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Survival of the Fittest

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of the SAP Ecosystem (including the SAP Community Network) and community-based innovation.  

But before we focus on the SAP Community Network (SCN), let’s take a quick at innovation which is really based on a survival of the fittest battle.  The evolution of an idea is a process that includes a variety of steps. There is a no single evolutionary path but different types of ideas require different phases – follow different paths.  Sometimes an idea “takes a few steps” on its particular evolutionary road and then ceases to develop.  Other ideas evolve to become reality.  Those ideas that are most viable will attract the most contributors and survive. 

The presence of a number of different ideas at different stages in their “evolutionary development” is what makes a community interesting.  It is a sign that community members are not just consuming content – they are also creating.

The role of the SAP Ecosystem

There are number of examples of innovation within the SAP ecosystem (including InnoCentive).  In my opinion, the central question is what are the respective perspectives of SAP and the community regarding the role of the SAP ecosystem in innovation.

As an SAP Mentor, I know that there a variety of discussions currently taking place behind the scenes that are related to the ecosystem and open-source issues.  The fact that there are even discussions on these topics is very important and a sign of the maturity of the ecosystem as well as the relationship between SAP and the community.  At their core, many of these discussions relate to creativity.

Just as SAP has shown maturity in engaging SAP Mentors on various issues, SAP must also realize that its efforts regarding innovation take place in a marketplace where there are other offers.  Thus, developers from SAP ecosystem may choose other environments in which to innovate.  It is necessary to remember that participation in innovation- as is all community participation – is voluntary. On the other hand, if SAP creates an environment with enough differentiators and that is conducive to playing a greater role in innovation, then the developers will come.

I see the ecosystem as a facilitator to encourage innovation.  This role means that the ecosystem plays part of this evolutionary process. It usually can’t and won’t play the only part.  Indeed, it may only play a small role in this process. Just as SCN members are usually members of other communities (Facebook, etc.), innovation that originates in the SAP ecosystem may emerge somewhere else.   A desire for exclusivity regarding innovation is destined to disappoint.

ESME’s Proposal to the Apache Incubator

One example of the role of the SAP ecosystem in promoting innovation is ESME which started as a plurk conversation moved to the SDN wiki then to Assembla and finally to Google Code.   Last week, we submitted a proposal to join the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) which “provides organizational, legal, and financial support for a broad range of open source software projects. The Foundation provides an established framework for intellectual property and financial contributions that simultaneously limits contributors’ potential legal exposure. We are seeking admission to the ASF via the Apache Incubator.

In the open-source world, participation in the ASF is highly desired and provides an amazing foundation for further growth. We haven’t been accepted yet into the program but for me the fact that we even submitted a proposal is a typical open-source “rags-to-riches” story in which the SAP Ecosystem played a critical role. 

Conclusion

It is really only when innovation expands beyond the borders of the SCN that the diversity that exists outside the Ecosystem can be tapped into. Although the SCN is huge, it is still homogenous group with SAP as its common denominator. Fresh ideas and perspectives from others outside of the community can only benefit the evolution of ideas.

Although such innovation may not take place directly in the SCN itself, the involvement of SCN community members in these innovative efforts assures that the Ecosystem remains involved through its social network.

This network is the true power of the community and not the community-created content on http://www.sdn.sap.com.

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11 Comments

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  1. Bernd Eckenfels
    Yes, it is a good sign that the SDN community not only tolerates but also generates ideas around non-sap stacks. It is a good sign.

    Of course the “need” to go to ASF or Google means, there could still be MORE provided by SAP .)

    Gruss
    Bernd

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    1. Richard Hirsch Post author
      Bernd,

      I agree that SAP can provide more. Community members are obviously interested in promoting the success of this community otherwise, they would not contribute as much as they do. As I mentioned in the blog, it just depends on the differentiators that are provided by SAP. If the honey pot is sweet enough, the bees will come.

      D.

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  2. Claus von Riegen
    Dick,

    great summary! To me this is simply another reminder that SAP still needs to do a couple of steps in order to actually get to a platform ecosystem. To me, a platform ecosystem can only exist if two requirements are met: one for the platform and one for the ecosystem. The platform (i.e., the SAP NetWeaver platform) needs to be stable, provide open access to the functionality and evolve in a controlled manner. The ecosystem needs to be community-driven and to innovate on top of the platform.

    One dimension where we still need to evolve over time is to allow more freedom about what happens in the ecosystem. Coming back to your statements, this is, for example, to allow, support and promote community projects that are freely shared like open source. Certainly, there are areas where a more (SAP-)controlled type of innovation is much more reasonable. For example, when it comes to enterprise services that are discussed in the enterprise services community, SAP needs to make sure that they are implementable and as reusable as possible. But in other areas, particularly in areas that are outside of SAP’s product portfolio, I envision an approach that is actually driven by the community of customers, partners and developers. Like ESME. Like many other community projects. The sooner we get there, the better for the community – and SAP.

    Claus

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    1. Richard Hirsch Post author
      Claus,

      I agree. There are some areas of innovation that – due to their character – mandate tighter control by SAP. There are other areas, such as community projects, where this control should and must be looser.  What I like to suggest is that the ecosystem should be comfortable with supporting both kinds of innovation. Too much control will stifle some kinds of innovation and force the innovators to move elsewhere.  To toss all innovation into one pot leads to expectations on the part of SAP as well as the community that cannot be met. 

      D.

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  3. Anton Wenzelhuemer
    Very good analysis Dick!

    I can only full agree when you say

    This network is the true power of the community and not the community-created content on http://www.sdn.sap.com.

    Additionally I’d say the network is not only the true power but also the true value of the ecosystem and a huge USP of the software product in the center of this ecosystem.

    anton

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    1. Mark Finnern
      Hi Richard,

      Excellent post as Anton I am in agreement with:
      “This network is the true power of the community and not the community-created content on http://www.sdn.sap.com.
      Additionally I’d say the network is not only the true power but also the true value of the ecosystem and a huge USP of the software product in the center of this ecosystem.”
      I had to look up USP and it is Unique Selling Proposition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unique_selling_point
      We see it like that, unfortunately not all people understand it yet. In our world of increased economic pressure the focus is strongly on the bottom line.
      The holy grail is the ability to proof that network value in hard selling dollars or reduced costs.
      We try to do that, with varying degrees of success, Mark.

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      1. Richard Hirsch Post author
        Mark,

        “The holy grail is the ability to proof that network value in hard selling dollars or reduced costs.” – I think this is not only something that SAP must to do but each one of us who is active in the community must to do this as well.  Maybe there should some sort of kit or list of suggestions that could be available to community users to justify their involvement. For partners, for example, number of new sales based on network contacts.

        This problem isn’t restricted to this community. Other social media tools must do the same thing. The relatively recent emergence of such tools often makes it difficult to justify their use. As such tools mature, I’m sure that metrics will emerge that assist in such ROI-related questions.

        D.

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    2. Richard Hirsch Post author
      Anton,

      Lately, I’ve had less time than I’d like to contribute to SCN based on ESME and work-related commitments. However, my constant interaction with my SCN-based network via twitter and other social media tools still provides me enormous satisfaction and numerous benefits. Based on this experience, I agree with you completely that the “true value” is this network. Although I still use SDN content on a daily – sometimes hourly – basis, this network remains with me at all times. Honestly, I think it is the opportunitites that arise from this network that will provide the most benefits in the long-term – not only for my career but as well for the companies for which I work.

      D.

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  4. Jakob Diness
    Dear all!

    Although the analysis/commments make sense in some ways, I still have my doubts whether or not social network will pay off in the end.

    I mean, sure – social relations are great, keeping constantly updated on the where-abouts of you and others are fun, but not mandatory to innovation.

    I, for example, have a rather time-consuming consultancy job at various customers (besides family w/ 3 kids). There is no way that I can dedicate time on a daily basis, not to speak about hourly basis on “social” networks.

    I do have a facebook profile (jakob diness should not be very hard to look up :-), but I do not use it a lot. It is more a “nice-to-have” than a need-to-have.

    A professional relation with peers at SDN is hard to maintain, since I am not willing to offer/invest the time on a daily basis.

    I mostly read blogs and articles, when I have a problem to solve. And I only posted a small amount of material. Of the ½ million members at SDN, I am pretty sure that most of them are not that active.

    What I am looking for, at times, is a less time-consuming way to share ideas and get smarter at innovation. A good old-fashioned “community-bulletin board”, where it is not a disqualification to answer and post material even with a week in-between.

    Well, that was a rather lengthy note – gotta go. Best regards
    Jakob Diness, Invendium (Denmark)

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    1. Richard Hirsch Post author
      Hi Jakob,

      Social networks are of course not mandatory for innovation. They can, however, be used to speed up innovation. 

      I think if you must such networks selectively not all the time. I also think that such networks are usually in the background.

      D.

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