SAP is on the hunt for innovation. Seriously. That's what 'innojagd' means. It's a mashup between 'innovation' and the German word 'jagd' which means 'hunt.' The initiative, which is headed by Craig Cmehil, formerly one of the SAP Community leaders and an Enterprise Irregular, is a research project designed to help SAP formulate development strategy. This group is under Vishal Sikka's leadership. Vishal is widely regarded as one of the best technology thinkers in the enterprise applications space.
During a call last evening, Craig explained the project and what it means for SAP. "We know that customers are doing innovative things with SAP technology that we haven't thought about. Remember ESME (of course I do!!) where the team was using Java in ways that SAP hadn't dreamed of? Then there's all the stuff going on at the various labs around the world. We'd like to learn from customers and partners and this is one way of doing that."
The project will see Craig research, catalog, analyze and report back to the senior development team on what he finds. It is hoped that some of the ideas he finds will be demonstrated at the Demo Jam sessions at SAP TechEd later in the year. "DemoJam is a great place to show geeks what's possible so yes, if we can show some of the stuff then we'll make that happen."
Demo Jam is an informal competition where developers working on SAP technology get to showcase their wares. Competitors come from partners, insiders and ad hoc development teams. The audience votes on what they think are the coolest examples. Past winners have included everything from showing how to run SAP on the wii (why would you do that?) through to more mundane things like translators that save developers time.
Innojagd is just getting off the ground but Craig claims to have already found more than 90 examples of things he thinks represent the kind of breakthrough SAP needs to surface. "I'm hoping that by the time we're done there will be a pool of something like 200 or more examples where we can say 'yes - we should be taking notice of this,' bringing it back to SAP so we can take these ideas forward to the mass of customers rather than have things hidden in a few places." This reminds me of the research work SuccessFactors undertook among their customers in 2008. It subsequently led to their acquiring CubeTree.
In recent times competitors and critics alike have lampooned SAP as an innovation free zone. It is one of Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce.com's favorite refrains. When I met Benioff recently, he repeated that mantra. I got the sense he was surprised when I said that SAP has hundreds if not thousands of projects classed as 'innovation' going on in its labs. The problem is that very few of them see the light of day. SAP says it's all a matter of investment priority. So while I applaud the project Craig is working upon, I am still left wondering whether it will make any real difference to SAP. "Remember this is something that is being done by those who are leading development strategy. That's different to having a product that might be innovative coming to market. This is about direction - where we should be going, what customers expect from us. It's about making a difference."
I asked Craig how he defines innovation. It is a much overused term and one that SAP seems too fond of applying to anything it thinks is new. "Good question. I guess what I'm really looking for are things where the team can say that it will provide a breakthrough or make a substantial positive difference to the value we know we can deliver to our customers. I know this stuff is out there, I just need to find it. I want innovation trophies hanging on my wall."
That seemed an appropriate way to end our conversation. It is a project I will be tracking with interest.