lab of tomorrow – straight to the heart of the matter, much closer to the people involved

06.04.2016 – European entrepreneurs, experts from our partner countries and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH staff are devising digital business models to help drive forward development. In an interview, SAP manager Michael Pittelkow reports on the first lab of tomorrow.

The lab of tomorrow, which GIZ is organising on behalf of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), involves businesses in solving development-policy challenges. At its core is the ‘design thinking method’ that multinationals such as Google, Apple and IBM are using to craft new and innovative products. Around 30 participants came together at the first lab in Berlin in December 2015. Among them was SAP’s Michael Pittelkow.

Mr Pittelkow, what was the challenge you took on at the first lab of tomorrow?

We looked at the issue of tax collection in Zambia. This country is a cash economy, which means most business gets done using cash only. The upshot in terms of tax revenue for the state is that the 40 per cent of Zambian companies that make up the small and micro enterprise sector remain nameless entities. Of course, not all of these businesses have to pay tax. But it is important that they are registered.


How does investing three days in attending an event like this benefit SAP?

We can participate in an innovation network. By this, I mean that the lab of tomorrow pools the innovative power of many different players and businesses, which is really exciting. For us, it was important to know that GIZ was organising the event. This meant we could be sure of having an open process that would not be dominated by any one player but enable us to interact as equals. Of course, SAP does have its own business interests. We are already operating in Zambia. In the lab we are building up further know-how and establishing important contacts. GIZ organised the lab and the BMZ and officials from the Zambian Government are behind it. That shifts the perspective on certain things – in a positive way. You can get straight to the heart of the matter while being much closer to the people involved. There’s virtually no way you can achieve so much in three days on your own!


What got you interested on a personal level?

Africa’s development is very important to me. For Zambia to develop and have enough money for public investments, say in schools and infrastructure, it needs tax income. I was very happy to invest three days of my time to help move it closer to a solution.


Design thinking is the name of the method used in the lab of tomorrow – you also played around with a lot of creative materials and crayons. How did you find that?

We certainly weren’t playing! We opted for a fun-based approach in order to mobilise our creativity and resolve the challenge. It meant that the participants in this very heterogeneous group could gel very quickly.


Had you ever considered using design thinking before? Did you know what you were in for?

Oh yes! SAP has its own rooms, especially for design thinking. We use this method with our own customers, too. I’m a certified design thinking moderator, so I can confirm that the lab of tomorrow was organised to a high professional standard. To put it plainly, it was great!


So what’s the next step for SAP and the other participants? Have you planned your next move already?

We’ve done more than that – we are already in the middle of it! At the end of the event, the working groups presented their results and each company taking part was able to say whether and where it wanted to push ahead. We quickly reached an agreement with two other companies. And we are so convinced of the idea that we are already working with GIZ and the Zambian tax authorities on a proof of concept. It’s too early to release any details, as we still have to go through certain procedures in Zambia. But I can say that it’s a truly innovative concept that none of the partners would have come up with alone. So SAP definitely wants to be part of any upcoming labs of tomorrow.

© GIZ / Fotograf: Paul Hahn
© GIZ / Fotograf: Paul Hahn
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