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The SAP HANA InnoJam competition is over. The competition culminated with The SAP HANA InnoJam at SAPPHIRE NOW 2011 in Orlando.

Here is the story of the competition by the organizing team.

The ask

It all started in October 2010 when Vishal Sikka asked five of us to help him to revive the innovative spirit of SAP.


What an exciting and challenging task! The team of five quickly met and started to brainstorm around Vishal’s ask, trying to interpret the ask and not sure about our options.

The right qualities  

We all agreed that most people are not able to sustain an innovative spirit in an environment that does not have the right qualities. What are those qualities? If we can’t create the ideal environment how do we create one that is good enough?

After some reading and discussions, we decided on a few qualities for an ideal environment. They included: time, openness, collaboration, learning, diversity and teamwork.

An environment that makes time for employees to innovate invites everyone to participate, independently of their job and responsibility.  An environment that is open invites all ideas and all opinions, even from the most shy. An environment that is collaborative is reassuring and welcoming: it naturally encourages participation and cross-pollination. All people like to learn and research shows that employee motivation and engagement increases with more opportunities to learn. When teamwork is facilitated, people have a chance to build upon each other’s perspective. Another key ingredient to creativity and innovation is diversity. We see it every day at work. When various cultures, backgrounds and experiences meet, the references change and new worlds and dimension open.

We thought that all six qualities were important and we decided to work on all of them.

Best practices

We first looked at how other companies do it. We first looked at Google. All Google employees are allowed 20% time for pet projects.

We also looked at Atlassian, which introduced a concept that they call Fedex days. Fedex days are days when all Atlassian employees are invited to work together on something else than their daily job and to deliver and show something that works at the end of the day. Now the Fedex days take place monthly and feed Atlassyan’s innovation process.

Both Google and Atlassian gave us some good ideas and a good base for discussing.

Our first proposal

In November, we mixed some ideas from Google, Atlassyan with other ideas from other colleagues who attempted to promote or accelerate innovation, and we came back to Vishal with one proposal: a pilot of the Google’s 20% time for pet projects on HANA.


Vishal thought our first proposal was too general and too ambitious. He asked us to modify it and to think about something more focused, for example a challenge to build content on HANA, and to forget about the 10% or 20% free time for pet projects, as it would be hard to setup quickly.

We did not want to do just another challenge. SAP was already launching regular challenges quite frequently and if challenges had not yet revived the innovation spirit of SAP, a new one would not help much.

Meanwhile we did not want to get rid of the idea of creating a HANA competition. How about shaping a competition that would create an environment that had all five qualities that we were after: time, openness, collaboration, learning and teamwork? Was it possible?

This is what we tried to do when shaping the SAP HANA InnoJam competition.

The SAP HANA InnoJam proposal


The new proposal became to run an internal and global competition over several weeks to build content on HANA. The 1st phase would ask all interested SAP employees to submit ideas for HANA content. At the end of the 1stphase a jury would rate the ideas based on desirability, viability and feasibility. We would keep 48 ideas for Phase 2, which would end with regional competitions around our internal developers conference DKOM. The regional competitions would qualify finalists, who would first be invited to compete at the DKOM Demo Jam and also be invited to Phase 3, which would end with the finals at SAPPHIRE NOW.

With “InnoJam” we made a statement that this challenge was different. We thought also that the InnoJam concept, which values participation more than competition, would be felt very inclusive. With regional competitions at 4 big SAP locations, we would give time and facilitate participatory collaboration. By doing a competition on HANA, which many had not had a chance to access and explore, we would give an opportunity for all to learn about something new and exciting. By using our online Employee Network we would facilitate transparency and teamwork.

Last but not least by doing the finals at SAPPHIRE NOW we would provide visibility and pride to all participants as well as giving them a chance to validate their ideas with customers. We willingly stayed away from transient cash-equivalent prizes and opted for long lasting rewards such as visibility and pride.

Vishal liked our new proposal and we set December 1st as target start-time.

Running out of time

December 1st turned out to be unrealistic. Indeed, in order to invite all SAP employees we had to get clearance from all workers councils and the clearance processes required time. In addition, in order to give a chance to all participants to explore HANA and develop on it we had to provide sandbox systems and we were limited by money and HANA experts’ time.

We got clearance from all workers councils for a launch on January 14th; therefore 6 weeks after our initial target start date of December 1st2010. Our first sandbox system, in the Amazon Cloud, went live just before the end of 2010. Five other systems were setup by the SAP Value Prototyping team just before the DKOM InnoJam events in March 2011.

Scaling the jury

Between January 14th and February 14th, 625 ideas were submitted. We had a jury of about 24 members (12 teams of 2), ready to cover about 300 ideas. We ended up with more than twice the number of ideas we anticipated. The selection process for Phase 2 became a big “job” for our jury members and several could not review the number of ideas that we assigned to them. We had to find “emergency” jury members or ask for additional help from the most flexible jury members. In the end the selection process took us more time than planned. Despite the quality of many submissions we did not have the flexibility to much more than the 32 ideas we had planned to select for the DKOM InnoJam regional competitions. Our resources, mostly money, resources and facility, set our limits. We increased the number of selected ideas to 48 or 12 per location.

HANA Experts wanted

Many of the 48 ideas were ambitious and required more than just HANA knowledge. Besides the difficulty of setting up the right landscapes for the 48 selected teams, we had to find experts that would help the participants to make progress before and during the DKOM InnoJam regional competitions. At the time HANA expertise was still not very spread within SAP and most experts were still quite busy with either development or ramping-up of HANA customers. In the end the HANA development team and our solutions adoption team designated some experts that got (thankfully!) very engaged in the online HANA Content Development group.

DKOM InnoJam events (aka HANA InnoJam regionals)

Running the regional competitions around DKOM was quite exciting. Our events would benefit from the excitement of DKOM and the winners would have a chance to go on stage during the DKOM Demo Jam competitions.

Unfortunately it quickly became a logistics nightmare.

We wanted to run the regional competitions just before DKOM, which meant Saturday and Sunday or Sunday and Monday, depending on the location. The workers council of SAP AG and SAP Germany asked us to advance the regional competition for Germany to Thursday and Friday, therefore 5 days before DKOM. In the end it made it a little easier for my team to support the four events. Now they would no longer run in parallel and all of us could remotely support the other events.

Saturday and Sunday were IT Maintenance days in both Walldorf and Palo Alto. Our 5 HANA systems were in Walldorf and even though there were not on the maintenance schedule, accessing them remotely required going through servers that would be maintained during that weekend. Therefore we had to work around IT maintenance schedules and ask IT to adapt their schedule so that we could run the regional competitions at the 4 locations. We moved the regional competition for the US to Sunday and Monday.

We ran 4 regional competitions, in Walldorf, Bangalore, Shanghai and Palo Alto. The 48 teams competed and 12 of them qualified for the finals. We ran these events like standard InnoJam events: 30 hours hands-on were participants worked together and besides each other on their ideas. There were 3 winners per location. The 3 local winners took part into the DKOM Demo Jam competition during one of the evenings that followed.


Feedback to all submitters

We did not want to forget about the 577 ideas that did not make it to Phase 2.  We really wanted to share the jury feedback with the submitters of the 625 ideas of Phase 1. We had heard that in previous challenges that did not happen and we wanted to make sure that this time we gave personalized feedback to all idea submitters. It was a tremendous task. Extracting the jury feedback from survey monkey, consolidating it and uploading it to the idea submission site required numerous hours. In the end we are glad that we did it. Many thanked us for having done that.

We also wanted to make sure that all ideas that had very good ratings or had some comments from the jury that encouraged follow-up got visibility from relevant product owners, solution owners or service teams. We spent many hours classifying the ideas and preparing idea packages for various product owners, solution owners or service teams, encouraging them to follow-up with the idea submitters.


The finals

Right after DKOM in March we started to prepare for the finals. First we contacted the Global IP team asking them to review the 12 ideas that would be featured at the finals to make sure that all relevant invention disclosures would be made before the finals, which would be public.

Then we organized the event with the SAPPHIRE NOW team. The only possible option was to organize a Special Interest Activity during the day or during the evening, either on May 15th, May 16th or May 17th. As the plan was that Vishal Sikka or Hasso Plattner would briefly feature the finalists during their keynote, we had to do the event before May 17thto allow enough time for injecting some information into their keynote on May 18th. We opted for May 16th to maximize attendance.

While we continued to work on the logistics of the finals we encountered our biggest hurdles: budget and SAPPHIRE NOW badges.

We were not allowed to cover the travel of the finalists to Orlando. It became a real challenge for some of the finalists who had to spend on the travel budget of their team in order to participate in the HANA InnoJam finals.

Most challenging was the fact that the SAPPHIRE NOW organizing team first rejected our request to give badges to the finalists. Our request was to get 2 badges per team. It took us one month to get 12 badges and a few more weeks to get another 12 badges. The story had an happy ending but for a very long time we worried that finalists would come to the HANA Olympics finals next to SAPPHIRE NOW without being able to visit SAPPHIRE NOW.


For a while we were hoping to get Vishal Sikka and even maybe Hasso Plattner in the jury of the finals. In the end Vishal and Hasso had other more important things to care about and we worked with 2 backup jurors, Kaj van de Loo and Franz Faerber, who joined our external jurors Hal Zesh and Mico Yuk. The four were great jurors.

Luckily Vishal showed up to conclude the finals. He had time to see the demo of the winning team, to talk to the audience and to thank all of us J. We are grateful for such conclusion.


The winners

We had The SAP HANA InnoJam at SAPPHIRE NOW 2011 in Orlando:

  • 1st place winner: Prajnaa at the Speed of HANA from India,
  • 2nd place winner: Semiconductor Yield Improvement from Germany,
  • 3rd place winners (tie): Demand-based collaborative scheduling for just-in-time manufactory from China, and Disaster Emergency Solution from China.

Three of them got featured at the “Innovations from SAP Labs” pod of the In Memory Test-drive of the Technology Campus on the SAPPHIRE NOW show floor. On both Tuesday and Wednesday the Prajnaa team and the Semiconductor Yield Improvement team got many customer visits and had a chance to get contacts and feedback from many people, including the chairman of SAP’s supervisory board, Hasso Plattner.


We will make the videos of the demos during the finals visible to all within SAP and outside of SAP. We will share the recorded jury feedback during the finals with the 12 teams. We will continue to support the 12 teams in further developing their ideas to the best extend we can. But we won’t stop at the 12 finalists and are working towards supporting other teams that wanted to continue to develop their idea. There are many discussions underway and we promise: we are committed to leave no one and no idea behind.


Thank you

We believe that we have made a few baby steps towards reviving the innovation spirit of SAP. We already see signs of revival, or “renewal” all around us. The recently launched “Gamification Cup” has already attracted many participants to the SAP HANA InnoJam competition, which we take as a sign that people like our new challenges!


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