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I was very fortunate to accompany both the New Zealand Defence Force, an SAP customer, and an impressive Australian start-up to the SAP Next-Gen Defence Innovation Council event in New York.
SAP Next-Gen events are very different to typical user group events as they go beyond the current ICT landscape to examine what is at, and what could be beyond, the technology horizon. Herein lies the importance of involving emerging technologies, typically generated by start-ups, which move the technology status quo forward by creating capabilities that challenge what businesses and governments want or need to be competitive or successful.

The event was held in SAP’s impressive new SAP Leonardo Centre at 10 Hudson Yards, New York, a facility purpose-built to cater for design thinking with clever use of space and stunning and inspirational views of the Big Apple. It is a facility for SAP customers to use to escape from routine work distractions and confined, familiar office spaces to foster creativity.

The event had a formal program and a central theme which allowed Defence customers, SAP specialists and innovative and emerging SAP partners, including start-ups, to triangulate current state with latest technology advances and the art of the possible. This created interesting discussion and at times enthralling debates that flowed on into the evenings, twisting and turning as some very impressive intellects came together, challenging and complementing each other’s thinking.

If the event proved one thing, it was that big software, its customers and start-ups are a powerful combination. SAP and other big software providers will continue to introduce amazing new technologies. Often, they’ll do it through co-innovation with customers in direct response to their challenges and ideas. However, what I witnessed at the event was that the start-up entrepreneurs injected completely new ideas into the mix. This led to exploration of concepts that simply wouldn’t have seen the light of day had the group been limited only to SAP and its Defence customers. So, creativity of the group was greatly enhanced by the start-ups presence.
... what I witnessed at the event was that the start-up entrepreneurs injected completely new ideas into the mix.

Another serious benefit of the activity was simply for the emerging SAP partners / start-ups to gain exposure to Defence and other government agencies from across the globe. Much like the intention of the Defence Innovation Hub in Australia, the event provided a vehicle for emerging technology companies (which do not have the business development and capture reach of big industry players) to be seen by potential customers. Importantly, while it was an SAP event held in an SAP facility, this occurred independent of the level of complementarity with SAP technologies. Of principal importance was the technologies’ potential to solve current Defence customer challenges and to expand Defence sector thinking on the capabilities opening up to it in the digital age.

The real proof in the power of bringing big software, customers and start-ups together is the subsequent and sustained engagement start-ups are generating as they explore genuine innovation with SAP and its customers.

Cases in point include Australian start-up SmartWard and German start-up neXenio – which is a spin-off of the Hasso Plattner Institute working in close partnership with the German federal mint, Bundesdruckerei – have spread awareness of their ground-breaking technologies beyond their initial intended market sectors.

SmartWard, which has designed next-generation e-health systems is exploring the application of its underpinning technology across multiple Defence use cases in multiple countries.

Meanwhile, neXenio, having designed impressive behavioural-based authentication technologies, is exploring the use of its underlying technologies for optimising human performance through prevention of injuries, e.g. elite athlete and soldier health management.

I recommend the SAP Next-Gen network and any future events to SAP customers, partners, tertiary sector collaborators and of course start-ups; it’s a great way to collectively build skills and capabilities for a digital future.