SAP’s Approach to Big Data Innovation

Loraine Lawson

I could be wrong, but it’s my impression that SAP doesn’t spring to people’s minds when you talk about innovative tech companies. Apple, always. Google, frequently. Facebook, less and less.

But SAP? Not so much.

There’s nothing wrong with that. SAP’s bread and butter is in the financial aspects of enterprises, a notoriously conservative bunch of technology adopters who rightly value dependability over new ideas.

But when it comes to Big Data, I wouldn’t underestimate SAP’s capacity for innovation.

For instance, SAP is among those leading the way when it comes to revamping applications for Big Data technologies. It’s already revamped 25 to 30 applications, including its popular ERP and CRM tools, for HANA, its in-memory processing system. If companies embrace this approach, you could see deeper analytics running right from within these applications, which in turn could reduce the need for so many supporting IT systems, according to David Jonker, who heads SAP’s Big Data Strategy.

He explained how Big Data technologies will help companies better do what they do now, a great discussion covered in this recent Q&A published on IT Business Edge.

But that’s just phase one, he added. Phase two is to look to the future and re-imagine how businesses are run, he said. To do that, SAP uses a design-thinking approach with customers to co-innovate.

SAP frequently collaborates with the Hasso Plattner Institute, an engineering college and research center for design thinking established by SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner. The Institute’s work is beginning to permeate SAP’s approach now, according to Jonker.

“The concept behind design thinking says how do you go and look at what you do today and what your customers do today in a completely new way,” he explained. “Take the time not to go with all the assumptions and the baggage that you always carry to those situations, but to look at these things with fresh eyes, and re-imagine and then find new ways to apply that.”


It starts with SAP employees venturing out into the world of customers and end-users, whether it’s retail shopping and sports events. SAP also hosts design-thinking workshops with customers. For instance, a workshop for those in the energy space asked questions like, “Imagine you had all this data. What could you understand about how energy is consumed?” The discussion ranged from smart grids to smart meter analytics, which is another way SAP is using HANA, and how that could reshape energy, he said.

That’s how the company developed its SAP 360 Customer Solution: By working with retailer customers in the consumer packaged goods or product space and rethinking the customer experience with them, he said.

“When you were doing your first thing on the browser, who would have imagined it would have changed our life the way it did?” Jonker said. “We have these ideas, but I think it’s going to be very different than what we imagined today.

“That’s in many ways why at SAP we’re so bullish on co-innovation with our customers, because we don’t believe that we hold all the answers to how ERP is going to change. It’s the collaboration with our customers that will bring that to a reality in many ways.”



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