With so many challenges to solve and little time to wait, innovation is usually prioritized above any other business growth initiative. But if you compare a handful of these strategic projects side-by-side, it’s clear that organizations are aspiring to deliver groundbreaking innovations. They want to create that really big splash.

Breakthroughs happen less often than most people are inclined to believe. Instead, I often find that most innovations are incremental in nature. Admittedly, a slow-building approach doesn’t grab the spotlight like more daring alternatives do. Still, it’s no less important – driving countless small improvements that add up to massive transformations and huge gains down the line.

One prime example of incremental innovation’s impact is the continuous development of mobile devices. The first handheld cellular phone launched nearly 40 years ago. Since then, each new release introduced different sizes – some smaller and some larger – and functionalities such as texting, Internet access, context-driven command, touch screens, tracking and tracing, and many more capabilities now considered standard. In essence, mobile device providers allow themselves to experiment with new ideas while generating revenue that is then reinvested into making the product’s design and purpose more impactful and game-changing in the near future.

Ideas Are Only the Beginning

Ideas are only the start of an innovation journey, no matter how new, novel, or useful. It takes creativity and domain expertise to bring them to life and evolve them gradually by applying the latest lessons learned and scaling capabilities or user experiences to deliver more meaningful value.

As part of SAP’s “reinvent” strategy, my team of customer innovation and maintenance experts from within the Customer Solution Support & Innovation organization at SAP focuses on turning ideas into valuable solutions for critical challenges. Working with various industries, including agriculture and life sciences, allows us to innovate and deliver sustainable solutions that accelerate business success – from idea inception and proof of concept to implementation and maintenance.

Customer Solution Support & Innovation offers tremendous industry expertise that can enrich our customers’ growth areas, drive continuous innovation, and deliver prototypes faster to support their transformation into intelligent enterprises. And from our experience, innovations best realize their full value when scaled to add value while they are maintained and developed further to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.

Outcomes Are the Heart of Good Innovation

Our contributions in helping to overcome the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic were one of those moments where we revealed the true value of incremental innovation. Developing innovations in partnership under unprecedented conditions, we designed and rolled out numerous digital solutions more quickly and securely for millions of people.

A prime example is the EU Digital COVID Certificate. In only two months development time, we innovated a digital gateway with T-Systems that provides a standard for valid vaccine certification across the European Union and currently supports 600 million users. By removing the risk of falsified documentation, the introduction of this digital certificate represents an important step toward normalizing the freedom of movement within the eurozone and, as a result, stimulating the economy.

In addition, our team worked with Deutsche Telekom AG and Germany’s Federal Ministry of Health to develop the Corona-Warn-App to help identify infections quickly and notify people of their potential exposure. The mobile app, available for iOS and Android, was developed in open-source mode, and the program code was continuously visible to the public on the development platform GitHub – all without violating data privacy rights.

While the pandemic marked a significant era of innovation for businesses worldwide, our team has produced innovations important for business security. For instance, our work in detecting and preventing security breaches from cyberattacks plays a vital role in many of our customers’ IT infrastructure. Our experts combine the SAP Enterprise Threat Detection application – a leading threat detection software – with 24/7 managed security services. The application is continuously upgraded to help detect cyberattacks in on-premise and cloud solutions from SAP as they are happening and analyze the threats quickly enough to neutralize them before severe damage occurs.

More recently, we innovated with climate-focused technology company CHOOOSE to deliver a climate app. As one of the first solution extensions developed with existing capabilities available in SAP Business Technology Platform and SAP Concur solutions, CHOOOSE Climate App helps neutralize carbon emissions through high-quality compensation projects. As a result, our customers can acquire accurate data from their business flights and discover high-impact ways to offset their carbon footprint – all in one place.

We are also working on a prototype – ZANA World – that marks the first step toward embracing virtual reality for running business. With the sustainability-focused concept, our experts are experimenting with collaboration with targeted data sharing between competing companies and integrating the virtual environment with open ecosystems such as SAP Business Network. In addition, a decentralized peer-to-peer network based on SAP Business Technology Platform is being created without requiring central persistence.

Innovation That Delivers High Impact

Most companies make the mistake of looking too narrowly at the overall context of their innovation initiative. At Customer Solution Support & Innovation, we are constantly evaluating the SAP solution portfolio to find opportunities to adapt and add functionalities that can increase value in ways that can be quickly applied and scaled to meet our customers’ current and future needs.

Embracing the concept of incremental innovation has empowered us to shape a culture that is full of purpose, ingenuity, and discovery. So instead of dedicating all our resources to years-long projects with uncertain outcomes, SAP is committed to driving innovation close to our customers’ everyday environmental, social, and governance challenges – and we will continue to do so in the years to come.

Andreas Heckmann is executive vice president of Product Engineering and head of Customer Solution Support and Innovation at SAP. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.