Sustainability dark horse SAP doesn't just keep track of its own sustainability performance. The company has let customer demand for sustainability services propel their development of new products since 2008.
The latest in the lineup is a database with a GPS overlay that allows electric vehicle manufacturers to display nearby recharging stations on the car's dashboard - meaning drivers will never be too far away from a charge-up. Sounds simple, right? It's easier said than done, given that no national framework exists for charging stations. How did SAP make it happen?
Partnering with Utilities
It all started with a request from SAP's utility company clients. They asked SAP to research the feasibility of mapping EV charging stations. The utilities' interest in this project stems from their desire to increase demand for electronic vehicles in the market: as interest in EVs grows, so goes the demand for electricity. One of the main issues holding EV adoption back is range anxiety. Tackle that and you increase demand.
Two years ago, that research developed into actual product realization. When push came to shove and the tool was in the development phase, those same utility companies pulled away from investment - after all, electricity usage from EVs is a small part of their overall portfolio.
So SAP tried to shop their product to EV manufacturers.
Car companies do not want to be in the fuel business
Nearly every car manufacturer has an EV on the road or in the pipeline at this point. EVs are new territory for car manufacturers - not only are they dealing with a whole different set of technologies, but, given the lack of established charging network, they also have to reassure would-be customers' range anxiety and answer their questions about charging up the car. Imagine a nineties era car salesman having to explain to a customer how to pump gas. The level of education and support required to close the deal is a new concern for car manufacturers, and they want to address it if they can.
Said Gil Perez, Global VP Sustainability Management + Strategy for SAP, "The EVs that are currently on the road are suitable for 80 percent of the trips people take by car. Eighty percent use is not good enough. For true adoption people need 100 percent reliability."
Car manufacturers face a number of challenges trying to hit that 100 percent reliability mark. "There are many different suppliers in the EV charging space, many of whom are in start-up mode which makes them difficult to deal with. Car companies don’t see charging as a core competency for them, so they are interested in finding a partner [like SAP] to solve the problem so their multi-billion dollar investments are not slowed down."
Part of the solution is a continually updated GPS enabled list of local charging stations displayed to the driver. SAP's dataset will sit below the dashboard providing information to the user through each manufacturer's custom interface. Perez described it as "Expedia for charging stations." The data collection layer beneath Expedia's platform is like the product that SAP can provide to car manufacturers. The end user won't see the SAP brand, it'll be powering that custom interface in the dashboard which distinguishes one model of EV from another. SAP has no interest in getting into designing dashboard interfaces - and staying behind the scenes means they can sell the same product to multiple manufacturers.
That is, assuming SAP can sell the product to one. The company is in talks with manufacturers right now, and some have even taken the tool for testing purposes, but no one has licensed it yet.
Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.