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Taking Innovation from a Buzzword to a Business Standard

by Eric Verniaut | SAPinsider

October 1, 2012

Some companies try to pin the term “innovation” to every change they make – no matter how ordinary or mundane that change really is. Unfortunately, this practice has caused “innovation” to be considered as just a buzzword for many companies. In this article, Eric Verniaut talks about how SAP’s service offerings can help these organizations recapture the true meaning of innovation and make it a part of every business process.

For many companies, the word “innovation” has nearly lost its meaning. Companies realize that innovation can mean the difference between effectively growing or transforming their business and falling behind; however, so many departments try to pin the term “innovation” to every change they make, no matter how mundane, that some have started seeing it merely as a buzzword. For a company to thrive in today’s environment, innovation has to be seen as more than a clichéd talking point. It has to be a key part of the company’s core business processes.

Offering solutions like SAP HANA and the SAP mobile platform, SAP has long been working to arm its customers with the tools they need to introduce greater innovation into their business processes. But SAP’s quest to enable innovation doesn’t end there. The SAP Services organization has renewed its focus on supporting innovation, working very closely with customers to help them determine the precise services and solutions they need to help them innovate.

SAPinsider recently spoke with Eric Verniaut, SAP’s new Head of North America Services, to find out more about how SAP’s service offerings can help companies innovate and move ahead.

Q: Why is it so important that companies focus on innovation right now?

A: Because of the economic uncertainty that many industries currently face, companies are still reluctant to invest heavily in resources. Most industries simply have not seen business improve enough to justify major staff increases. On the other hand, to see the kind of business improvement they are looking for, these companies need to increase productivity and become more efficient to keep up with the competition and win new business. They need to find new routes to market, analyze and optimize their operations, streamline supply chains, and make every effort to grow. In short, companies are at a tipping point: They need to find new ways to innovate without increasing their staff and without undue expenditure.

Q: How can companies reach that goal?

A: That’s where technology can help. Matching the right technology — or combination of technologies — for each business challenge can enable dramatic innovation and greatly improve a business. Of course business issues are more complex today than they were even a decade ago. They often require a combination of technologies and new processes to innovate. For example, while mobility alone might not be the solution to a complex business challenge, when a company can use a mobile solution to deliver real-time analytics to an employee in the field via a user-friendly dashboard, that can truly innovate a business process.

For instance, we are working with a large provider of products and services to the energy industry to extend its core technology capabilities out to thousands of its employees in the field. The company’s goal is to provide these employees with the connectivity they need to contribute to and track their projects. And with the help of our services organization, the company was able to find the right mix of technology to support it in reaching this goal.

By using a combination of SAP’s mobile and analytics technology, the company’s employees can keep track of revenue and profits, use an iPhone to scan purchase order data, and find and map obscure sites where oil wells are located. This project is game changing because it extends the core instance, puts technology in the hands of the people in the field, and brings tremendous benefits in terms of visibility and agility.

Q: What role does the SAP Services organization play in this process?

A: SAP Services plays a very strategic role in connecting customers with the right combination of technologies — from SAP and from our partners — to help them innovate. We serve as the trusted advisor and the link between the business challenge and the technology to solve it. You might say we make our customers’ goals a reality.

SAP Services is here to foster the growth and innovation that increases business value and drives customer success with SAP software. We want to help customers reduce their total cost of ownership and total cost of innovation by increasing time-to-value. We also see ourselves as the market maker for innovation in that we find the areas in which industries can innovate and bring that information to them.

To enable all this, we strive for consistent delivery of value. We use a standardized and scalable approach, including a consistent program strategy, centralized team management, and collaboration with development. This consistent delivery minimizes false starts, ensures a consistent level of quality, brings quicker time-to-value through proven best practices, and takes SAP’s 30 years of services experience and applies that to every customer’s unique challenges.

Q: In today’s business environment, how has the services delivery model evolved?

A: Just as our customers’ needs have grown more complex, our role is also more complicated today than it used to be. Ten years ago, a services organization relied on structured processes such as value engineering to help companies optimize their business. We would help them assess the maturity of their processes, move the needle toward more mature processes, and ensure that they saw the benefits from doing so.

But today, our complicated business issues don’t have such clear solutions. We have to work much more closely with customers to outline their options and then collaborate with them to find the right solution, which generally involves both technology and business process changes. That technology could come from SAP or from one of our partners that focuses on a specific area.

For example, if we work with customers and decide that predictive analytics will help them innovate a process, we won’t just provide the enabling technology and wish them luck. Rather, we will work with them so we both understand how these analytics can drive decisions that will improve their business, and then we will come up with the best way to implement and make analytics an integral part of the overall process.

Q: Can you describe this co-innovation process in more detail?

A: We hold workshops with our customers so we can work together and reach the same conclusions. After all, when customers are dealing with a particular challenge, they might not fully understand the solutions and services that SAP has available to assist them. And at the same time, we can’t determine the best solutions for our customers until we truly understand their challenges and goals. It’s up to us to listen to a customer’s concerns and match them to the right solutions.

In addition, because we have visibility into how other customers may have tackled similar problems, we can recommend best practices and let customers know about potential pitfalls based on those lessons learned. For example, we take a very industry-focused approach to our work because we have close contact with and access to customers in these industries, giving us a realistic, credible point of view when we work with companies within a particular industry. If we work with a company from the utilities industry, we might start our co-innovation process by looking at our solutions for asset management and asset tracking, since utilities is a very asset-intensive industry. Then we can look at other solutions, like SAP HANA, mobility for field service, and smart metering technology, to develop a solution that will help the utilities company innovate its industry-specific processes.

I should also mention that, during these co-innovation workshops, we’re leveraging new methodologies and tools as well to validate scope and functionality and bring customers the exact solutions they need as quickly as possible. For instance, we’re using a creative methodology that focuses on finding innovative solutions to  customer challenges by working backward from end-user requirements to define the desired user experience and determine how to enable it.

We’re also using offerings, like SAP Rapid Prototyping services, which give customers the unique opportunity to test drive and experience the value of new innovations, such as the SAP HANA platform and mobile applications, in a customized and non-disruptive manner. With these services, customers are able to experience these kinds of new innovations in an easy and accelerated way before making a license investment decision. This is an example of an engagement avenue that wasn’t available to us 10 years ago, but that we are now embracing and embedding in our methodologies to support the co-innovation process.

Q: Would you say it’s a good time to be in services?

A: It’s an amazing time to be part of SAP Services. We are connecting with our customers and working with our partners like never before to truly change the way companies and individuals use technology each day. 

Eric Verniaut

Eric Verniaut
Head of North America Services

Eric Verniaut 
Head of North America Services

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