Disruptive innovation is the new normal. In the 21st century, the fastest companies who convert big ideas into business outcomes are the winners. The only way this is possible is with a culture of innovation that encourages people to dream and embraces their curiosity for a better way.
Unfortunately, dreams and questions are endangered species in too many corporate cultures.
Hal Gregersen, who will speak later this week at the SAP Executive Forum in Potsdam, Germany, has focused his research on asking questions as the ultimate foundation of innovation. But for big companies with established businesses, questions can be seen as threatening to stability or, worse, destructive.
This is precisely why, thanks to our courageous founder and chairman, Hasso Plattner, SAP has behaved like a start-up throughout our 42 year history. A start-up culture is permanently humble and hungry – always driven to change the world and keenly aware that success is temporary.
We acted on this standard in 2010, when SAP rejected complacency as the market leader in favor of customer-driven innovation, new markets and growth opportunities. Notwithstanding the consistent double-digit growth from that winning strategy, we acted again this year, targeting complexity as the most intractable challenge facing businesses and CEOs – especially the complexity that’s rooted in the legacy IT stack. We fundamentally believe that when businesses simplify everything, they’ll free time and resources to accelerate innovation.
On February 12th we’ll advance this mission and once again further our entrepreneurial spirit with a new SAP Innovation Center (pictured). This exciting Potsdam facility will house teams that focus on creating cutting-edge applications that put the user front and center. Simplicity and beautiful design will be the core values for everything. The center combines fresh ideas from Berlin’s vivid start-up scene with the global reach and scale of SAP.
Our top innovator – the man I believe is the innovator of this generation – Dr. Vishal Sikka, understood early that we would need state-of-the-art facilities to focus on unleashing the full power of SAP HANA, the world’s standard in-memory technology platform. So in 2011, the SAP Innovation Center was born with a small and elite team in Potsdam and Walldorf. We set ambitious goals – to find the best and the brightest minds with experience in programming and an appetite to disrupt and rethink everything.
We found the right leaders in Juergen Mueller and Jens Krueger. We recruited researchers and students from the Hasso Plattner Institute for Software Systems Engineering, world-class universities in Berlin, the Fraunhofer Institutes, Stanford University and MIT.
But the most significant aspect of the new center isn’t about what we put into it. The exciting promise rests in the work that’s coming out!
The center has already developed the Patient Data Explorer tool, empowering users to filter and group patients according to different attributes, fully customizable for different cancer centers. Thanks to a generic healthcare data model, patient data from different sources such as clinical information systems, tumor registries, biobank systems and even text documents (like physicians’ notes) can be accessed, analyzed, and put into actionable context. In addition, the tool offers a comprehensive overview of each individual patient’s medical history in a graphical timeline, making it easy to access information on any level of detail.
This is but one example of the possibilities.
On issues ranging from health care and education to sports and entertainment, we couldn’t be more curious about how technology will make the world run better and improve people’s lives. We’ve put this mandate to our team in Potstdam and around the world, challenging them to bring their diverse backgrounds and points of view to the table.
We believe they’ll succeed and hope they’ll fail often. That may sound strange, but like curiosity and ambition, failure is another critical ingredient in the secret sauce of innovation. When the next great generation gets a bold mandate and game-changing technology, they’ll race to create the next big idea. When they miss, they’ll learn. When they learn, the world will benefit.
Every leader should ask what they can do to accelerate this process of dreaming, learning, doing, failing, winning and dreaming again. Our new Innovation Center is a great case study. If you’d like to see it, please let me know.