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Antonia Zorn

Global Head of SAP Innovator Challenge

Antonia's story

At SAP, we build breakthroughs, together.

There is no better way to prepare for the work-life of the future than by taking part in the Innovator Challenge.

Antonia Zorn

Where do good ideas come from? It almost always starts with a question.

In 2016, Antonia Zorn, then an analytics consultant, listened as her manager presented strategy slides. On one of the slides the terms “unstructured data” and “IoT” were mentioned. At the time, Antonia’s understanding of the Internet of Things, or IoT, was in terms of consumer use cases. For example, connecting your refrigerator to your smartphone, which would inform you when it was time to order milk.

“What is that, how can I find out more and what IoT cases we have at SAP?” she asked.

Curious to understand how IoT data connected with what she did in business information technology, she realized that there were many areas of technology which SAP employees might not have the opportunity to experience or learn about, but like her, they were looking for an opportunity.

Antonia suggested gamifying learning to motivate employees to explore more content themselves. Her manager gave her his blessing to hire an intern and allowed Antonia to take time in her work week to focus on her idea. Together with her first intern Felix, they dubbed their idea IoT Challenge and launched the program with 35 participants.

The success of the IoT Challenge got the attention of senior leaders and Antonia quickly earned the green light to expand the program to other SAP locations around the world. The program was renamed the SAP Innovator Challenge in 2018 and with the help of Christoph Christophersen, a very determined full-time intern, the program took flight. With more funding, resources and support, the Innovator Challenge grew to over 1,000 participants by the end of 2020. In 2021 more than 1,400 employees registered to be part of the learning program.

The concept of the Innovator Challenge is simple. When employees sign up, they are assigned to teams and together they are given a blank canvas to first come up with an idea they would like to work on, and then implement this idea into a technical prototype using SAP’s latest cloud technologies. The idea itself can be anything and is not limited to SAP-specific cases. The teams have 6 months to implement this prototype and if they successfully do so, they are invited to present to a jury panel of SAP leaders at a final event. Each final event is fun and engaging.

“We have themes. Employee dress up, and really get into it,” says Antonia. “The main idea of Innovator Challenge is not to create something that will help the customer run better, even though that is sometimes an outcome. It’s about having a playful environment to get hands-on with new technologies and having a superior learning experience. Education is the focus, not the results [of the prototype],” Antonia says.

“What a lot of people like best about the Innovator Challenge is that you get to work with people from around the world. Plus, the participants are supported by SAP experts in their field,” says Antonia. Competition heats up between teams, but the atmosphere is what motivates people to push the boundaries.

“The benefit of pushing people to use new tools and resources is that they can later integrate them into their daily work. And you develop a lot of other skills during the program, presentation skills, for example,” she says.

When asked about an example of an Innovator Challenger prototype, she shared how one team investigated the pain points of SAP’s Product Support team. They discovered that a customer could mark issues as “critical” in the system to secure product support from SAP.

The issue was that “critical” could mean anything. Did it mean that a customer’s production line was down which could mean them losing millions of dollars per minute? Or that their payroll was down, which although important, had no dire financial impact on their bottom line?

The Innovator Challenge team applied a machine learning algorithm to classify the “critical” tickets coming into the SAP system. The algorithm reduced SAP workload of the support team by 50%, allowing them to work on addressing the issues instead of filtering, reviewing and prioritizing tickets.

You could say that Antonia’s spirit is embodied in the Innovator Challenge. Her energy, creativity, and positivity has inspired a platform for employees to learn, experiment and innovate. Thanks to her manager, her team and the support of the company, she believes the Innovator Challenge has the potential to grow even further.

She says, “There is no better way to prepare for the work-life of the future than by taking part in the Innovator Challenge.”

Meet Christoph Christophersen, one of Antonia’s colleagues who supported her on the evolution and expansion of the SAP Innovator Challenge. Christoph is the Technical Lead of the SAP Innovator Challenge.

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