Will you recognize innovation when you see it?
“I know innovation when I’m completely confused. If someone does something in or around the office that just confuses me and angers me and makes me feel stupid, I assume it must be pretty innovative. That’s what innovation looks like to me.” — Conan O’Brien
You might have read Jürgen Müller’s A History of Innovation…to be Continued earlier this month. It outlined how the SAP Innovation Center Network provides a protected environment in which employees can explore new markets and disruptive technologies to deliver value-creating solution. I would like to give you another example of the topics we are pursuing with ICN and its rather technology based. One that is in earlier stages and therefore probably more confusing according to Conan.
BitCoin and blockchain are topics that have been gaining traction and momentum over the last couple of months. This is in terms of financial funding , customer and analyst interest  as well as overall strategic importance. In a recent study “Deep Shift: Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact” by the World Economic Forum  blockchain is listed as one of the driving forces of the megatrend “The sharing economy and distributed trust”.
As part of our ICN activities we started to look into blockchain in more detail. We would like to gain an understanding if there is any implication on other industries beyond Financial Services and therefore SAP’s software offerings. It left our team completely confused a couple of times. Because looking at the currently available information technical messages dominate the business messages by far. It is not yet clear if blockchain is an economic or a computer science innovation. Maybe something of both, but that is what we want to find out and overcome our anger and ignorance.
We started to ask if SAP’s customers would really appreciate features like transparency, tamper-proofness, and de-centralization? And if so, in which industries, sectors or processes would that be desired most? Banking and Financial Services are obvious thoughts given how prominently blockchain already arrived in industry reporting’s and discussions. As blockchain is well-suited to support trading of digital goods, we think it could be relevant in other contexts and processes as well. Thinking about SAP there are a lot of “digital only” assets within our solutions that could benefit from blockchain features to speed-up processes, ensure transaction consistency and reduce overhead steps.
Admittedly this is a high-level description of SAP processes and scenarios that have potential. During our activities we found some indicators that help evaluate if a given scenario would benefit from blockchain capabilities:
- The sequence or specific time of events is important
- Records must not be changed, re-ordered or removed
- Information transparency required– no censorship, availability of public information
- Focus on digital assets
- Transaction consistency for interaction between untrusted participants
The list above is a starting point to discuss “blockchain affinity” of a given problem or scenario. Various parts of blockchain related functionality need to prove that they can live-up to enterprise requirements in areas such as scaleability, speed, security, operate-ability or privacy. We will post more thoughts over the weeks to come.
We are still very early in the journey. And there are apparently more questions than answers. But this is an on-going effort and hopefully an indicator for significant innovation. Let’s trust that Conan is right. I would love to hear your thoughts how you think the future will look like in the comments below.
Raimund is part of the SAP Innovation Center Network and evaluates emerging technologies and trends for a living. To assess the impact of blockchain in the context of SAP he is currently engaging cross-industries to find synergies, detect patterns and shape the future SAP direction.