Shaping Ideas Into Software

Whether looking for shoes, handbags, or watches, anyone ambling through a market at home or abroad knows they will be able to pick up a whole range of counterfeit branded products. Fakes from all over the world are flooding holiday beaches and flea markets, and trade associations, companies, organizations, and authorities are trying to stem the flow of fake products with laws and batteries of product tests. But it is not only those directly affected who are looking for solutions to this problem. For example, a number of SAP employees are exploring how their software can help companies, legitimate dealers, consumers, and authorities in the combat against product piracy.
A team of employees headed by Zoltán Nochta is currently working on this concept. Their efforts are focused on product authenticity tests. Under the guidance of SAP INSPIRE, the team is researching a software solution that could support the testing process. The prototype currently under development checks the authenticity of a product while it is being purchased or when crossing a national border. SAP PROduct VErification (PROVE) identifies counterfeit products rapidly and reliably using five different testing methods. This also helps pinpoint anomalies within the value-added chain. The automated plausibility checks are based on relevant business data supplied by companies. Furthermore, they provide information on possible gray or black market activities.

Every idea counts

In principle, every company is an engine for innovation powered primarily by the ideas of its staff. SAP INSPIRE understands this key power source and ensures that potentially brilliant ideas don’t quietly gather dust in the inner reaches of innovative minds. Every SAP employee can illustrate their ideas in detail over the staff portal on the SAP INSPIRE site. Impressing the INSPIRE team is the challenge laid down by the SAP Group to ideasmiths, inviting them to present their vision and its relevance.
However, it is not just the ideas of SAP employees that charge the innovation batteries of SAP INSPIRE. The Group also hosts regular think-tank events. These intense debates aimed at developing ideas are held at SAP development centers and labs. SAP INSPIRE revs up the innovative potential of employees, business partners, and even customers at two-day events in Palo Alto, Montreal, Walldorf, Sofia, Bangalore, and Tokyo. Participants work together to develop hundreds of ideas. The seasoned expert team is tasked with organizing the conferences and actively encouraging participants to share experience, know-how, and ideas.

The think tank – a creative powerhouse

What SAP INSPIRE has already achieved
What SAP INSPIRE has already achieved

Every innovation starts off as a brainstorming session. This involves bringing together all the ideas related to a key issue that has been specifically defined with the relevant management team. An introductory presentation fills participants in on the issue, then they add whatever ideas they may have – nothing is out of bounds. After collecting all the ideas, a multi-layered selection process begins. Initially, the specialists at SAP INSPIRE hammer out the resultant potential innovations based on how easily they can be implemented and then refine them. They get rid of excess ballast and hone them further during an evaluation stage. It is ensured that the ideas fit in with SAP’s product portfolio and the potential benefits and development outlay are weighed up.
Before finalized ideas are presented to the SAP Executive Board, they are first evaluated and summarized by a steering committee. Managers and developers work together in a feedback stage, providing important insights for the ongoing development of the ideas. The final stage involves presenting the best innovations to the Executive Board, which analyzes and scrutinizes the proposals in detail. During this stage, SAP INSPIRE plays the role of the defense and does everything it can to get ideas past the Board. But the quality filter in place at SAP works very well. For example, in 2005, SAP INSPIRE started off with more than 400 proposals. But, after the approval process, the Executive Board only released funds for the development of four projects – Ask SAP, SimCorp, icMap, and PROVE.
Once the Executive Board has approved a project idea for implementation, the incubator phase begins. A small project team of up to five employees – often headed by the original ideasmith – builds a prototype. This has to work with other SAP products, but does not yet have to comply with all industrial standards. Within a period of twelve to eighteen months, the project then moves to a handover phase. This involves passing the prototype on to a product or service department or a specially assembled team, which gets the prototype onto the market.
The ideas specialists at SAP INSPIRE also pick up on new approaches from other markets, countries, or Internet sources. However, these finds are usually less productive that the think-tank conferences. Far removed from rigid working structures and day-to-day work, the think tanks fire the imagination of participants and encourage spontaneity and interaction, thereby creating a fertile environment where ideas can flourish. Everyone involved can give their thoughts free rein.

Driving forward innovation together

Every now and again, SAP INSPIRE also involves other companies in the incubator projects, for example when these partners have special interface or process know-how. But, as a rule, it is SAP Research that organizes close collaboration with research partners such as universities, research institutes, technology partners, customers, and the public sector. By carrying out projects together, everyone draws benefits while sharing the workload and risk. The SAP research organization currently has a global network that incorporates more than 200 partners.
Collaborations with higher-education institutes are often based on solution approaches that cannot immediately be developed into an actual product, but that can be used to find out what developments could become relevant to the market over the next three to five years. For example – SAP Research and the Darmstadt University of Technology work together to investigate how people and machines interact. This involves trying to access and input information from/to an SAP solution using only wireless headsets and voice commands. This allows employees to get information from the SAP solution without having to stop what they are actually doing. The aim is to open up a whole new communications channel between users and SAP software.
Collaboration work with Darmstadt University of Technology is taking place on-site at the Campus-based Engineering Centers (CECs). There are also the SAP Research Centers (SRCs), which, unlike the CECs, are based at the same locations as SAP labs. Global research activities are managed from Walldorf. SAP Research is currently working on research projects at nine locations around the world.

Lutz Heuser
Lutz Heuser