Workspace Innovation: A Q&A With Barbara Holzapfel on a Multi-year Campus Transformation Initiative Underway at SAP in Silicon Valley

Last week SAP announced the opening of the new SAP Mobility Design Center, a collaborative workspace on its Palo Alto, Calif., campus that brings together SAP experts, customers and partners to conceptualize, design and rapidly build new mobile solutions.

The center is the latest development in a multi-year campus transformation effort currently underway at SAP in Palo Alto.  SAP is making a significant investment in building innovative workspaces in Palo Alto and its other Bay Area locations that aim to inspire creativity, foster innovation and create an environment focused on delivering customer-centric solutions.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Barbara Holzapfel, senior vice president and managing director of SAP Labs North America and the SAP executive charged with overseeing this campus transformation, to learn more about the initiative.  We discussed the genesis and goals of the project, why SAP believes this is a strategic investment, the openings of new dedicated buildings focused on key innovation areas of cloud, enterprise mobility and SAP HANA, and key lessons learned at the half-way point of the transformation.

Why did SAP decide to invest in this campus transformation?  Why now?
The investment in our campus is the right thing to do for a few reasons.  First, SAP continues to grow at a rapid pace in the Bay Area, both through organic growth and via acquisition, with more than 3,200 employees now working at SAP in the area.  Second, we’re seeing a surge in our key innovation areas – including Cloud, Mobile and Database & Technology – and these teams simply need to work and collaborate in new and different ways.  The way software is being developed is rapidly changing to a very consumer/customer-centric approach with rapid prototyping, lots of customer and consumer interaction and validation. This requires a fundamentally different approach to how we design the work environment.  Finally, practically speaking, we had a few buildings on our campus where the lease was coming up for renewal.  So, we used the confluence of these developments to take a strategic, holistic look at our Palo Alto facilities, the growth of our Bay Area workforce, the new ways the teams need to work and collaborate – and we put a strategic plan in place to create a new, innovative work environment that would inspire, motivate and enable our employees to do their best work and innovate like never before.


In April, you opened a new building on campus for your cloud computing teams.  Tell me about that?
Cloud computing teams develop solutions in a very different way.  Lean, agile development and frequent, rapid delivery of quality product are a top priority.  That requires a workspace that is more open, transparent and flexible – one that facilitates creativity, frequent communication and easy collaboration.  So we employed design-thinking principles and methodologies to build a new workspace from the ground-up for 240+ colleagues working in cross-functional cloud teams.  There are no cubes or corner offices.  The space is open with lots of windows, natural light and clear glass.  Everything is on wheels, including desks and chairs, and surfaces are writable. Employees moved in in April, and we’re already seeing great results – they are more engaged, collaborative and productive and it has sped up the delivery of great new cloud solutions for our customers as well as our overall momentum in the cloud market.

The new SAP Mobility Design Center opened last week on campus.  How does this fit into SAP’s mobile strategy?
The world of mobility is growing at such a rapid pace and we want to enable our customers to adopt mobility at the right speed.   Mobile apps are a top priority for them, but finding the right talent to build solutions fast enough can be a challenge.  So, together with Sanjay Poonen, president of Global Solutions and head of the Mobile Division at SAP, we set out to build a one-stop shop where SAP mobile designers, architects and developers collaborate hands-on with our customers and partners to design, build and test new mobile apps.  No conference rooms, no Powerpoint meetings – just teams of experts rolling up their sleeves and doing the work. Customers are signing up already – it’s off to a great start.

What’s next?  Are there other new or re-designed workspaces we should be on the watch for?
By mid-2013, we plan to unveil three new completely-renovated buildings to house our Technology and Innovation Platform (TIP) teams. As you know, under Executive Board Member Vishal Sikka’s leadership, our in-memory computing platform, SAP HANA, has become the fastest-growing product in SAP’s 40-year history.  So we’re investing behind it in a big way, and 750+ employees on the HANA and related TIP teams will move into the new space towards the end of this year.

You’re almost a year-and-a-half into this campus transformation.  What has been the biggest learning?  Any best-practices for success you can share?
An undertaking such as this cannot be done in a vacuum.  It was important that we brought the employees into this early and made them a part of the process and the vision.  And we made an effort to communicate early and often about any changes or additions to the plan. Workplace transformations can be disruptive – 70 percent of our employees were directly affected by the moves, with many working in a temporary environment for several months, and not everyone was happy all the time.  But by bringing them into the process early, seeking their input, integrating their ideas, and allowing flexibility for them to tailor their new space, the teams are excited about the new work environment.

Scott Behles, with the SAP Global Communications team, interviewed Barbara for this blog post. He is based in SAP’s Palo Alto office.  He is very happy with his current workspace.