Innovation is a journey into the unknown. Very often, it is easy to get lost in the journey, unless the goal and the path is well defined. While goals are defined by business objectives, often the path requires understanding of business as well as technology.
Take the recent example of a US-based sustainable energy company with $31 billion in assets employing approximately 6,500 people. The size of the company might not be a very crucial factor to consider in the process of innovation. But the size gives us an indication of the company’s firmly cemented processes. Yet, using a liberal sprinkling of open-minded people and the powerful yet flexible SAP Leonardo platform, this company was able to infuse intelligence into its gas pipeline network. This was done by getting real-time pressure data using IoT as well as predicting pressure threshold values using machine learning. All these resulted in improved asset maintenance, optimized processes and safer pipelines.
While the objectives were clear (improving pipeline maintenance and overall process efficiency while reducing risk to humans, property and environment), the path to these goals had to be mapped.
One of the most important aspects of a successful journey is the start. This was achieved by creating the right mix of teams to discuss/debate the business needs. Think of the discussions as a design workshop that is unfettered by the limitations of existing solutions, budgets and skills. It explores new ways of solving problems. The output is a rich set of detailed requirements along with their associated priorities.
The second step was to spend time with the eventual end-users, understanding their everyday problems, visiting the sites and control rooms and examining/observing operating environments. This process highlighted the issues which are sometimes difficult to identify. For example, it was realized that notifying alerts with change in color wouldn’t work since the control team had a member who couldn’t differentiate between minor color variations; or equally difficult would have been to consider a need to switch-off the alerts until it was explained how this becomes vital when there is repair work in progress. The output of spending time at the site and user environments is a very clear list of needed functionalities and aesthetics.
Armed with everything needed to build, execution started with clear, small milestones. Agile was chosen as the way of working to receive frequent feedbacks, be it on User Experience (UX) or on the actual functionality. One great thing about this engagement was the customer’s attention to detail. It ensured high quality output in every sprint.
Every need was carefully addressed and validated with the business. All the stated objectives were met, be it via the Geospatial visualization to ease monitoring aspects or providing digital history of the asset at the finger tips. Everything was crystalized into intuitive UX. One of the interesting things developed was a continuous Machine Learning model to recommend appropriate pressure thresholds. It considered factors like temperature, precipitation and historical data. While this was not a frequent activity, the risk associated of getting it wrong dictated the seriousness.
SAP Leonardo was chosen as the development platform. The platform presents many advantages for large organizations facing similar challenges: It allows easy integration and adoption of complex technologies like Analytics, IoT and Machine Learning. It is easy to scale in or out; its world class security was an important consideration; and at the core of the platform, its native connectivity to backend enterprise systems sealed the decision.
It is often seen that innovation teams have the right ideas. It is technology that falls short. However, SAP Leonardo is focused on Design Thinking and is able to leverage emerging technologies, such as Machine Learning, Big Data, Internet of Things and Blockchain, to create intelligence and predictive capabilities. This helps bridge even the most unpredictable business problems.