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Former Member

I love my new job. The only problem is trying to explain it to my mother. I think the issue is that the word “innovation” appears in my title, but what really is “innovation”?

A quick search on Google turns up about 138,000,000 results for the word “innovation”, so clearly it’s something we’re all talking about! 

To anyone in the street , “innovation” probably has some key characteristics – a) it’s never been done before in this way; b) it starts off as a crazy idea then zeros in on its own “killer app”; c) it has wide appeal and makes people say “hey, that’s really cool”; d) it has real tangible benefits for either humans or companies.

Some innovations meet part of those criteria – Google Glass is a classic case in point. The concept is amazing – having a powerful, internet-connected computer seeing what you see, then analyzing that view and augmenting your reality with key information. The possibilities are limited only by imagination, and definitely fall into the “cool” category. Some of the business applications that are emerging are certainly disruptive and transformative, however a “killer app” for personal use really hasn’t emerged yet (and in fact the uber-geeks who are testing Google Glass are running into some interesting problems – social ostracism, being accused of creeping people out and so on). Some innovations are still searching for problems to solve.

After having many discussions with customers and colleagues, I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone has a different idea of what innovation means to them.  For organizations, a structured way of exploring “innovation” may be via Design Thinking  principles which look for  successful solutions that meet human needs, add business value, and are technically feasible.

Organizations today are indeed looking for technology-enabled innovations that improve user experience and increase business benefits at the same time. One of my public sector clients was blown away by the idea that we could present their back-end data to their customers in a consistent way, whether the customer interacted with the organization via web, telephone, app, or branch visit. Another customer is looking to create a Google Glass application which their customers can use in their retail eyewear outlets, that highlights the products that are most suitable for the customer based on their physical characteristics – skin tone, height, face & body shape, budget, insurance cover etc.

One thing is for certain – companies are leaping onto the “innovation” bandwagon like never before. Technology has reached a tipping point where almost anything is possible, and the next leap forward in the way we conduct our work is upon us. By 2025, 75% of the world’s population will have been born after most of us learned to dance to Abba (the so called “Millennials”). Our daily lives and work place, needless to say, will be transformed dramatically by this new race of humans.

I guess that’s where my new job comes in. This year I am diving headfirst into our increased focus on Innovation Adoption. SAP has, for some years, had a strong focus on ensuring our systems and services deliver value and benefits. It’s not acceptable for our customers to buy our software only to be left with the challenge of how to realize the dreamed-of business benefits. Our culture is focused on driving business outcomes – getting the customers’ SAP solution working in a way that fundamentally shifts their  business forward - and therein lies the driving force behind SAP Services.

We are re-organizing our Services teams, and creating six dedicated Innovation Adoption Centres under myself and my colleague Mark Giles, across the topics of Cloud, Big Data platforms, in memory (HANA) applications, User Experience, Mobility & Multichannel, and Warehousing & Transport.  I am proud to say that APJ is the only SAP region globally to have dedicated teams to Innovation Adoption. 

Google’s Nine Principles of Innovation are well worth a read – my favourite is “20% time”.  Organisations need to give their people some freedom and time to think, dream, create, and play, and Google gives its employees 1 day per week to work on “what they believe is right”. This 20% time generates a staggering 50% of Google’s new products and services.

And that resonates with me, and so I’m delighted that SAP Services is taking the unprecedented step of investing in our own people, and letting our geniuses have a little time to Look-Think-Do – look at a customers’ business or industry, think about a better way to enable their business model, and – most importantly – to then sit down and deliver innovations for our customers to take their businesses to new heights.

In looking for your own guide on the innovation trail, seek companies who have a positive approach to failure, and ensure your own culture is compatible. Take risks – small, calculated ones – expect failure – ensure you can harvest lessons and IP from the failures – rinse & repeat – and never give up. Thomas Eddison famously said that “I have not failed – I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work” in trying to create the light bulb. 

Your innovation guide should also know what they’re talking about. Are they well regarded by the analyst community? Are they seen as a leader by the market and by their peers? They should also have longevity – will they be around to support your innovative solution long after it’s moved into mainstream and become mission critical to you and your teams?

There’s lots of room on the innovation bandwagon and it’s not too late to join. Put on your “Chief Innovation Officer” hat and start dreaming. If you had a magic wand, what would you change, make or create? Every organization is in some way unique – how can you leverage your differences, put standard things together in fresh new ways, and make a quantum leap forward?

Cameron Berkman is Head of Innovation Adoption for Asia Pacific Japan at SAP Services. Connect with Cameron on LinkedIn.

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