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What started as a simple idea is becoming a broad smart city implementation powered by SAP Business Technology Platform


In 2019, when KAUST, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, and SAP initially started to re-imagine the campus dining experience for university members, it was still a long-term vision to grow this idea into a holistic smart city concept. The project team selected this area as a first step on the innovation journey, knowing that it’d be a long and challenging process. They worked with food services teams as well as with service providers to leverage existing building blocks, streamline the digital transformation journey and reduce adoption barriers.

As a result, the new “KAUSTCentral” application serves as communication hub built with SAP Business Technology Platform. What’s more, KAUST’s adapted innovation model now enables the organization to scale its digital transformation experience as a whole! Here’s how KAUST got there.


In collaboration with the SAP AppHaus, KAUST aimed at improving the user experience of living on the campus for residents and guests, starting with all things related to dining on the campus.
Project lead Juan R. Carvallo Alarcón, Experience Design and Architecture Manager, explains:

Our intent has always been to transform the whole campus experience of living there or visiting it. So, among the existing opportunities we started exploring how we could transform the dining experience, where the shared vision and engagement with our food services colleagues has been key for the journey success.”

By applying SAP’s Human-Centered Approach to Innovation, the KAUST innovation team together with the SAP AppHaus experts conducted design workshops and ran user research activities to develop a consumer-oriented prototype for a dining app on iOS devices. At the beginning, the project team did not have clear plans on the actual implementation topology. At KAUST, the team members knew they had many existing capabilities, and just wanted the whole transformation journey to be experience- and not technology driven.  So, project members on both sides did not expect that the digital dining engagement would be the initial spark for an impactful SAP Business Technology Platform implementation enabling all facets of a truly smart city.
“To begin with, at KAUST we are continuously looking for ways to enhance the user's experiences, and I believe the collaboration with the SAP team and the utilization of SAP’s human-centered innovation methodology helped us streamline the experience roadmap. I am very pleased we started with improving the user experience and then moved on to adopt the right technology architecture.”

– Maimouna Melibari, project team member at KAUST, Senior Experience Designer


KAUST set sail to become a “smart campus”

Located on the Red Sea coast, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is a prominent institution built in 2009 in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. As an institution of higher education, KAUST seeks to improve the life of humanity at large, mainly through research and constant innovation. With a size of roughly 36 million square meters, the campus, a city in proportion, houses more than 7,000 students, faculty staff and family members from about 120 nations.

As a catalyst for innovation, KAUST is becoming a living lab and Smart City where the so-called KAUSTCentral ecosystem and apps act as a digital hub to transform and bundle all types of intelligently managed experiences. Be it in booking a taxi, entering the KAUST campus or the simple act of dining, KAUST seeks to ensure convenience, promote sustainability, and enhance user experience in all types of amenities, from healthcare and recreation centers to provisioning.


Looking back and ahead

“Our deep partnership throughout this project has shown yet another time that SAP’s Human-Centered Approach to Innovation connected with the power of SAP BTP makes a huge difference to serve our customers’ needs and ambitions towards reaching their visionary goals and establishing this truly intelligent KAUST Smart City concept.”

– Marcus Dorfmeyer, Project Lead at the SAP AppHaus Heidelberg

The engagement with SAP provided the customer team with insights on how to refine the output of Design Thinking sessions, create storyboards, journey maps, design wireframes, hackathons and focus groups. And the customer team did not stop at this level but eagerly translated the innovation steps into their own organization and its processes. The innovation team built up expertise, adapted the approach as they created the KAUST Smart brand that gained reputation with incremental outcomes, adding value to the user experience on the campus with every new innovative release.

Looking back on how it all started, project lead Juan R. Carvallo Alarcón emphasizes that a fundamental aspect of the KAUSTCentral ecosystem is its flexibility to integrate with existing and third-party systems. It can grow and add more capabilities that enrich the experience both of KAUST residents and visitors. Key to achieve this, has been the creation of the following components within the KAUSTCentral ecosystem:

  1. KAUSTCentral login: a user identification mechanism designed to empower KAUST community members and visitors to have a simple and controlled access to services and capabilities provided by multiple KAUST Teams.

  2. Notifications: enable KAUST teams to communicate and reach out to users individually or as part of groups

  3. Preferences: The user option to select what types of messages are wanted, what menu items, etc. which is fundamental for building personalized experiences

  4. Feedback and impact measuring: Key to enable Business teams to learn further from the users’ experiences about the services they provide, and KAUSTCentral provides an open real time channel for this.

  5. Online payment: Integrating with specialized vendors to simplify the journey on different services for users such as for dining, transportation, etc.

The project lead concludes:

The co-innovation work with SAP gave us more context to develop our own innovation methodology, and the confidence to align different teams for a common goal and cut across different organization verticals. SAP has helped us start and develop the initial structure, drill into the iceberg, so to say. The ongoing alignment with stakeholders to build what we have today in KAUSTCentral is not the end, but it is a channel for the cultural change that we are working on.

More project insights can be found on the SAP AppHaus projects page.