How Employees Accelerate Innovation at SAP – Our Journey with Usage Explorer
This is the journey of how a small team of three diverse individuals, inspired by their passion to understand customer experience sparked an idea to innovate and built a product that led to becoming finalists for the Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award — the highest employee award at SAP, recognizing innovation, entrepreneurialism, and courage.
How do you accelerate innovation to solve a problem when the solution isn’t exactly your day job? How do you then make that innovative idea visible to your company?
Innovation stems from inspiration. Growing up in Taiwan, I watched my mother, a computer programmer, thrive in the male-dominated tech industry. Seeing my mother break barriers and challenge stereotypes empowered me to strive to do the same in my career. To pursue better education and opportunities, our family moved to Vancouver, Canada when I was 10. Inspired by her path and her mindset, I pursued a Computer Science degree and a career in the tech industry. As a Product Owner and User Experience Consultant in SAP Intelligent Enterprise Solutions, I bridge the gap between business, design, and development, and my role empowers me to focus on enhancing user experience for our customers.
Journey of Usage Explorer
Part of what brought me to the field of UX is my passion for understanding customer behaviour and building user-centric products. Together with two colleagues, Semih Sezer, a Software Developer, and Paul Ekeland, a Product Expert at SAP Analytics Cloud, we have taken the initiative to build an intrapreneurship project in our free time.
Usage Explorer is a platform for product insights that helps us understand our customers better and transform the way we build products.
Check out this 1-minute video to learn about Usage Explorer!
From Need to Insight
Usage Explorer was born when Semih and Paul were having a lunch conversation and a spark in conversation led to a shared passion: How can we gain a deep understanding of our customers’ behaviours so that we can serve them even better?
They knew that the usage data was an untapped opportunity to better understand our customers, but it was very challenging and time-consuming to get insights out of it, especially for a non-technical user. When I learned of their passion and boldness to push boundaries, I was thrilled to join the team shortly after. We knew we were onto something; we were solving a problem that is crucial to SAP’s strategy and vision.
But, how do you go about pursuing an innovation idea, on top of your full-time job? And not a fun, two-week, learn-a-new-skill side project but something big and bold that you’re passionate about. Something that can transform your career.
In addition to our full-time jobs, we started hosting bi-weekly brainstorming sessions to validate the problem and potential value for people from other product roles, such as UX Designers, Product Support, and Customer Success. After getting feedback from the users in our sessions, we identified the initial requirements for our Minimal Viable Product (MVP). Our idea was received with excitement for solving pain points in their jobs. To get more realistic feedback from our users, we decided to build a high-fidelity prototype. We iteratively developed the MVP with ongoing user feedback and had the first BETA release in January 2020 — 6 months after we started developing the idea.
Pushing Boundaries with Accelerators
Once your idea is out in the world, you must prove its value. Otherwise, sooner or later, it will die.
We submitted our idea to the SAP Experience Garage’s CreateX Accelerator — an intrapreneurship program that supports early ideas and innovations from employees, startups, and the SAP ecosystem.
Innovation accelerators within companies are great environments for employees to find guidance and sponsorship to work on their idea. Although the story sounds heroic for those selected, the path to investment is full of challenges.
It turns out, it was worth it: we were selected to attend the final round, a 3-day workshop where we received intrapreneurship coaching on our idea and pitch. The fast-paced intense workshop was highly rewarding and filled with lots of learning. Needless to say, much sleep was sacrificed!
At the end of the workshop, we pitched our idea to the Executive Panel, Shark-Tank-style, and we were selected as the winner! This was a great milestone and acknowledgement that the senior leaders saw the potential in driving business growth with user behaviour insights. With the win came a unique 6-month Fellowship opportunity to work on Usage Explorer full-time and bring our concept to the next level, starting February 2021. The next chapter in the Usage Explorer saga begins. Please reach out directly if you are interested to learn more.
Soon after our victory at CreateX, we were invited to SAP’s New Ventures & Technologies (NVT) Intrapreneurship Accelerator where we spent 3 weeks of more sleepless nights working with people who are on a mission to future-proof SAP with new ventures and innovation. This accelerator program provides the opportunity to learn from experts about starting a new venture that can exist external to SAP. The excellent NVT mentors challenged our assumptions at every step of the way and helped us shape our product vision.
Both accelerators taught us a tremendous amount about how to start and drive innovation within SAP. We started small, but we learned to dream big. We focused on our purpose and our why, and our passion to create change from within was at the heart of everything we did. We poured ourselves into our passion project. And then the most wonderful thing happened: people heard us, and they believed in us too. For a side project started by a small team of three, it’s an outstanding achievement to be selected as a Finalist for the Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award. Throughout our participation in these innovative programs SAP has developed, I learned a lot about myself and especially what keeps us motivated through adversity and sleepless nights.
What Keeps Us Going at 2 AM
Start-up lore make us believe that a lot of great ideas gain traction right after they are launched. Although there are a few exceptions, the reality is that most products and companies take years to gain traction. For example, we all got to know Zoom in 2020 with its rise during the pandemic, but did you know that it was founded 9 years earlier, in 2011? Of course we wish that a million users started using Usage Explorer the first day it was released. But that didn’t happen. We had to build our user base using high-touch methods: talking to many potential users, exploring adjacent use cases, and adding new requirements for future improvements.
Throughout all the grind, the adversity, the late nights, the re-visiting of old ideas, and everything else, all it takes for us to keep going is one user who absolutely loves our idea and keeps coming back for more. As you glimpse how you can bring value to someone’s life, the desire to turn your vision into a reality becomes stronger and stronger.
Although this fuel gives you tremendous energy to overcome the obstacles, there will be tasks that eventually drain your batteries, you need to lean on the team. That’s when having a supportive and diverse team makes all the difference. Each team member brings a unique set of skills and experiences which allows them to take the lead at various stages. Ours is a journey of people from distinct parts of the world — Semih from Turkey, Paul from France, and myself from Taiwan — utilizing our diverse cultures and professional perspectives. It empowers us to approach problem-solving differently and leverage our unique skills and experiences to creatively generate value for our customers.
Usage Explorer led us to life-changing opportunities and heartwarming moments where we watched our friends and colleagues, some of whom we had not met, go out of their way to support self-driven innovation and spread the word. Our gratitude runs deep for our mentors, coaches, and the SAP Innovators Community, where like-minded Creators and Do-ers collectively support each other and amplify their efforts. Your passion created a ripple effect in the community, a concept we are determined to reciprocate for others in the future. The kindness and care put forth by the Accelerators to ensure equal and diverse representation in the programs made us and others feel included and supported. We keep in touch with the incredible mentors we met, continually learning from them. They inspire us pay it forward and we can’t wait to get more involved with CreateX and NVT.
I strongly encourage you to check out the internal programs to grow and shape the future of SAP! If you are external to SAP, I encourage you to look for people who can help you take your ideas forward both inside your organization and in your local communities.
Today, Usage Explorer helps Product Management teams save up to 10 hours a week to understand customer experience and needs, and potential benefits can be extended to all teams across the product lifecycle. By being more equipped to gain deeper understanding of our customers, they can build better relationships, make a bigger difference, and feel more pride and connection to their work.
Creating Change from Within
We would love to have you try out Usage Explorer. If you work at SAP and think Usage Explorer can help you reimagine customer experience and bring additional value, please reach out to myself, Semih Sezer, or Paul Ekeland. We are starting our 6-month Fellowship on February 1, 2021 to work on Usage Explorer full-time and are looking for new users!
In Part 2 of this blog series, I am going to share what I have learned through this growth and entrepreneurship journey. Stay tuned!
If you would like to learn more about our experience with CreateX or NVT Accelerators or chat about your innovation ideas, myself — I would love to hear from you and chat more.
What inspires you to push boundaries and innovate in your work? How do you start your own innovation journey?