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It has been a few days since I had the privilege of attending the Design Thinking Jam and SAPPHIRE in Orlando, and I have now had a little time to digest the scale of the conference both in terms of numbers an ideas. At the conference we experienced a design thinking challenge with some brilliant students from across the globe. I also was able to share ideas with professors, developers and SAP partners about what the role of the University Alliances is in the SAP Ecosystem. I want to share my experiences and insights here.

First off, SAP HANA was a big part of the conference, both for SAP and partners. Hasso Plattner’s keynote speech was inspiring and debunking many of the misconceptions in the media. You can see replays of the keynotes here : http://www.sap.com/events/sapphirenow/index.epx?url_id=banner-us-sapcom-discover-events-highlights-SANOW2013 I also spoke with technical experts from SAP partners, where I learned that there are several hardware configurations for HANA which can be customized towards different use cases and most importantly scaled over time when demand for high speed computing increases. From what I saw, I am convinced that SAP HANA is ready for primetime from both a hardware, software and support ecosystem. There are numerous consultancies in addition to SAP who now have experience implementing solutions.

Second, I followed my interest in analytics and attended an ASUG presentation on predictive analytics and data visualization. I was reintroduced to the Competitive Advantage / Analytics Maturity model, which looks at how developing analytics capability allows for higher level of question answering. /wp-content/uploads/2013/05/predict_223866.jpg

After that I spent some time speaking with SAP and partner experts about predictive analytics, which I do a lot as a researcher when quantifying structural models to validate theories of peoples’  behaviour with information and systems. This gets into the “Why did it happen?”, “What will happen?” type questions. While I saw a few examples of this by SAP customers and co-innovators, it struck me that there seems to be a huge opportunity for more innovation in this space to leverage big data and HANA. I regrettably did not see that much of this coming from partner vendors, which makes sense in a way since their solutions focused on enablement of information connections to act as a catalyst for SAP’s customers to innovate. Innovative applications were presented by ASUG members, who were those with the “problem” and “solution” built on the SAP ecosystem.

Upon reflecting on all this, I can now say there is a market niche Universities can fill by training our students to understand how to leverage data to understand the “how” and “why” questions and then to innovate the analytics problem to build predictive solutions that enable better decision making. For this students will have to use their imagination about what might be possible without being encumbered by technical constraints that seemed immutable the last 40 years, but are now vanishing with the new architectures of SAP HANA. This has been a pretty consistent and powerful message that Ann Rosenberg and her team are making to SAP.

In this vision for SAP University Alliances, schools are much more than a presales place, but a massive co-innovation space where thousands of curious minds play with the question of what can we do next with information.  The opportunities for UA in the ecosystem is building on SAP training in the domain of transactional excellence, productivity  and reporting  and co-develop curriculum on making good decisions and finding new ways of doing business.

Students can be inspired to think of new ways of viewing problems in business and the natural world, and build solutions which begin to answer the “what will happen?” and “what is the best thing that could happen?” types of questions. It is truly exciting to have the opportunity to bring the latest technology to the classroom to see what happens when bright minds learn how to use it in new and inventive ways.

How can we go about this then? At our school, we will be including design thinking in some of our classes, as way to approach open ended problems with fuzzy constraints. If you want to see a free e-learning class on Design Thinking, there is one on Training.sap.com which can get you started. We will also be participating in future design thinking competitions such as the one focused on grand solutions for tomorrow’s utilities www.utilityoftomorrowcontest.com. In addition to that opportunity, I just received a free membership as a University Alliance member to the Interaction Design Foundation https://www.interaction-design.org/UA where there are other materials including books, and videos which can be used to support design thinking processes. This is a fantastic resource and I have already introduced several colleagues in our school to it. It was great to see the launch of the 35,000 Mile Bike Tour which is promoting the foundation and is amazing to follow along how it is going.

Overall, I am very excited to be part of the discussion on shaping the future of education and having resources like the ones linked here accessible to see what is happening in business and  to influence faculty at our institution how we teach students to make the most of opportunities in terms of technology and creativity in this new era of Big Data analytics. 

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