SAP Employees Hack Accessibility

Last week, SAP hosted the inaugural We Hack hackathon, co-located at the SAP SuccessFactors office in South San Francisco and the SAP Concur office in Bellevue, Washington.

The We Hack: Accessibility event was focused on creating connective tissue, the ‘We,’ as well as on building things that matter, the ‘Hack.’

Max Wessel, general manager of SAP.iO and managing director of SAP Silicon Valley, kicked off the event on Monday, September 17, with an inspiring speech simultaneously delivered to both locations: “I think it’s important that we come together a couple of times a year and push ourselves to do better. Really, this is our opportunity to take two days to step back and build something that matters, and accessibility is a topic that’s very near and dear to my heart.”

One important aspect of SAP’s intelligent enterprise strategy is bringing together its various lines of business. Over the years SAP has acquired a number of complementary Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies, both in Silicon Valley and up and down the West Coast. The challenge is to spot opportunities to bring those solutions together. This hackathon provided SAP employees an opportunity to step back, come together, and figure out ways to combine solutions in a way that can significantly improve the customer experience.

The same holds true for SAP partners, and one unique aspect of this event was the focus on strategic cloud partners like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. By exposing SAP’s creative engineers to their APIs, new solutions can be created quickly by synthesizing SAP applications and APIs together with theirs.

With this year’s theme of accessibility, We Hack participants focused on solving accessibility challenges in the enterprise. SAP has a long history of enabling accessible solutions, but there are always opportunities to create new ways to support users who may have challenges in the enterprise. Hackathon participants found them: from voice-enabling SAP applications like SAP Ariba — ‘Alexa, I need a new keyboard’ — to helping people navigate a building in a way that’s accessible to them as individuals to hacking the SAP build process to ensure solutions meet a certain threshold of accessibility, i.e. ‘fix the Internet by breaking the build.’

There were 56 participants on 14 teams that submitted 15 solutions for review by the judges, a group of executives from across lines of business at SAP, including Jose Velasco, head of the Autism at Work program at SAP.

Velasco was particularly impressed with the Audio Eyes submission by Damien Murphy, which used technology from a Kickstarter project to audibly describe distance to objects, what they are, and, in the case of people, what emotions they are expressing. Members of Amazon came to support the event, and ended up awarding Echo Pluses to two teams for uniquely using Alexa to voice-enable routine business tasks.

The grand prize, however, went to the Startup Express team of Ignatz Schnatz, Suneet Agera, Hardik Patel, James Tarver, and Naomi Shao. For their efforts, they won a trip for the team to SAP TechEd Las Vegas, along with tickets to Cirque du Soleil. Their application leveraged IoT technology from two startups to enable manufacturing workers to better be able to use SAP software on the shop floor.

The Startup Express team, winners of the We Hack hackathon.
The Startup Express team, winners of the We Hack hackathon.

A huge success, the event demonstrated that by working together across business units and with partners, SAP can quickly create solutions that improve the customer experience.

Steve Winkler is head of Engineering at SAP.iO.