Business software company SAP is continuing to move staff into its Budapest development center. In the coming weeks all its employees will be collected together in one building, completing a process that began last year says Markus Hilken, SAP’s vice president and managing director of the center.
“SAP Labs Hungary has around 1,000 employees, who work in one of three main departments, which we call centers: development; operations; and support.” That built up from a starting point of less than 100 when SAP opened its first development center in the region here in Hungary in 2005.
“I think this is evidence of how SAP has come to rely on the competence and ability of our Hungarian staff to deliver services around the world,” Hilken says.
Roughly 300 staff work in the operation center, he says, dealing with SAP’s cloud software for the Europe, Middle East and Africa market and beyond. One of the latest teams established here is working with dedicated machine learning (artificial intelligence) solutions. Another 300 are employed in the support center.
“These are what we call third-level support staff, and they service mostly EMEA and the German speaking world. So these people need not only the technical background and to be able to understand the business processes, but they also need languages. Almost everyone here is tri-lingual in Hungarian, English and German.”
The development team, which among other things is responsible for logistical solutions and mobile app development for Apple iOS, has a global reach and is growing also steadily, Hilken says.
According to the vice president, moving the staff into one location fits ideally with the “one team” philosophy, and also dovetails with SAP’s customer-centric approach. The idea that the “customer is king” might seem old fashioned, but Hilken insists it is more relevant today than ever. The “design thinking” approach, putting the client as the very center, is typical of this. By having a detailed discussion with the customer about what they need in their software, what use it will be put to, more useful, useable outcomes can be achieved, he says.
And rather than waiting for the perfect end product, development versions are shared so customers can give direct end-user feedback, and arrive at more complete solution quicker. How many iterations might a piece of software go through? “We are not talking about one or two or three, but multiple iterations; certainly double digit,”Hilken says.
“We have a flexible desk approach, so we can move all the people needed to work on a problem, regardless of which center they belong to, alongside each other. If they are working together, they can also talk together about what is needed to solve a client’s problem, and thereby come up with better solutions.”
Moving the staff into one dedicated building also allowed SAP to think about what is required from a state-of-the-art office. In addition to the flexible desk arrangements, there are concentration zones where colleagues can go if they need to work in peace.
Staff are also encouraged to “play”. The Development Workshop (known as the D-Shop) has been moved to a much more accessible and prominent place. Staff are able to go in whenever they want and use the drones, 3-D printers, robots and the like stored there to foster new concepts. “Who knows what new software ideas might come from this?” Hilken says.
As you would expect, SAP has also installed some software solutions of its own. The smart reception, for example, will notify a member of staff when a package arrives for them. That goes to a secure storage area, and the employee is able to reclaim it using their personal ID code. This is being enhanced by a robot with AI capabilities. When a client arrives for a meeting, the staff member is again notified, but the guest can then ask the robot about the background to the meeting, SAP itself or their host.
“Once we are ready and satisfied with the way it functions, perhaps others will also want to deploy this new concept in their offices,” Hilken says.
But it is not all about technology. The center head says one of the most important aspects of the way SAP Labs works is its embrace of diversity –because the more strands of thought there are, the better the results. The proof of that can be seen in the results. “SAP Labs employees are responsible for 70% of the company patents” he adds.