Everyone agrees that the car of the future will be intelligent and connected. Exactly what this means in practice is a little harder to imagine, but a group of students from Karlsruhe, Germany, came up with some possible scenarios during a development project they worked on for Porsche.
The setting is a seminar room at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). A group of students are sitting around a table conducting an animated discussion and attaching colored cards to a pin board. What looks like a free-for-all college brainstorming session is in fact quite a lot more than that. These students are actually collaborating with their peers over the internet in what you could call a “virtual ideas lab.” And the yellow and green Post-It notes they’re using are not the familiar paper ones: They’re virtual too, and they’re arranged on a PC screen to represent the product ideas that the students are devising as part of a very specific development project.
The project was conducted during the summer semester at the KIT’s Institute for Product Development (IPEK) in cooperation with the Faculty of Economics at the University of Karlsruhe, and the topic prescribed by project partner Porsche was “smart mobility”. The challenge facing the aspiring young engineers involved was to develop concepts for the Porsche customers of tomorrow, such as new functions for connecting smartphones to vehicles and new features for automobile head units. This particular project was part of a new mandatory internship program known as “ProVIL” (which stands for product development in the virtual ideas lab), which requires students to bridge the all-important gap between theory and practice.
“It’s very important for students to apply what they’ve learned in their lectures to practical, real-life tasks. ProVIL offers them this practical focus. And we’re delighted to have had Porsche AG as our project partner for this summer semester,” says Albert Albers, a professor at KIT/IPEK.
Structured Approach with SAP Innovation Management
The virtual colored cards and pin board are part of the virtual ideas lab or, more accurately, the virtual ideas platform SAP Innovation Management, which the SAP Innovation Center Network supplied for the project free of charge. Through this hub, all 32 students and their lecturers were able to link up with innovation coaches and Porsche employees to create a connected co-creation process. Which meant that they could compare notes and collaborate whenever it suited them ‒ and bring in additional experts over the internet if necessary. Flexible authorization functions ensured that access to the ideas lab was limited at all times to eligible persons only.
The students worked on their product concepts in eight teams of four. All the phases of the process ‒ research, profile, idea, and concept ‒ took place in SAP Innovation Management. “It was really exciting for us to see how our agile innovation process can be translated to the virtual space,” says Dr. Nikola Bursac, head of development processes at IPEK.
Ten students from the University of Karlsruhe trained by SAP as innovation coaches supported the project teams, helping them host creative sessions, handle crowd management, and hone their processes. “The great thing about SAP Innovation Management is that it’s so easy to use,” says Alexander Maier, a KIT student. “Also, no matter where I am, I can collaborate with my team, discuss ideas, upload presentation videos and product profile videos – and a whole lot more besides – on a tablet, PC, or smartphone.” But the ProVIL projects are not just about coming up with product ideas and concepts. The students actually turn their ideas into mockups, which are then tested by customers and lead users.
Moreover, they can track the responses to their concepts in the system, too. Because anyone with the appropriate authorization can rate ideas submitted in SAP Innovation Management by awarding stars and adding comments. The students also receive feedback from experts, who evaluate the submitted ideas according to a set of well-defined criteria. This way, the students gain valuable input from the project community and through crowd intelligence to help them continuously optimize their concepts until they reach the required degree of maturity.
A Genuine Win-Win Situation
“The partnership between SAP and the IPEK is strategically very important. It offers a slew of benefits for both parties,” says Professor Albers. “Through SAP, the IPEK gets a chance to implement innovative teaching formats in the cutting-edge software environment of SAP Innovation Management. And, by collaborating with the IPEK, SAP receives continuous feedback about the functions it still needs to deliver for mapping agile product development processes.”
Feedback about SAP Innovation Management will be channeled into enhancing the tool throughout each ProVIL project, the ultimate aim being to allow the entire innovation process to be managed in this virtual tool, which is deployed primarily by businesses. One of these is German personal-care giant Beiersdorf, which tripled idea submission within three months of SAP’s ideation software being implemented. SAP uses the standalone tool for its own intrapreneurship program, too.
Impressive Presentation of Product Concepts for Smart Mobility
The eight best product concepts from the summer semester’s ProVIL project were presented at a closing event held at the Institute of Product Development on July 26. “The students came up with some really impressive product concepts during the project. SAP’s innovation platform was definitely a great help, because it provided a structured and flexible framework for all the project stakeholders to work and collaborate in,” says Benjamin Walter, who headed up the ProVIL project at the KIT/IPEK.
The innovation management approach exemplified in this project will undoubtedly become increasingly software-based and eventually cover all phases of the product development process. After all, there’s simply no future in a corporate ideas management system that progresses no further than an email inbox.
Top image via Porsche (CZ17U08OX0004)