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Author's profile photo Ulrike Fempel

Digital Innovation – Between fast failure and rapid success

While attending our Partner Advisory Council for Innovation in NYC last week, I was inspired to write another blog on innovation by a presentation of delaware, a global SAP Build Partner, who is member of this Partner Council. Using SAP technology, such as the  SAP Cloud Platform or Leonardo services, delaware is at the edge of what digitalization offers for innovation. Thierry and Steven, two engineers from delaware I met at this Partner Council event, have a wealth of experience with digital innovation and therefore I would like to share this interview with you.

Delaware has a very special way to embrace innovation: they co-innovate with customers in a way, where the customer is part of the innovation process without any sales intention in the first place. It is about joint learning, about creativity and diversity. In fact, they claim themselves to have a fast learning curve jointly with their customers on innovative techniques (AI, IoT, AR/VR, Bots, Blockchain,…) due to their co-innovation program with customers. In their second year with the so-called Del20 program, they have an ecosystem of 40 companies involved in the process of co-innovation with an average of 100 participants.

But innovation is also about failure, as long as failure is discovered fast! We all know, that innovation can fail in different phases – worst case is that the product is out on the market and then you realize, that usability or other aspects do not have the desired effect. Other times, failure is a matter of not bringing the right resources together or being too narrow-minded to getting the best solution.

Q: Thierry and Steven, you are running the Del20 program – an innovation project sponsored by your company which fosters digital experiments, as you call it. Tell our readers a bit about this program.

Thierry: “Our reasoning was that by working on a specific problem brought by our customers around a use-case and with real data, innovation would be more efficient and effective.  The initial idea was to sponsor 4 experiments annually, injecting 25 man-days on each of those experiments free of charge for our customers”

Steven: “Customers are enthusiastic about this innovation program, as for them the challenge is not to find a problem or a business case, but it is more a lack of resources, capabilities, ideas and courage  to do something about it.”

Q: In my introduction of this blog, I mentioned failure being part of the game. You gave an interesting example about one experiment applied to bakeries, which unfortunately failed. Please, share some insights and tell us more about the “culture of failure”.

Steven: “As the DEL20 has an objective to increase trust in unproven innovative techniques, we encourage the members of the ecosystem to get out of their comfort zone and propose experiments that have a high risk. That is why they are called experiments. The whole ecosystem is doing its best to get the best possible learning experience and therefore we also appreciate learnings from experiments which didn’t succeed.”

Thierry: “Indeed, last year we had an experiment around artificial intelligence: The aim was to intervene pro-actively in the production parameters of a bakery, the moment the algorithm detects a high correlation of events that would cause scrap in the production chain. However, the data of the machines per batch were not enough, we needed to be able to track the data of the product along the whole production process and also report reason codes for the defects, waste and scrap of each step. These data were missing. The biggest challenge were the manufacturing steps with different temperature extremes for the sensors (baking + 60 degrees) and (freezing the bred -20 degrees) were very difficult to track.The learning curve about this failed experiment was probably a lot higher and much more appreciated by the group, than success. Failure is an option in innovation, but fail fast and for sure: “Dare & Do”.”

Q: I remember from your presentation, that your innovation program has certain “rules” – such as: any customer can apply to join, no paperwork (that is, IP  is not the show-stopper) and no competition (meaning participants are very open in this program). Apart from these aspects, what is the essence of the success of your co-innovation setting?

Steven: “On the IP (intellectual property) side we have made it clear from the beginning, that there would not be any IP restraints in this network. In short, if you fear that you are going to share something very strategic or disruptive for your market and really do not want to disclose this, well then don’t. The participants know that what they share, is their own choice to share and the community always returns valuable feedback.”

Thierry: “Correct, we foster speed, fun and convenience, so we tried to eliminate all hurdles such as membership fees, competition in class, sector specialization, paperwork on IP etc. Our members do like the idea of being part of a network of companies originating from different sectors as they can learn over the sectors and could also explore things from different sectors or even start new business models together. “Trust” is the biggest argument of success of the ecosystem.”

Q: Now a personal question: There is a lot of innovation changing our personal lives. Sometimes, we experience minor failures or let’s call it “user-experience misunderstandings”… Whether by accident you hit the child-lock of your digital stove and wonder how to unlock it or whether you are looking desperately for the sensor of the toilet to get the flush working. Have you experienced digital failure in your personal lives recently?

Steven: “During my recent overnight flight with an upgrade to business class, I wanted to switch on my light, but everything around me was touchscreen based. So, intuitively, I went through the digital menu to find the light switch to conclude after a while there was nothing on the touchscreen. Then I tried the non-digital approach and just turned the head of the light – and the light switched on. This is a nice example that we tend to forget that simple things as switching on a light can still go analog.”


Thanks a lot, Thierry Bruyneel and Steven Lenaerts, for your time and insights.

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Ulrike Fempel is a book author and a senior business development manager with over 20 years of global experience in IT. Recognized as significant driver by peers, management as well as partners, she has a passion for sciences. Contact her on Twitter / LinkedIn.

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