On the opening day of TechEd Barcelona 2018, I addressed an audience on radical innovation with the SAP Cloud Platform, and this blog aims to capture and expand on the topics covered.

My starting point is Bill Gates’ 1995 book The Road Ahead, in which he said: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” But when it comes to innovation, in terms of products, delivery and ways of working – there are actions a business can take to avoid missing out on these ten-year disruptive trends.

Mark Williment

Head of Technology

“Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.”

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg famously said: “Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.” However, I’d like to add a note of caution to that, as there are things innovation should definitely be looking to “break” such as:

  • Old unconnected business models that silo information in systems, or online versus physical transactions
  • As an IT organisation being unreactive to your business customers needs and innovation ideas
  • Having slow, unreliable development and release processes
  • Having systems with a poor user experience, for example, that are slow, have different logins between systems or are unintuitive to use
  • Not being able to take advantage of new technologies to add business value

But then there are a number of areas that you definitely do not want to “break”, including:

  • Your company’s month-end close and resulting financial reporting
  • The security of your company’s and your customer’s data
  • The privacy and compliance (particularly in light of GDPR) of your employees and customers
  • The uptime and reliability of your e-commerce site
  • Your next SAP ERP, whether on-premise ECC or the latest SAP S/4HANA, upgrade

This is where SAP Cloud Platform comes into play – it provides tools and an environment to innovate and develop new ideas, along with built-in methods for security and compliance and crucially, while it connects to core business systems, it also insulates them.

To provide a concrete example, in the past company specific innovative functions were often delivered as customisations within an SAP ECC system. This intrinsically ties them to core processes such as month end close (in that particular system), and makes them an often considerable complicating factor in the upgrade of that ECC system. The test and release process to protect that core slows down development, so hence the need for innovation. The SAP Cloud Platform approach is to create extensions outside of the core, connecting inwards via APIs. SAP Cloud Platform is the place to deliver these extensions, and offers out-of-the-box integration into them – removing the risk of breaking vital core processes, whilst allowing for rapid delivery of innovation.

Taking care of Security & Privacy

Security and privacy are firmly in the “do not break” camp, and unsurprisingly, SAP Cloud Platform addresses both. It has powerful Single Sign-on features, both with open standards such as SAML, and some of the proprietary methods used by older SAP on-premise systems.

It also has role-based security that can be mapped to SAP core authorisation roles. On the infrastructure side, SAP manages the network security and encryption and regularly test the security of the platform.

The platform has a wide set of services, with some particularly relevant to innovation.

Open Source – SAP Cloud Platform from the start has embraced open source and open standards, and that has only increased with the adoption of Cloud Foundry and Kubernates support into the platform. This is important as it opens up a world of libraries, frameworks and talent outside of the traditional SAP eco-system. If you want to do something, the chances are there will be a library in GitHub or a Stack Overflow discussion that helps.

SAP Open Connectors – These are relatively new to the platform, providing a standard way of connecting to third-party SaaS products, meaning innovative solutions can span data in SAP products and third parties.

Flexibility – Another adage often associated with innovation is “fail fast, and repeat” – but when introducing new innovative services, it can be hard to predict how rapid the take-up will be. If it works then you will want to scale, and if it does not work then you do not want to be paying for capacity you do not need.

SAP Cloud Platform addresses this need in two ways. Firstly, consumption-based pricing, where only the services actually consumed are used. Another advantage of this is the services used in a solution do not have to be determined in advance. Consumption-based pricing means you only pay for what you actually need, and is added as part of an agile iterative development process. The second is the recently announced serverless SAP Cloud Platform Functions, which assign compute power as required in response to events, without having to set aside capacity.

The ABAP Environment – ABAP as a language may not always be the first people think of when innovative solutions are mentioned. However, innovation is as much about people as technology. Rapid innovation in an established business is enhanced by having an existing understanding of the organisation’s business processes and data – the base from which you innovate from. In a longstanding SAP shop, knowledge often sits with long-serving ABAP teams and the SAP Cloud Platform ABAP Environment allows them to rapidly contribute to innovative projects.

The SAP Cloud Platform cannot do everything to deliver innovation – mindset and the approach taken play an important part. Deliver using an agile and iterative process (as much as your organisation will accommodate), aim for frequent small deliveries, get real-world feedback and repeat. DevOps, with automated build, deploy and test on every commit provides the technical rigour for this.

Innovation is vital for businesses to thrive, and the data in core systems such as SAP applications is a vital ingredient to that innovation. SAP Cloud Platform provides the means to deliver that innovation, moving fast to break the right things but protecting the areas that should not be broken.