In late 2010, the SAP Business ByDesign sales, consulting, development, and product management teams took part in a workshop with the aim of better aligning their processes with the lean development model. Lean methodology for IT is all about reducing waste, whether time or money, in the process of building and delivering software. With this focus on efficiency in mind, the SAP Business ByDesign teams realized that there was a lack of transparency – both internally between teams and externally among customers and partners – throughout the development process. Developers were too far removed from customers to fully understand what their requirements were, and customers didn’t know what improvements were in the pipeline. Everyone involved needed a way to interact with customers and get their feedback in a timely manner. This was the birth of the SAP Business ByDesign Ideas Forum.
The Ideas Forum is a community where SAP Business ByDesign customers and partners can submit their improvement ideas, comment and vote on each others’ ideas, and track the progress of the ideas that SAP has chosen to implement. SAP developers, product managers, and other employees can also access the forum to track ideas and make comments, but only customers and partners can submit ideas. Even before the Ideas Forum was widely available, it was clear that it would be a success.
“After we decided to run a pilot program in Germany, we only sent out an email to a few preselected customers. You couldn’t find the link on any web sites, and we didn’t do any marketing for it. But in the first weeks and months, we kept getting more registrations and more registrations. It went viral,” says Tatjana Walter, solution expert, SAP Business ByDesign.
Transparency across the process
Today, the German-language Ideas Forum is live and has received 565 ideas, 1378 comments, and 4307 votes (at the time of publication). Over 100 ideas were either delivered or are planned for delivery in 2012. Some of the delivered ideas became available with feature pack 3.5.
In addition, an English-language forum for global users went live in July 2011, and, after only eight months , it has already gathered 263 ideas, 344 comments, and 1189 votes. Now SAP Business ByDesign customers don’t even need to leave their ERP system to submit an idea. With the release of feature pack 3.5, they have the ability to enter the Ideas Forum either through the Help Center or via Self-Services in the Home Work Center. It is also possible to access the forum from a mobile device.
The ideas that are submitted to the forum can range from a suggestion for a minor improvement, like a missing report, to a complex requirement, like the ability to do mass updates of master data, but all ideas go through the same process. First, the customer or partner submits the idea, and the system automatically checks to make sure there are no duplicate ideas already in the community. Next, other customers and partners comment and vote on it, with SAP experts moderating the discussion. Experts are either SAP Business ByDesign product managers or area product owners who are quite close to the development organization, ensuring that there is transparency across the whole process. SAP experts then select ideas for further review, and finally decide on the ideas that will be delivered in the next feature pack release.
Developers aren’t just notified at the end of this process, however. They get daily or weekly e-mail updates of new ideas posted in the forum in their area of expertise. This gives them a chance to read about customer pain points and requirements. Some developers engage directly with customers in the Ideas Forum to ask questions or respond to ideas. “This is how the Ideas Forum really supports customer centricity,” says Walter. “It’s about involving the customer more deeply in our plans and collaborating with them.”
It doesn’t end with the idea
One of the main goals of the Ideas Forum is not just to make customer needs and the development process more transparent, but also to drive decisions based on that information and implement the improvements. After an idea has been selected for development, the SAP Business ByDesign team arranges customer visits to validate the concept and get feedback on user interfaces. “As an administrator, the Ideas Forum gives me insight into which customers have an interest in a particular topic. So I can ask them if they want to participate in a workshop, and go more in-depth into their needs and preferences,” says Walter.
This second phase is part of the larger Roll-In program within the Field and Market Engagement organization at SAP. The Roll-In program involves collecting information on customer requirements internally, organizing workshops and events, connecting customers and partners, official customer engagement initiatives, and more.
While the Ideas Forum is an important pillar in this program, it can’t function alone. As Tatjana Walter says, “It all starts with an idea. But it doesn’t end there.”