Software giant SAP's foray into the Web 2.0 world has delivered the desired results of shorter product cycles and better communication with its customers, in less than six months.
SAP, back in January, made an extensive commitment to blogging, collaborative wikis and other methods to canvas opinion from its nearly 900,000-strong SAP developer network (SDN).
In a speech at the software maker's recent Mastering SAP Technologies conference, Rolf Schumann, SAP director and EMEA chief technology officer, said the focus on collaboration has seen software quality improve and development cycles shortened.
"Today, people want to share knowledge because they get knowledge back. This will be a real game changer," Schumann said.
Asia-Pacific chief technology officer Simon Dale told the same conference new applications are regularly posted for evaluation and discussion, driving a higher level of customer involvement than ever before.
"It's all about going back to the idea of collaboration. By using Web 2.0 technologies around wikis, a user's question might be answered in four minutes," he said.
"We're building this two-way feedback loop, and our own developers are improving products by commenting [on customer requests]. That's the power of collaboration: we can develop this community-based definition of enterprise services, and talk to people about what they really want," he said.
Developers, for example, are more conscious than ever to document their work because it will be reviewed by others in the online community, Schumann added.
"Today, people want to share knowledge because they get knowledge back. With these tools, it's fun, it's fancy and it's easy — and they get things back," he said.
An online force
SDN isn't the world's first online developer community, but it has proved to be a significant one for SAP.
It can branch out in the highly competitive ERP space and move towards building service-oriented architectures, in which business systems are simply amalgamations of existing services linked according to business process.
Dale believes that SAP has been able to foster a more innovative, experimental culture because modern development tools allow programmers to piece together services in a "sandbox" where they can't hurt anything.
"You can just experiment, and if you compose an app you can throw it away [if it's not useful]," he said.
Dale said after the release of the NetWeaver Visual Composer modelling tool, a group of 45 developers were let loose and came up with 120 potential applications. Of those, 20 became products after scrutiny and feedback from the online community.
"The cost of that exercise was just six weeks of development with 45 people," Dale said, "and the result was 20 products that we didn't have before."
"The idea of this whole community ecosystem is that there are main stakeholders who we need to understand. Communities of people... help us define products to be the right products — not just the ones we think are right, but the ones people want," he said.