Co-innovation: just what does it take?

Dec 21, 2016

‘Competition is no longer between companies, but between networks’. Although that’s an often-heard and widely accepted statement, building partnerships and innovating with partners is easier said than done. To succeed in the pursuit of shared goals, companies must overcome their deep-seated fear of sharing and build a relationship based on trust.

At Delaware Consulting, we rose to the challenge of co-developing SAP S/4HANA Cloud Project Services with SAP. What led us there was our strategy towards 2020, in which we clearly express our belief in and commitment to cloud solutions. And what better way to expand our expertise – on both the functional and the architectural side – than to roll up our sleeves and get on with the job?

Our kick-off session with SAP took place at the end of 2014 and we have been on a very insightful journey together ever since. However we now realize that, back then, we underestimated the impact and magnitude of co-innovation. That’s why we have listed 4 key takeaways below to help anyone planning to embark on a co-innovation project.

4 key takeaways for a successful co-innovation project:

1. It takes time

When you get started, you know of course that you will have to invest time and resources. However, as you are only in control of the progress that is made from your own side (and even then, only just!), you inevitably also spend a lot of time discussing, convincing and waiting for your partner to take the necessary next steps. Furthermore, when two large companies are working together, you run into several organizational challenges. As much as we may regret it, within large companies we still have a tendency to be based on a silo structure. To facilitate progress on a co-development project, it is crucial to create a dedicated and cross-functional team that is capable of deciding and acting quickly.

2. It takes effort

Co-innovation is a very intense undertaking. In the case of software development, you have to accept that you will start working with – at best – a beta version of the solution. That means testing, testing and more testing. At the same time, both parties move along a steep learning curve. There’s no such thing as a ‘how-to guide’ for co-innovation. It’s simply a matter of trial and error, a lot of reworking and a lot of figuring things out for yourself.

3. It takes trust

On top of being hard work, co-innovation is an emotional rollercoaster. You go through lots of ups and downs due to high expectations – on both sides – that can’t always be met. To avoid becoming demotivated at times, it is important to establish a solid base of trust. That takes time, but the more you open up towards your partner’s perspective and way of thinking, the more you realize that a very satisfactory consensus can often be reached based on initially seemingly irreconcilable ideas. Moreover, by doing so you lay the foundation for true innovation that will benefit both parties in the long run.

4. But it’s worth it in the end 

So why should you go to all that effort? Well, because it’s the best way to gain access to first-hand insights and because, in the end, your joint efforts will produce a solution that optimally meets the industry’s needs. And not only that, but you’ll also benefit from first-mover advantage and be perceived as a leading expert in your industry.

So, where are we at now on our own co-innovation project? We’re actually still testing, mostly, but we’ve already implemented part of the solution in Hungary and will soon start rolling out in Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia. We’re happy to have been involved from the start, contributing to a solution that is of strategic importance for SAP and Delaware Consulting alike. Our insights and expertise have already led to several of our proposals, such as those regarding billing and controlling, being integrated into the SAP S/4 HANA Cloud Project Services standard.

Author: Bernard Sohier. You can connect with Bernard on LinkedIn.