SAP Labs U.S.: Knowledge, Driving Innovation

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Residing under the vast umbrella of SAP’s global research and development organization, SAP Labs U.S. is one of eight development hubs worldwide. As the first lab established outside of Germany, the U.S. lab has contributed to a number of technical and product successes for SAP including the SAP NetWeaver platform, Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA), SAP xApps packaged composite applications and the SAP RFID application. Headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., SAP Labs U.S. employs more than 1,200 workers, who must have a combination of skills and training in order to develop foundational strategies for leading-edge software solutions.

“We share a lot of the development we do globally,” explained Aliza Peleg, managing director for SAP Labs U.S. “At SAP Labs U.S., we drive many of the product strategies, we drive many of the strategic directions for SAP products. We don’t do as much mass development or a tremendous amount of coding. We have software engineers working on the technology platform, we have software engineers working on the application layers, but it goes beyond software development into engineering, product management and product marketing for rolling in customer requirements, rolling out the knowledge transfer to the customers, ecosystem and field.”

Peleg is responsible for setting the overall value strategy and providing an infrastructure to support that strategy for SAP Labs U.S. She said its mission is to leverage the many valuable assets associated with Silicon Valley and the vast U.S. market as a means of driving innovation, strategic partnering and field support. “One of the phenomenal advantages of having a global lab network for SAP is that you take advantage of the different locations and capabilities in each location and having strong nodes on the network that maximize the value to SAP. So when we focus on our value drivers here in the United States—specifically in Silicon Valley—it’s based on three key value drivers: field enablement, partner enablement and innovation,” Peleg explained. “Since SAP is shifting its strategy from an enterprise-applications vendor to an applications and platform vendor, a big drive for us and primary value driver for us is partnership enablement. It is really about building a strong ecosystem of ISVs (independent software vendors), IT professionals who will use the capabilities of SAP’s application and integration platform to build new and innovative solutions for the customers.”

According to Peleg, SAP Labs U.S. seeks dynamic professionals who will drive results and strategy, as well as enhance SAP’s applications and platform. “We take the fact that our software is used to run critical-in-nature processes for organizations very seriously because if our software were to go down, we could wipe out revenues or possibilities for our customers. That’s why we look for strategic thinkers, results-oriented people—because we want to drive our solutions forward. We want to have a specific emphasis on innovation to create solutions that can improve the businesses of our customers.”

Eight hundred of the organization’s employees hold various job roles at the company’s headquarters, ranging from developers, architects, project managers and marketers. “Because we are a full-fledged development organization, we have the whole gamut of what is required to deliver great solutions to the market. So we have product marketing, product management, software developers, industry experts, strategic marketers, software architects, advanced technology individuals, UI (user-interface) design research engineers, etc.,” Peleg said.

A developer at SAP Labs U.S., for instance, might be responsible for performing complex product-design analyses for the implementation of Java and ABAP software components for mySAP SRM business suite to support business processes for operational procurement, strategic sourcing and back-end integration with SAP R/3 systems. A developer also might be responsible for designing, implementing and optimizing integration components interfacing with Java and SAP systems. A developer architect, on the other hand, might be responsible for researching business requirements; designing, coding and testing new functionalities; and writing supporting preliminary documentation using various development tools (ABAP, Java, object-oriented programming, etc.). A project manager’s primary responsibilities might include ramping up and supporting vertical solution partners by training them in SAP solutions, providing product expertise in pre-sales cycles to enable SAP partners to deliver demos to prospects and understand U.S.-specific legal and industry requirements to architect integration scenarios between SAP All-in-One and SAP Business-One.

The remainder of the employee population is dispersed across North America in satellite offices that are located close to specific industries. For example, experts in oil and gas work out of the Dallas office, while experts in government and the public sector reside in Washington, D.C. Peleg said that these experts help drive innovation and provide direct support to field sales and service teams to promote customer success. “For industry expertise, we go to market in a highly specialized vertical approach by industry. So we have top-notch players in specific business processes for the different industries,” she said.

According to SAP Labs U.S. Vice President of Human Resources Allan McCarthy, the three main career paths for SAP’s development organization are project manager, people manager and individual contributor. “At SAP, project manager translates to leading various types of project teams, usually with ‘matrixed’ or dotted-line reporting. People manager occurs at almost all levels of the organization. The initial level is MMT (managers managing teams). The next level is MMM (managers managing managers) and the highest level is MMO (managers managing organizations). Individual contributors are functional experts in nature. Individuals in such a role could be located in a center, expertise or department. A career path of this nature is one of subject matter or topical depth of expertise, not breadth,” McCarthy said.

In addition, employees create personal development plans with their managers to help them direct their individual careers. Currently, SAP Labs U.S. is strengthening the different learning curriculums available for its three main career paths. “In the back end or fore end—depending on how you look at it—we are putting a stronger emphasis on performance management, which is a big component of personal development plans, so that individuals will have more tools themselves to manage and think about their careers,” Peleg explained. “We have established a learning council, a body of a subset of our employees, who come from a broad gamut of our population who work as an advisory board in the areas that we need to further develop our people. It could be Web technologies, Java technologies and things like that on a technical level.”

Because SAP is a global, collaborative organization, SAP Labs U.S. employees must be cross-culturally competent. The organization offers classroom and online training programs for managing virtual teams, setting up virtual teams, multi-cultural awareness, meeting and working with people across geographical boundaries, etc. “There are many soft skills needed because we are incredibly global, we are highly ‘matrixed.’ We offer the ability to move from one organization to another in this highly global and matrixed organization, but employees need a lot of intercultural understanding, cross-cultural awareness and a lot of teamwork in order to get things done,” Peleg said. “Exposing employees to different cultures, different countries and different strategic initiatives is critical for us. Many of our people participate in global projects that are true learning experiences where we actually pull them

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