While the issue of how to defrost a frozen pizza in 40 seconds is probably not the most urgent problem faced by the human race today, listening to Professor Hasso Plattner’s characteristically vivid report on just how easily an American domestic appliance masters this challenge leaves you in no doubt that software needs to be simple and intuitive if it is to “shape the future.”
“Shaping the Future with Information Technology” was the motto of a panel discussion held at the official opening of the new SAP Innovation Center in Potsdam on February 11. And the chairperson of the Supervisory Board of SAP AG took the opportunity to make some candid remarks. “Our biggest weakness,” he said, “is the user experience”, adding that the company’s future hinges on its ability to put user design “on a par with Facebook, Google, and Apple.”
Putting design on par with Facebook, Google, and Apple
The panel discussion centered on the boundless opportunities that are opening up for software companies that can deliver solutions to global problems. Almost every sector of industry is currently in the middle “of a software-driven transformation,” said SAP Executive Board member Dr. Vishal Sikka. And SAP, he added, is in a “unique position to think about solutions to the real and great problems of our time.”
Next page: Location provides inspiration for innovation
Echoing Sikka’s sentiments, co-CEO Bill McDermott described the SAP Innovation Center as the perfect place to break free from convention, to develop ground-breaking solutions in areas like healthcare, and to look for new tools and models that will simplify software programming.
The SAP Innovation Center, which has locations in Potsdam and Walldorf, currently consists of 110 team members from 20 different nations who are involved in some 40 projects. The first of the new Innovation Center buildings in Potsdam, which was officially opened this week, has capacity for 150 employees: ground will be broken for the construction of a second building in the near future.
Potsdam ideal location to drive innovation
The frequent mention of Potsdam as an ideal environment for software developers was not altogether surprising. Sikka spoke of his conviction that an environment such as this – that nurtures open exchange and communication – is an essential driver of innovation. “We are always successful when we manage to blend the unique combination of curiosity and imagination with skilled people in the right location.”
Next page: Exchanging ideas in “HANA Cafés”
Everyone – from the co-heads of the SAP Innovation Center, Dr. Jürgen Müller and Jens Krüger, through Brandenburg’s state governor, Dr. Dietmar Woidke, to the SAP board members – agreed that Potsdam offers precisely this blend. Not just by virtue of its picturesque lakeside location, but, most importantly, because of its proximity to Berlin and to a vibrant research and academic landscape (including the Hasso Plattner Institute) that boasts a student population of around 160,000. Kevin Dykes, whose company RetentionGrid is part of the SAP HANA Startup Focus Program, is profiting directly from this unique landscape. One of the factors that prompted him to locate his startup here was, he says, the opportunity to “build an internationally aligned team.”
Catalin Voss, on the other hand, is managing his startup Sension out of Silicon Valley, where, he explained, he is studying at Stanford University and has access to “a high concentration of people that have set up companies themselves and are willing to support me.”
Development to go global in “HANA Cafés”
SAP is the ideal partner in this respect, added Bill. SAP, he said, has the ability to provide backing to startups in growth regions all over the world – as well as in Silicon Valley. “We are probably the most global company there is,” he said. Some 1,250 startups around the world currently receive support from SAP in one form or another. SAP wants to encourage these fledgling companies to come together to exchange ideas and collaborate on developing software solutions. It is therefore planning to open “HANA Cafés”, the first of which will be located at Stanford University in Silicon Valley.
Next page: Video link to the panel discussion
“I’d like to see SAP develop some really wacky stuff,” added Hasso. Though whether he was thinking of software that defrosts a pizza in significantly less than 40 seconds is hard to say. Nevertheless, as far as Bill is concerned, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the “the next multimillion euro development will come out of an SAP Innovation Center.”
Further links: Panel discussion and Bill McDermott’s blog
Video of the panel discussion: http://www.sap-tv.com/video/#/29394/discussion-panel-sap-innovation-center
Bill McDermott’s blog: Accelerating a Culture of Innovation: http://www.news.sap.com/accelerating-a-culture-of-innovation/