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Co-Innovation Knowledge Brokering

The SAP Co-Innovation Lab (COIL) continues to globally enable a broad constituency of project requestors originating from both inside of SAP and from firms within its ecosystem wishing to engage in co-innovation projects.  This co-innovation enablement is comprised of a platform of services:

  • IT infrastructure- to provision SAP landscapes for all projects
  • IP management- sow-based projects
  • Knowledge brokering- sourcing, connecting subject matter and
    domain experts
  • Project and operations management- resources, capabilities for
    project execution


This platform is of high value to the project originators prefering to stay focused on the collaboration and co-innovation goals of the project itself, and not to spend many hours, days or even weeks seeking out the different resources required and becoming deeply involved in building out the right physical project environment. COIL provides such a platform. This year we ran over 100 projects like this worldwide.


The knowledge brokering dimension of the COIL enablement platform is something that has gradually evolved into a strong capability. This is due to a number of contributing factors, like being among the first to establish SAP platforms like Sybase SUP, SAP Gateway and SAP HANA landscapes to support an array of co-innovation project work which then helped to build our global team’s infrastructure expertise needed to stand up these environments and to
efficiently provision projects.



With nearly 5 years of co-innovation project work under our belts, COIL project managers, business leads and subject matter experts have become quite adept at thoroughly assessing project proposals to identify potential gaps relevant to required hardware and software resources as well as to recognize when discrete expertise is necessary for the project to succeed. There are a variety of ways in which COIL applies knowledge brokering for a given project. There are four ways of sourcing expertise that have emerged as somewhat cornerstone to this effort:

  • Project Requestor
  • Personal Networks
  • Repeat Project Participation
  • Social Networks

Oftentimes the project requestor has already laid sufficient groundwork in obtaining the right people to participate in the project. One observation is that we often find more formal commitments when participants are formally assigned to work on the project via the project requestor’s own executive sponsorship. While this is obviously ideal, it is however somewhat rare. At best, we see some or all of the SAP application or platform experience fulfilled by the requestor and yet general experience relative to the entire technology stack or understanding key aspects of the infrastructure of equal importance to a project can be lacking and therefore represent a critical gap. It is similarly so when an SAP technology partner or ecosystem ISV proposes a COIL project. The firm will typically bring vast knowledge of its own technologies and products and perhaps some broader skill sets relative to things like networking, storage or security but may lack the deeper SAP knowledge critical for things like developing a suitable use case.

Nonetheless, from COIL having enabled such a diverse portfolio of projects, our business leads and project managers have built up their own personal network of contacts inside SAP and across its ecosystem to the extent that our success at finding the needed project participants is fairly successful.  We often tap talent for a project by connecting prior project participants to new projects where we see a fit and can leverage the fact the person is already familiar with COIL project processes.

There are of course ongoing challenges like sometimes taking more time to identify a needed expert than what a proposed project timeline can tolerate. Another issue looms where we locate the right expert who is willing to participate only to find that their availability does not coincide with the project timeline or worse, they get redirected due to their own shifting priorities and need to drop from an active project. There are ways in which to mitigate this, but the risk is there in any circumstance where the participants are not formally committed to the project through agreements spanning a project’s executive stakeholders.  

The last and more recent way to source expertise for co-innovation projects is to tap internal social networks by simply broadcasting information about the project and requesting assistance from those who find the proposed project of interest and where it may even align with the goals of others not yet aware of the project. The effort to tap social networks is something we’ve only just stated to explore and may in fact not get complete traction until enough people become interested to continuously follow the SAP Co-Innovation Lab and a stronger awareness that it can be possible to become involved in co-innovation projects.

As someone who pays attention to how co-innovation is best enabled, I am always interested to learn how we can become more efficient at what we do and how our services can be designed to scale. In a previous blog post, I described my prior experience with cross-utilization management as one well-known approach developed years ago, for increasing workforce agility. Since first becoming active with implementing Web 2.0 Technologies for collaboration as early as 2006, I’ve had the sense that there must be scalable ways for project owners to connect to a larger pool of people.  Expanding this reach via social networks may be an effective way to strengthen our overall knowledge brokering capacity but this may or may not prove to be the only way to source project talent. Given the priorities of the day, it is not always possible to nurture the social networks of interest to the degree that it will quickly become a fruitful source for consistently connecting with subject matter experts.

Through my own scholarly efforts to discover how other firms and organizations work to connect people and to try and find the right people at the right time for important innovation project work, I was recently introduced to a network of people who are exploring the topic of Human Capital Management (HCM) and the intersection of management 2.0 and enterprise 2.0. Should you yearn to dive straight into HCM, I can highly recommend a great book on the topic, The New HR Analytics by Jac Fitz-Enz.  As I read this book, I was struck by how prevalent predictive analytics is becoming in HR and I wondered aloud at what point a firm’s HR organization would reguarly track innovation project work with respect to how such projects connect with people resources across the firm and what its impact has upon not only revenue and growth but employee motivation, loyalty and job satisfaction.

In much the same way we are fast becoming accustomed to sourcing computing power from the cloud. There are now tools and services emerging in the marketplace empowering the enterprise to optimize knowledge workers. For starters, SAP SuccessFactors offers market leading solutions with its BizX Suite delivering Core HR functionality, collaboration, and Analytics all from the cloud to aid firms with getting the right people aligned to the company strategy and business goals.

Additionally, and what I view as fully complimentary to the aforementioned capabilities are newer and compelling management techniques being developed that rely less on top down decision making and more on distributed worker based decision making. There are a few companies out
there looking at this today but one particular startup, Collabworks is evolving the notion of the “People Cloud” and describing a new paradigm of Worker-as-a Service.   It didn’t take long for me to become interested in all of this as it seems to directly address some of the knowledge brokering challenges previously mentioned. 

I find the idea that the right type of platform or middleware could serve to scale workers as a service to the extent that jobs can become more like services most intriguing.  It suggests that there are now opportunities to optimize talent by ensuring a firm can get the right people connected to the most important and relevant projects can occur instead of head count and job functions being tied to a single discrete business unit and fundamentally restricting a free flow of talent within an organization.

I’m still very much the newbie to all of this, but am eager to learn more about it. I get my first full immersion into all of it by participating in a workshop and panel discussion hosted by Collabworks at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA on Dec. 11th.  For a few short hours I will be surrounded by a lot of really talented people looking at all this from a variety of perspectives where I hope to find some further insight into how all of this might serve to supercharge our agility and efficiency to find and connect experts to co-innovation projects.  What I value is how this also injects a
higher degree of ideation and helps foster the open innovation tenet of leveraging tacit knowledge exchange between SAP and ecosystem partners to both accelerate the innovation process and to find shared commercial success with bringing innovation to customers.

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