Improving the innovation process and overcoming the implementation problems – that's the main idea behind the Innovation Center.
Interview

“Experience innovation live.”

Dr. Stephan Verclas, VP Innovation and Head of the T-Systems Innovation Center, on abstraction, analogy and adaptation as the secrets to strategically applying cutting-edge software solutions to customers’ business problems.
Author: Thomas van Zütphen
Photos: Dominik Gigler, T-Systems

Dr. Verclas, what is the founding idea behind the Innovation Center?
About eight years ago, we began to wonder why we weren’t necessarily perceived as an innovator despite T-Systems’ reputation as an experienced provider of ICT services and infrastructure, even back then. When we looked closer, we found that, as a service provider, we always have to wait for new software products and hardware technologies to come out before we can base innovative services on them. In other words, we work intrinsically. What’s more, we didn’t have one central place to showcase all our creativity and competency to customers. Granted, Deutsche Telekom has the T-Gallery, but that’s really more of a showroom of the future – one that focuses on retail consumers and not on the corporate and ICT service business. We also have the T-Labs, but their research and development work is usually light years ahead of today’s business models. That left a gap. And so we decided to close the gap with a center that would present our innovative portfolio to customers.
In other words, you wanted to make innovation come alive?
Exactly. Our founding idea, in essence, was to move this live experience to center stage because we do have quite a difficult, complex portfolio. Moreover, many of our ideas and services that fundamentally improve certain processes are not visible at all – or, if they are, only appear as boring input screens. That’s a far cry from exciting.
Why did you choose to co-locate the Innovation Center with a data center?
Our then-head of production was running a project in Munich, dubbed “Data Center 2020,” that studied the energy aspects of data center operations. It was an obvious choice to showcase our innovations in an area where the market had already attested to our capabilities. Right next door to a data center of the future. That’s what got the ball rolling and, in September 2010, the Innovation Center opened its doors for business.
That gave you a platform. But how did you breathe life into your core message: that T-Systems can innovate, too?
Initially, the Innovation Center was more of a showroom. Soon, though, we found out who – or more accurately, what – we needed to address: the implementation problems experienced by our customers and even our own teammates in Sales and Accounts. You see, all too often, people don’t know how to use the features integrated in the latest new product or software program to support their business or handle certain applications. That’s how we came up with the idea of not just holding workshops at the Innovation Center, but rather developing and operating innovations here and then asking for feedback in additional workshops. We launched this new format for engaging in dialog with our customers three years ago. Today, we can take our digital innovation center to trade fairs or even to customers, albeit in a scaled-down version of the center that we call “Innovation2Customer.”
You have to be familiar with each customer’s industry to develop innovations for them. Where do you get the knowledge to craft a solution that will actually help a company with its specific market, business and requirements?
While our ICT knowledge base is broad and deep, we are first and foremost generalists, not industry experts. When we dive deep into an industry, we use the A³ cross-industry method: abstract fundamental innovations from another industry, find analogies for the customer’s situation, and then adapt the innovation to the customer’s specific needs. It’s an approach that works extremely well.
"Whenever new software comes out, the first thing you wonder is, ‘How could this help me with my business?’ And that implementation problem is exactly what the Innovation Center addresses.“
Dr. Stephan Verclas
Head of the T-Systems Innovation Center

What exactly does the process look like? – How do you develop innovations?
That’s a question that virtually every customer asks during an innovation workshop. First, we describe our interactions with the other units in the Group. We obviously can’t do absolutely everything ourselves in a 450 square meter facility. However, our description makes clear that we have expertise in strategic and operational innovation management and in execution. Ultimately, we can cover the entire chain: from identifying a potential innovation to scouting with tools such as technology radars all the way to practical development and marketing, including all the steps in between.
Who gets the rights to an innovation, and what happens if the final product ends up being similar to a solution that’s already in the market?
That’s a good question. Intellectual property rights have to be worked out before we start strategically working on innovations with a customer. In the car making industry, for example, that includes looking into patents that competitors may hold for comparable solutions. Luckily, this kind of IPR management is another service that our Innovation Management unit provides both for our customers and for us. 
Who are your visitors?
They range from major corporations to SMBs. With every one of them, we always aim to think big, start small and learn fast.