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Author's profile photo Bill McDermott

Accelerating a Culture of Innovation

It occurs to me that like many remaining parts of Germany’s Autobahn, there is no speed limit on the pace of innovation.

Disruptive innovation is the new normal. In the 21st century, the fastest companies who convert big ideas into business outcomes are the winners. The only way this is possible is with a culture of innovation that encourages people to dream and embraces their curiosity for a better way.

/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/hoos_384338.jpgUnfortunately, dreams and questions are endangered species in too many corporate cultures.

Hal Gregersen, who will speak later this week at the SAP Executive Forum in Potsdam, Germany, has focused his research on asking questions as the ultimate foundation of innovation. But for big companies with established businesses, questions can be seen as threatening to stability or, worse, destructive.

This is precisely why, thanks to our courageous founder and chairman, Hasso Plattner, SAP has behaved like a start-up throughout our 42 year history. A start-up culture is permanently humble and hungry – always driven to change the world and keenly aware that success is temporary.

We acted on this standard in 2010, when SAP rejected complacency as the market leader in favor of customer-driven innovation, new markets and growth opportunities. Notwithstanding the consistent double-digit growth from that winning strategy, we acted again this year, targeting complexity as the most intractable challenge facing businesses and CEOs – especially the complexity that’s rooted in the legacy IT stack. We fundamentally believe that when businesses simplify everything, they’ll free time and resources to accelerate innovation.

On February 12th we’ll advance this mission and once again further our entrepreneurial spirit with a new SAP Innovation Center (pictured). This exciting Potsdam facility will house teams that focus on creating cutting-edge applications that put the user front and center. Simplicity and beautiful design will be the core values for everything. The center combines fresh ideas from Berlin’s vivid start-up scene with the global reach and scale of SAP.

Our top innovator – the man I believe is the innovator of this generation – Dr. Vishal Sikka, understood early that we would need state-of-the-art facilities to focus on unleashing the full power of SAP HANA, the world’s standard in-memory technology platform. So in 2011, the SAP Innovation Center was born with a small and elite team in Potsdam and Walldorf. We set ambitious goals – to find the best and the brightest minds with experience in programming and an appetite to disrupt and rethink everything.

We found the right leaders in Juergen Mueller and Jens Krueger. We recruited researchers and students from the Hasso Plattner Institute for Software Systems Engineering, world-class universities in Berlin, the Fraunhofer Institutes, Stanford University and MIT.

But the most significant aspect of the new center isn’t about what we put into it. The exciting promise rests in the work that’s coming out!

The center has already developed the Patient Data Explorer tool, empowering users to filter and group patients according to different attributes, fully customizable for different cancer centers. Thanks to a generic healthcare data model, patient data from different sources such as clinical information systems, tumor registries, biobank systems and even text documents (like physicians’ notes) can be accessed, analyzed, and put into actionable context. In addition, the tool offers a comprehensive overview of each individual patient’s medical history in a graphical timeline, making it easy to access information on any level of detail.

This is but one example of the possibilities.

On issues ranging from health care and education to sports and entertainment, we couldn’t be more curious about how technology will make the world run better and improve people’s lives. We’ve put this mandate to our team in Potstdam and around the world, challenging them to bring their diverse backgrounds and points of view to the table.

We believe they’ll succeed and hope they’ll fail often. That may sound strange, but like curiosity and ambition, failure is another critical ingredient in the secret sauce of innovation. When the next great generation gets a bold mandate and game-changing technology, they’ll race to create the next big idea. When they miss, they’ll learn. When they learn, the world will benefit.

Every leader should ask what they can do to accelerate this process of dreaming, learning, doing, failing, winning & dreaming again. Our new Innovation Center is a great case study. If you’d like to see it, please let me know.

Our team is Tweeting the developments with the hash #SAPICO. Please consider following along!

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      @BillRMcDermott and #SAPIOC,

      it looks like the beginnings of sillicon valley of Europe and it's a lovely town where history of the world was made. i have very fond memories form visiting there during my teenage years.



      P.S. great #MOOC initiative 2

      Author's profile photo Claire Devereux
      Claire Devereux

      Hi Bill,

      It's great to see innovation is at the top of our thoughts throughout SAP and it's exciting to be part of it. Last week openSAP, provider of Massive Open Online Courses at SAP, received the Innovation in Learning Bronze Award 2014 at the Learning and Performance Institute's annual awards ceremony in London. Read more about the win here: openSAP win Innovation in Learning Bronze Award 2014

      Kind regards,


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Bill McDermott, #SAPICO -

      Congratulations on the grand opening. Can't wait for breakthrough ideas to emerge and disrupt the marketplace.

      Best regards,

      William Newman (Bill)

      Author's profile photo Sharath M G
      Sharath M G

      Dear Bill,

      As an SAP Technical Consultant, it gives me assurance, confidence and a great amount of pride in being associated with SAP. SAP and its future thinking leaders like you are the real engine of its success.

      I would aspire to contribute in its success and may be one day be involved in this team to provide futuristic solutions.

      Thank you for being an enabler in fostering innovation.

      Best Regards,


      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt

      When our leaders create a safe environment to fail forward and learn from mistakes we can indeed hope to be in the vanguard of innovators. I believe we can simplify or development iterations through fail analysis and retrospectives.

      Incredibly happy to see our CEO champion that and read Bill McDermott 's powerful statement:

      "failure is another critical ingredient in the secret sauce of innovation. When the next great generation gets a bold mandate and game-changing technology, they’ll race to create the next big idea. When they miss, they’ll learn. When they learn, the world will benefit."

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Bill:  I had the great pleasure of touring 3M's world-famous innovation center several years ago.  I felt like a kid in a candy store - so many tools!  So many toys!  So many ideas! 

      I asked them if I could move in, but they wouldn't let me.  I could have lived there very, very happily.

      So when you say about SAP's amazing new innovation center, "If you’d like to see it, please let me know" - well, of course I would like to see it.  And I am letting you know. 

      I'll be in Darmstadt in October for the SAP Mining and Metals Forum - Potsdam is a short train ride away.  I would love to meet the innovation center team.  Perhaps they'd like to apply their talents to some of these mining challenges that require innovation?

      Author's profile photo Guy Lamoureux
      Guy Lamoureux

      I like change. I like innovation. But it's best quality should be that it's the less disruptive as possible. That's why I don't understand why "disruptive innovation" should be the new normal.

      SAP has done it many time in the past. There is new feature and we are encouraged to use it. Two years after, there is a new gizmo that replaces it and we have to change again. Two years before, SAP knew for sure that they were developing something new. I don't mind having better tools but our users want stability and they are a bit annoyed to have to retest an application with no new features.

      Author's profile photo Patrick Maroney
      Patrick Maroney

      I recently had the honor at a manufacturing conference to share the stage with leaders from Cisco, Pitney Bowes, LNS research and SAP.  The discussion focused on what top companies are doing to drive INNOVATION around the topics of Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine to Machine (M2M).  Your readers may be interested in watching a replay of the presentation and panel discussion here.  

      Also, we've begun a blog series summarizing this discussion as well as interactions with top companies' leaders over the past 12+ months:

      Part 1:  Business Trends driving CEOs

      Part 2:  Data Driven Decision Making 

      Part 3:  - coming soon