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Author's profile photo Robin Meyerhoff

Taking “No” Out of Innovation

The Innovation Center Network headquarters in Potsdam has new buildings, a younger workforce and its eye on the future. Even better, it’s taking the “no” out of innovation at SAP and fostering a strong entrepreneurial culture.

Andre Wenz is 33 years old. Originally from Stuttgart in Germany, he received his PhD in physics from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Living the hipster life in Oakland, California he was all set to join a start up in San Francisco.

If you asked him if he could imagine working for SAP, even 10 months ago, Andre would have answered, “No way.” What changed his mind? The SAP Innovation Center in Potsdam.

Now Andre works in the Strategy and Operations team. “My main goal here is to create the environment, culture and structures at SAP that foster and support breakthrough ideas. We’re looking in particular at those technologies and problems that fall outside SAP’s current scope.”

He continues, “One thing that differentiates us is that we innovate for outcomes. We’re not investing in research per se. At the end of the day, we want products that help our customers get business results.”


Founded in 2011, the SAP Innovation Center Network is an organization dedicated to nurturing organic innovation within SAP. The Potsdam site was its first location. Now the network includes 460 developers, designers and business developers, in nine locations all across the globe from Palo Alto to Nanjing.

A recent visit to the center in Potsdam showed that it is not your typical SAP building. Set on a lake, the building has floor to ceiling windows with an inspiring view. Everything about the building is designed to encourage flexibility, equality, and collaboration.

For example, all of the rooms are modular. When people want to work on a new project, they can easily move the walls (which are on tracks), to create a new workspace and explore the possibilities. Modern furnishings, including seats that are also swings, inspire a sense of playfulness. And there are no offices for managers – everyone sits at open tables together.

The ICN is not all just about cool, aesthetically appealing buildings. They are working on some pretty spectacular projects harnessing the latest technology like machine learning or blockchain (a digital ledger of all Bitcoin transactions), paving the way for the future of business software.

Juergen Mueller heads up the SAP Innovation Center Network. “Our objective is to identify, nurture, and grow the next new markets and technologies for SAP and its customers. We set up our teams just like startups: developers, designers, business developers and communications colleagues – all work together in one team. They have the responsibility to take their initial product idea to development to finding the right product market fit.”

Juergen continues, “The Innovation Center in Potsdam helped identify personalized medicine as a completely new market for SAP. We then pioneered three revolutionary healthcare solutions: Medical Research Insights, Clinical Measure Analytics, and Health Link. We did this in close collaboration with various teams across SAP and our co-innovation partners like NCT, ASCO, and Stanford.”

Now SAP’s healthcare products and market approach have successfully evolved. Accordingly, healthcare has moved into a business unit where it can continue to mature and scale.

Juergen M IMG_4426.JPG

Next, the Potsdam crew will take on machine learning – looking at how machines can learn from automated tasks, become smarter and make adjustments to be more efficient. Harnessing the “deep learning” machines gather will make business applications smarter. Theoretically, they will be able to make connections and prediction more quickly and intelligently than people.

The team is also looking at how to apply the extreme personalization people expect from consumer applications to the business context. For example, a project code named “MEdas” provides a digital workspace where people can collaborate across applications. Imagine a single shared desktop where you can work with colleagues to discuss a problem, get real-time data to brainstorm solutions, and assess impact with predictive scenarios and visualizations.

These are just a few examples of the great things to come from the Innovation Center Network. Keep watching this space…

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