Innovation plays an important role in a company’s ability to thrive. Development experts that deliver innovation services and solutions from SAP are laser-focused on moving an innovative idea beyond proof of concept to help companies make innovation real.

Delivering world-class software-based solutions has been at the heart of Sebastian Speck’s career. For nearly all of the last decade, he has been leading a team that explores the needs of customers and ultimately turns resulting ideas into individually tailored, live solutions that enable new and competitively differentiating ways of doing business.

I recently spoke with Speck and asked about his thoughts on the value of innovation and the human-centered approach that is needed to bring real innovation to the forefront of business.

Q: Innovation sometimes feels like an over-used buzz word. How do you define innovation?

A:  Innovation can mean different things to different companies depending on how mature their business is and where they are in their transformation journey. For one company, it might mean implementing a leading-edge technology solution, and for another it could mean ideating and exploring a completely new business model to create never-before-seen solutions that will give them a disruptive advantage. What it always boils down to is creating new and unique value that will provide a competitive business advantage.

You lead a team the delivers customer-specific innovation. How does that work?

I lead a 2,000-person team of innovation experts, including engineers, developers, design thinkers, and data scientists. We take a human-centered approach to progress our customers from concept to their final individualized solution. This is an agile, design-driven development approach where we work together in short, iterative cycles that create value early and often. We help ensure flexibility and transparency as the solution is being crafted so that our customers can achieve a faster path to productivity and adoption.

We can further accelerate solution development and get them up and running quickly with the use of our extensive library of previously built solutions as a starting point for their own unique requirements.

Can you share an example of a recent customer innovation?

We worked with a large manufacturing firm that was looking for a solution to support its employees worldwide to enable better and faster decision-making and process execution. They were exploring how to leverage machine learning, predictive analytics, and cloud technologies to make that happen. We helped design a digital assistant, based on the latest SAP technologies around conversational artificial intelligence (AI), to provide a differentiated and more intuitive user experience, and to deliver deeper operational insights and faster transactional decisions on the SAP platform. This has reduced a lot of the complexity within the organization, and has led to self-empowered users and easier and faster access to the information sources they need to make more-informed decisions so they can ultimately serve their customers better.

Tell us more about the human-centered approach to innovation?

It covers the customer’s entire innovation life cycle, from ideation to full-scale operation.

We start with the explore phase, where we identify the most valuable innovation opportunities for an organization and help them to prioritize their use cases.

We then move into the discover phase, where we take the most important use cases and gain a deep and common understanding across key stakeholders of the business needs, current environment, challenges, and opportunities. We also identify the initial insights to overcome the challenges.

In the design phase, we create a prototype of the solution to validate the viability, desirability, and feasibility of the solution, coupled with an enterprise architecture design.

Once agreed, we move into the deliver phase, where we develop a robust business and technical solution built just for productive use. Solutions are synchronized to the SAP road map and can be provided in cloud, on-premise, or hybrid environments and on any device.

And lastly, we run the solution using the same support model, tool set, and cloud operation centers as the standard SAP software. And SAP offers the implementation services to scale the solution across the company in the same fashion as standard solutions.

What can companies do to keep from getting stuck with just a prototype?

There are four things companies need to check to ensure they don’t fall into the proof-of-concept trap. They include:

  • Feasibility: Evaluate the technical and regulatory feasibility of the solution and its delivery.
  • Scalability: Assess and scope out how the idea will be scaled, both from a technology and a business perspective.
  • Desirability: Define the value proposition, its attractiveness to the end user, and the way value is achieved.
  • Viability: Flesh out the commercial case for the idea and the potential for increased revenue and impact.

A key advantage of SAP S/4HANA is its ability to prepare companies for future innovation. Can you share an example?

Yes, as our customers transition to SAP S/4HANA, it’s not just to make a technical migration. They want to maximize the full value of their investment by then using it as a platform for innovation. When we partner with our customers to create unique solutions, we do it in close collaboration with the SAP standard development organization.

For example, we have one customer in the oil and gas industry that lacked the integration necessary in their legacy landscape to make informed and rapid decisions. They are harmonizing and integrating many business processes and disparate legacy solutions into one seamless SAP S/4HANA solution. As part of that transformation, we have multiple initiatives with this customer to deliver innovations that enable central and integrated capabilities and analytics across the hydrocarbon supply chain.

We are co-innovating on topics such as commodity management and managing renewables regulations. They benefit from having first-mover advantage in their industry, and ultimately all clients in the industry can eventually benefit from a solution that is readily available from SAP.

We are in uneasy times. Given the current environment, what role does innovation play?

In these critical times, innovation becomes even more important. Take, for example, supply chains. As a society, we need for them to operate well, but we are at risk of them severely breaking down due to all the business and human restrictions being put into place globally. Companies are innovating their operations on the fly – reinventing themselves and becoming more flexible in how they source, manufacture, and work. The software they use must quickly and easily support that reinvention. SAP is ready to help customers innovate to ensure their business viability in these challenging times.

Mary Odabashian is global head of Marketing and Communications for Innovation Services and Support at SAP.