that tracks and redeploys resources based on user habits.

3. Innovation Through Internal Experts: Leveraging the Market Perspective

Internal SAP resources constantly monitor business and technology trends and customer needs to develop innovative solutions with real business value for our customers. Small development teams focus on rapid innovation and development cycles to more quickly release solutions to the market. Individual customers and customer organizations, like user groups, are a key part of the process of validating solution direction and capabilities to ensure business value. 

Recent examples of this type of innovation include the accelerated version of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, which leverages in-memory computing to instantly analyze vast amounts of data, and an iPhone-based social intelligence application currently in development.

4. Innovation for a Better Future: Striving for Sustainability

Our innovation goes beyond business software. As a global business leader, SAP has embraced sustainability as a strategic corporate priority and is committed to enabling a sustainable future through IT innovation.

We work with leaders in corporate responsibility and sustainability to stay connected with changing business trends, regulations, and technologies. We operate in an environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable manner, and we enable our customers to do the same by developing innovative sustainability solutions. For example, SAP Carbon Impact helps companies measure, mitigate, and monitor their greenhouse gas emissions.

In a Culture of Collaboration, Customers Benefit

Innovation isn’t an isolated concept limited to a few groups within a business — it’s an interactive, ongoing process across an organization and its business network of partners and customers, designed to more effectively channel ideas from inception to market.
Only through collaboration between internal and external experts can customer-focused, innovative ideas and concepts develop and mature.

By making collaboration a core part of our culture (see sidebar), SAP ensures that the best ideas and concepts are identified, cultivated, and developed — thereby creating tangible business results to enable our customers to run better, faster, and leaner.

Learn More

For more information, visit the following websites:

Barbara Holzapfel

Barbara Holzapfel ( is the Senior Vice President of Portfolio Marketing at SAP, responsible for delivering insight and thought leadership to increase and accelerate revenue opportunities through a portfolio approach. She holds an MBA from the University of Michigan and a business degree from the University of Saarbruecken in Germany.

1 For more details on SAP’s innovation strategy, please see “Accelerating the Pace of Innovation” in the July-September 2010 issue of insiderPROFILES. [back]


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