SAP A case study in work environment redesign

Through the SAP Community Network, an online platform that attracts over 2 million monthly visitors, SAP draws on a robust network of customers, partners, and thought leaders to help solve problems.

Can the way the workplace is constructed—physically, virtually, and managerially—affect employee performance? The Deloitte LLP Center for the Edge report Work environment redesign, based on a study of more than 75 organizations, argues that the work environment can have a critical impact on employee productivity, passion, and innovation. The study outlines nine design principles that can help employers gain more value from their people.

This case study explores ways that SAP is applying these design principles to enhance its own corporate environment.

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Figure 1. Work environment design principles used at SAP

Company background and results

In 2003, SAP, a multinational software company, was experiencing record market share and margin growth. Board members identified yet another opportunity for continued success. The company launched the SAP Developer Network, which was later rebranded in 2007 as the SAP Community Network (SCN). This online platform attracts over 2 million technical and non-technical unique monthly visitors, the vast majority of whom are not SAP employees, to solve problems through approximately 3,000 discussion forum posts and 25 blog posts each day. This knowledge-creation system relies on hundreds of recognized specialists, including “SAP mentors,” some of the most influential participants in the community. This crowdsourced expertise is almost entirely virtual, and SAP uses information derived from the community throughout the entire product lifecycle: product development, sales, and customer support.1 Today, SAP employs approximately 55,000 people in over 120 countries, generating over $19 billion in revenue. Over the last 40 years, SAP has amassed almost 200,000 customers, sustaining double-digit revenue growth and operating margins of 30–40 percent. Forbes continued to rank SAP among the world’s most powerful brands in 2012.2 A major part of the value originates from its customers and partners, many of whom collaborate through SCN.

Smart capture and share

The rapid peer-to-peer collaboration enabled by SCN reduces the burden on SAP customer support to address questions or issues. For example, front-line implementation managers experiencing unexpected results can pose questions on a forum and quickly receive advice. A few months later, another manager at a different company may have the same issue and can search through “spaces” categorized by topic and tagged and rated by users. After finding the right search result, advice and conversations provide additional guidance to the manager. These solutions are accessible in the context of the problem as originally framed, as well as through any related discussions that may have led to the ultimate solution. Instead of days of internal debate or experimentation, the typical time to receive a response is 17 minutes. Over 85 percent of the discussion threads are closed out.3

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Figure 2. The SAP Community Network (SCN)

One example of smart share capability was the 2011 in-product integration of SCN content. In preparation for the release of SAP Business Intelligence 4.0, SAP product management looked through hundreds of videos created by the elearning team that demonstrated key features. Each video was already published on SCN, and integrating these links into the product itself helped prospective and existing customers better understand the product. Ultimately, SAP’s revenue and process efficiency were positively impacted, as detailed by various team members at SAP:4

  • “I wanted to follow up with you on the tutorials you presented to my team recently. These will be an invaluable tool for my inside sales team as we articulate our value proposition to our customers. This helps us make our prospective customers more comfortable that our solution will have high user adoption, and is a key differentiator for us in competitive deals. Thanks again for sharing.” (Inside Sales)
  • “I just wanted you to know that these tutorials are amazing. They are helping us with both pre-sales knowledge ramp-up and with sales cycles. They save us time, make us look more polished as an organization, and shelter product developers from the barrage of [request for info] emails that usually follow one of our new releases.” (Solution Engineering)5

Challenge-specific teaming

SAP also hosts InnoJam, a 30-hour coding competition where global SCN members meet face to face to design and prototype new solutions using SAP technologies. InnoJams mobilize a large number of third-party participants from the larger ecosystem. SAP has hosted these events around the world on a quarterly basis since 2011. At the November 2012 InnoJam in Madrid, which had the theme “Better Cities—Better Lives,” nine teams formed around specific challenges such as managing neighborhoods, simplifying travel arrangements, and optimizing city parking. The InnoJams' products help increase the depth and breadth of involvement with SAP technologies among an influential group of professionals.6

Relevant connections

As external developers, internal SAP product managers, implementation experts, and others join online discussions in the SCN, their contributions are ranked by peers. Over time, users build reputations as their peers award points based on their contributions. SCN can then be sorted by “top participants” for different subjects (such as SAP solutions). For SAP, the volume and quality of interaction from these relevant connections improve access to experts. Some recruiters even ask potential hires for the number of points their contributions have received, providing new opportunities to connect with the right candidates. Eventually, the best-ranked expert participants become “SAP mentors.” SAP is able to glean valuable information and brand advocates through this group.7

Real-time feedback

Product development teams interact directly with each other on SCN to obtain insights on user trends and product-specific issues. They are supported by volunteer customers and partners whose collective feedback can be brought into the product innovation cycle. “Idea Place” is an online forum on SCN that formalizes these product suggestions. Community members can vote on thousands of ideas, and the top ideas in each product area are evaluated by the respective product manager for inclusion in future product releases. By the end of 2012, over 11,000 ideas had been submitted and 350 ideas implemented.8

Lessons learned

  • Robust networks of customers, partners, and thought leaders can offer immediate feedback on new product ideas, thereby accelerating and enriching the development process.
  • Rallying groups around interests, events, and new topics keeps the dialogue open, authentic, and valuable.
  • Delivering information from trusted, knowledgeable members enables accelerated learning.