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IMAG0645.jpgTechnology is changing our lives in ways that most people have yet to grasp and at a speed that rivals the rise and fall of many a startup. To keep up with the latest and greatest technologies in a way that leads to real-life innovation, one has to experiment with the tech. Some technology and gadgets are easily accessible to all, while other gadgets and SDKs are too expensive or difficult to acquire for personal use at home. This is where the D-Shop (short for developer workshop) concept comes in. In essence, the D-Shop is a makerspace for the lab’s employees, a technological brain gym where everyone is encouraged to try new things, make things that do things, and fail forward while having fun.

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You might think that a makerspace is something that is meant for hopeless tinkerers and geeky developers but that is far from the truth. In fact, many of the employees who were first in line to visit and try things out have little to no coding skills. All one needs is a healthy dose of curiosity and a willingness to step outside one’s comfort zone, get hands-on, and overcome the fear of causing something to malfunction or come apart. In the last two weeks, I have seen our drone crash spectacularly on take-off and landing, to the delight of both operators and spectators alike. I have had the pleasure of breaking and fixing our 3D printer a couple of times, and I am still in awe of the fact that I can go from a quickly sketched 3D model to a plastic prototype I can take home to my kids in next to no time. The D-Shop inspires us to dream and to reconnect with the child that is in all of us; to rekindle the flame of creativity and the spirit of innovation that are all too often extinguished by the minutiae of our day-to-day lives.

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The D-Shop upskills employees in many varied ways, ultimately readying us for changes to come. Industry 4.0 is evolving, but here at the lab, through the D-Shop, we have already experimented with print-to-order service & repair scenarios, a drone delivery system based on facial recognition, and smart home management that leverages Arduino circuits and the power of SAP HANA. Today’s bleeding edge tech is tomorrow’s business case. Whether it’s virtual reality, wearable computing, or something else entirely that shapes the face of our future products, we want to be ready for it.

One of the things that sets the Ra’anana D-Shop apart from other labs’ workshops is that it is set up based on the findings of a design thinking project: we conducted deep interviews with employees and managers, collected the lessons learned and best practices from other locations and finally, tweaked the concept to suit the local corporate culture. For example, where other locations have visiting hours, our D-Shop is open 24/7 and employees are encouraged to make use of the space and the equipment at their convenience. Also, most equipment can be loaned out for up to a week. Like a library book, loan periods can be extended if no one else is waiting for an item to be returned, and I am happy to say that our ultra-simple loan process (also known as a whiteboard) has been working spectacularly well: jot down your name and mobile number, take the gadget, and bring it back within 7 days. If there’s a problem, we know how to reach you.

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As a grassroots initiative backed by the lab’s management, we operate on trust, transparency, and goodwill. There is no project manager, no employee whose job it is to buy gadgets and teach others to use them. Rather, we have a growing community of volunteers, contributors, experts, and enthusiasts who are now starting to come together not only for one-off projects and annual hackathons, but ongoing knowledge sharing, mutual encouragement, and fun.

Finally, we don’t keep all this goodness to ourselves. Our D-Shop has hosted a number of corporate social responsibility activities, and we are actively seeking to further collaborate with charities and non-profit organizations.

Now, how about you? Are you ready to make something?

Keren is a user assistance professional and design thinking coach at SAP Labs Israel

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