Partnering for a digital product launch

How Domain7 helped a global giant go digital, against the odds

  • Client Location Vancouver, BC
  • Industry cloud-based analytics product, digital product
  • Client Since 2016-08-01
  • Available Links

The origin story of SAP goes like this: once upon a time, IBM was building a product for tracking enterprise system resources, when the project was unceremoniously halted. Rather than take laid-off for an answer, five of the engineers on that team decided their work was worth continuing. The resulting partnership to preserve the product became SAP.

SAP eventually became a blue-hued, three-iniitial’d global giant itself. With a generation of credibility and a legacy of leadership behind its name, SAP developed a new question: can we partner together to bring the enterprise to the everyman?

“Today, we serve large corporations. Can we also serve small-and-medium-sized businesses? Today, we do server-side installs and provide hands-on tech support. Can we offer our software self-serve, via the web? 

Today, we offer a full suite of service. Can we un-bundle and offer standalone apps?”

If you’re SAP, here’s how you’ll do it: First, you’ll create an extensible cloud platform on which your products can be built. And they did: it’s called HANA. And on that cloud platform, you’ll begin porting key functional aspects of your software in standalone apps. And they did: the first one, focused exclusively on business intelligence, is the cloud-adaptation of their classic reporting software. The new tool is called Analytics Cloud.

It was in the final months leading up to the official public launch of the massive project code-named “Orca” that SAP approached Domain7: Will you help us launch Analytics Cloud?

Partners don’t pitch: the art of collaborating early

The Goliath-gone-Google vibe of SAP’s Vancouver offices were the headquarters for the huge push to create and launch Analytics Cloud (aka, Project Orca). Walk around those brightly coloured cubes, with ceilings adorned with custom art and halls filled with well-nourished staff fed by the well-stocked kitchen, and you’ll see rock-concert-style posters featuring custom illustrations of killer whales with questions like “Have you committed code today?” on walls next to whiteboards with yesterday’s solved-problems in dry-erase glory.

Like the start of most of our healthy partnerships, we began by quickly subverting the expected agency sales process. As Blair Enns writes in Win Without Pitching, “even when we pitch and win, we lose” — you create an oppositional, us vs. them dynamic between you and the client. At Domain7, we’re interested in working together collaboratively as early as possible, so we try to use sales conversations as a chance to do actual mini-workshops, rather than glossy pitches. Not only is it a test of our potential working chemistry, where we learn much about each other as partners, but we actually begin doing meaningful, useful work right away.

We learned that Analytics Cloud was slated to be unveiled at an internal SAP conference called TechEd Barcelona. Here, as a global audience of SAP insiders gathered to learn alongside each other, the HANA-based analytics platform known as Project Orca would be breaching the waters. As their own internal design and development resources were fully committed to the product itself, SAP needed a nimble collaborator to create and launch the public face of Analytics Cloud for the conference deadline, ready to dig deep for further iteration after launch.

The bright-orange walls of the SAP meeting room quickly began to be filled with diagrams and mind-maps documenting user flows, technology assumptions, and brand and messaging ideas. We covered enough ground to make a suggested Phase 1 and Phase 2 plan to get them to their initial launch, and then enter into a phase of optimizations. The start of the SAP and Domain7 relationship was underway, towards getting that Orca on its way.

A glimpse into SAP's colourful, vibrant office space.

"Nobody thought they could do it. SAP is known for its enterprise strength, not for digital agility. But we saw a team emerge that chose possibility and partnership, and managed to pull off a massive achievement for a player of its size."

Kevan Gilbert, Domain7’s Director of Engagement Strategy

"Before I started at SAP, I had hired Domain7 at the last two places I worked, so I knew they walked the talk: Domain7 understands partnership, and a partnership was what we needed for the job we were tackling."

Lorraine Yao, former SAP project lead

The job to be done: gateway to the product

Think of the homepage of your favourite digital product: web-based tools like Mailchimp, or Trello, or even Google Drive. Before you are a user of the product, what are you? You’re a researcher. You’re hunting down options, you’re comparing, you’re looking for free trials. You’ve maybe got a few different tools on the go, you’re consulting online reviews, you’re looking to solve a specific problem and you’re hoping this is the one. At some point, you come across the product’s homepage, which is your launchpad for exploration.

That “entryway to a product” is what our team needed to help plan, design and build. Job one was getting up to speed on what they knew about their audiences. SAP had commissioned two different firms to dig into audience research (two west coast firms with radically different methods: the Ipsos-challenger InsightsWest, and the story-focused The Sound Research). 

We paired their findings with some competitive analysis, looking to understand what else is on the market. But as SAP project sponsor and former Hootsuite marketing lead Peter would tell us, “Don’t look to the market to find the bar. Let’s set the bar instead.”

We knew the right approach here was to get into live iteration. After putting forward a suggested first draft of the product plan, we came together in another brightly-coloured boardroom for a real-time co-creation workshop. It was a two-hour adaption of the design sprint we’ve shared the recipe for on our Medium blog, and in that time, we generated several working drafts of the product’s intro screen, the supporting screens and key messages. We were surprised to see how quickly we could achieve alignment, and it created all the shared understanding we need to move into wireframes and visual design.

The fine line of design

Designers know well the fine line when you’re working for an established brand, but the real focus is a sub-brand of that parent. You need to anchor yourself in the credibility and familiarity of the parent, without becoming weighed down by its own history. Harness the power of the legacy, and use it as fuel for the new entity, without creating a clash. Good luck, right?

For SAP Analytics Cloud, the client knew that the enterprise-nature of SAP becoming re-packaged for a lower-cost, digitally-focused version meant walking that line would take special care. Like a tightrope walk, one nudge too corporate and you’ve lost your small business audience, and one nudge too casual and you’ve lost the trust of your enterprise users.

Our design team steps first into situations like this with a deliverable called Style Tiles, which helps us explore and experiment with various visual options without overcommitting. Typography, photography and layout all play the subtle, crucial role of setting the tone in just the right balance. 

Careful colour pairings help balance the newness of a digital product with the steadiness of the corporate vibe.

One more key challenge? As the gateway to the product, the user had to feel like the transition was seamless, from sign-up to sign-in. But the product itself was already designed in its entirety: canvases and icon sets and UX conventions for an entire piece of web software, for which we were creating the entrypoint. This meant drawing on the existing conventions already established by the product itself to cue familiarity, while still speaking the language of persuasion and marketing.

From these Style Tile explorations, the client was able to land on a clear visual direction. Wireframes and page templates flowed out from here, taking the general content and concepts that had been sketched out in our collaborative workshops, and bringing them into the digital realm.

“It could have felt like corporate constraints: ‘We must follow the existing SAP brand guidelines, and make it look like the existing product.’ But the way I saw our designers respond, by truly partnering with SAP to find a breakthrough middle ground, unleashed what designers do best: using constraints to fuel creativity.”

- Tracey Falk, Domain7 Design Director

Partnering to cross the technical divide

We chose WordPress as the platform, knowing SAP intended to build out a whole knowledge base of content and resources over time, to help users explore the system. We also knew that with the hustle to the finish line was number-one, that a “continuous development” approach was key. Our signature take on iterative development, called The Loop, would be the perfect operating room for future optimizations, once the site was live, in the wild, and collecting actual user data.

But the proof is in the pudding — or in this case, in the product sign-ups. A well-designed, WordPress-powered, tightly-messaged product gateway alone isn’t enough to get users signing up. And with that flow, there was one crucial technical hurdle: generating real-time product licenses to allow users to actually access the product from the moment they pressed “sign up for a trial.”

At the moment of the project starting, this was not the case.

In the traditional model, SAP’s enterprise mode of working is accustomed to providing hands-on support for nearly every stage of the buying cycle, from software installation, to providing user licenses. 

The model of flipping the old-school enterprise approach to cloud-based, self-serve software ran counter to their entire culture and process.

“We can get licenses generated until 12 days after a user request,” came the answer from the SAP technical team. “12 days?” was the counter from the SAP Orca marketing lead. “I need 12 seconds.”

And so they got the work: to make a seamless-as-possible user experience, and actually meet expectations for the real-time web, the two diverging cultures within SAP had to find common ground.

Meanwhile, the WordPress build was able to get the site up and running for the conference launch. And true to their promise, SAP’s technical team managed to get trial licenses generating in near-real-time. SAP’s UX team for Orca need to partner with the SAP technical team to make this come together in a crunch: and they did.

Breakthrough success through co-creation

Within a month, more than a million dollars in deals had come in. By the end of the fourth quarter, that number was more than thirteen million, with deals closed through HP, Samsung, Volvo and others.

This groundbreaking group within SAP has caught the attention of other business units stunned by how this nimble, people-centric collaboration has yielded such tremendous success.  The product team is in-demand all over again, as usage levels mean users are ready for the product’s next evolution.

SAP’s Analytics Cloud is now up and running on The Loop — Domain7’s program for measurement-based UX iterations. As part of The Loop, they can use data from the live product to conduct new experiments and optimizations in a live partnership with Domain7. (Already, they’ve been able to create a whole new design and flexibility for their Resources section, and are working on plan for Analytics Cloud University, an online learning platform for users as they keep learning and iterating.)

This digital product launch proves again that when you choose to put people first through true co-creation, the efforts yield nearly uncountable returns.

SAP’s Analytics Cloud

“SAP’s breakthrough success with launching Analytics Cloud was possible because they chose true partnership. And to pursue this, SAP brought the time, space and humility to collaborate openly and curiously.”

Charlotte Taverner, Domain7 Engagement Strategist

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