SAP out to reinvent itself, wooing young software talents
By Edwin Yapp February 14, 2014
- SAP launches new innovation centre in a bid to reinvent itself, stay ahead of competition
- Collaboration with academia, open environment the keys to fostering innovation, it says
Speaking at the launch of its new facility in Potsdam, Germany, Prof Hasso Plattner (pic above) said he hoped the SAP Innovation Centre would attract younger talents from the vicinity, and act as an innovation hub for those who may not want to move to the company’s headquarters in the southern town of Waldorf, some 600km away.
“This place will be special,” he said during his keynote at the opening ceremony on Feb 12. “SAP has to be closer to the combined population of 150,000 students in Potsdam and nearby Berlin.
“It cannot be that we can’t find good people here. And it could be that people don’t want to move away from here [Potsdam and Berlin] to work in our headquarters,” he said.
Situated in Potsdam, approximately 35km south-west of Berlin, the German software giant's recently constructed Innovation Centre features a 4,850 sq metre campus and was built at a cost of €17.3 million (US$23.5 million), including a €2.7 million (US$3.7 million) contribution from the state of Brandenburg, which Potsdam is a part of.
The centre was conceived in February 2011, when the core team of staff began work at its headquarters in Waldorf while waiting for the centre to be built. Contruction for the new Potsdam-based building took place between October 2011 and September 2013, after which employees began moving in when it was completed. The centre is currently staffed with 110 full-time employees and 28 students from more than 20 countries.
It currently conducts research in over 40 projects that include healthcare, text and search analytics, real estate management, sports and technology and retail, and has a startup focus programme, according to SAP.
The centre features wide open spaces, a variety of seating options, games facilities, and mimicks office designs found with Silicon Valley startups rather than the traditional corporate offices of an established tech giant.
The end goal of these features is to foster a much more collaborative environment amongst staff, which would lead to more creativity, an essential part of software development, company officials said.
Meanwhile, Plattner believes that besides being closer to the universities in the Potsdam-Berlin area, the centre’s more open environment as well as the beauty of its surroundings would inspire younger talents to be more creative and enable them to think out-of-the-box.
The 70-year-old chairman of SAP’s supervisory board said he always believes that the environment plays a role in how people feel about the workplace and argues that successful companies, such as IBM Corp, Software AG, and Apple Inc, all lost part of their innovative nature when they started to build stodgy big buildings and placed their engineers in them.
“I recommended Potsdam to SAP because of its beauty,” he said. “The atmosphere here inspires thinking so that people can innovate and do radical things. People should break out of the mould that they build for themselves. This is my whole theme [for the centre].
“[I am] very happy with what we’ve achieved. I hope the spirit of this building spills over and influences the minds of the people working here. It’s not grand, not fancy, but it feels good, nice, simple, open, friendly, in this beautiful city.”
Plattner also said he believes that software engineering is unlike the routine manufacturing industry, where the goal is always to follow a schedule and repeat a process over and over again with the highest possible precision.
“This is an antithesis to how software should be developed,” he said, adding this is not how up-and-coming Generation-Y (Gen-Y) software engineers should be treated.
He said that if SAP were to continue to innovate, the company would need to treat its people differently and the first step would be to provide an environment in which innovation can be fostered, especially amongst Gen-Y engineers.
“We have to treat people differently,” he argued. “We cannot talk about encouraging, endorsing, and empowering our talents yet treat them as normal office people.
“There is nothing wrong with office people – they have a job to do – but they don’t have to innovate. We need communication in various combinations and young people want to be together in different combinations, walking through the building, talking, discussing and interacting with people both professionally and personally,” he added.
Recipe for innovation
According Dr Vishal Sikka (pic), its executive board member who oversees SAP products and innovation, there are three ingredients required for successful innovation.
“My conclusion, when asked what the secret of successful innovation is, is that it must possess a unique combination of curiosity to find out what people want; the ability and competence to do something about it; and the location or a conducive atmosphere to bring together the [aforementioned] two elements.”
In his keynote address, Vishal said he believed that with the opening of the SAP Innovation Centre, there are opportunities to think about the great problems of our time, and to do so in completely new and open ways.
Acknowledging that there are challenges before the software giant, Vishal said SAP’s vision is to renovate and renew itself.
“Most of the time we’re busy doing things that we know about – the incremental advances of things that we know how to do,” he said. “We must have the ability, at the size that we operate in, to be able to free up enough capacity and to be able to advance our understanding.
“This is what we hope to do in Potsdam. And it’s going to be fun and exciting,” he added.
Next: SAP's reinvention, through its cofounder’s eyes
Edwin Yapp reports from Potsdam, Germany at the invitation of SAP AG
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