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Success Story: SAP

by SRP on March 2, 2024

SAP was founded in 1972 when five IBM engineers left to build an enterprise-wide and mainframe payroll and accounting program. Today, the German company—with offices, over 100,000 employees, and over 500 million users worldwide—has developed numerous software solutions that organizations rely on for critical business and customer service operations.

When SAP opened its first office in the Research Park in 1996, only 30 employees had been hired to work there. Ten years later, SAP’s Research Park operation had grown so significantly that the company won city approval to construct a new building. In 2011, SAP’s real estate needs grew again, prompting the company to lease another building in the Research Park. SAP’s Research Park presence is the company’s largest outside of its global headquarters in Germany.

As measured by revenue, SAP is the largest non-American software company in the world and the third largest publicly traded software company. Across the decades, SAP has been a dominant player and often a leader in enterprise software, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. Yet its spirit of innovation does not stop at digital technologies. In 2013, the company introduced another solution that would inspire a slew of organizations, private and public, to follow suit.

In 2013, SAP launched its Autism at Work (AaW) program with an announcement that, by 2020, one percent of the entire SAP workforce would be filled by people on the autism spectrum. AaW was born out of a genuine desire to promote inclusivity across the company, as well as the recognition that those with autism often have an atypical capacity to see patterns and focus on details—two highly-valued skills at SAP. Once AaW was up and running, the team gained insights that instigated an expansion of the program. In particular, they learned that many with autism lacked the work experience necessary to qualify for a range of jobs. The team attributed this to two root causes: First, many lacked exposure to the labor market while in school. Second, many struggled to navigate the rigid corporate interview and intake process.

So the SAP team innovated again. They introduced a program to work with high school and college students, with the intention of providing real-world work exposure, educational opportunities, and coaching for how to thrive at work. They also formed partnerships with NGOs and nonprofits to expand their reach and resources to more students and professionals with autism. SAP then ramped up collaborations with experts in neurodiversity to evolve its human resources processes and operations to better suit the needs of the neurodiverse. As the intended outcome, SAP overhauled its hiring, onboarding, and talent retention practices and hosts ongoing sessions for all employees on the topic of neurodiversity.

Companies, schools of all grades, and governments have taken note of SAP’s vanguard program. In addition to sharing AaW resources with over a thousand organizations, SAP launched the Autism at Work Summit, a series of annual conferences across the globe where people come together to celebrate neurodiversity, share knowledge and best practices, and generally work to advance the career prospects and success of those with autism.

Since its founding over 50 years ago, SAP has been a software pioneer and, in many instances, pushed the industry forward. With AaW, SAP has catalyzed consequential progress yet again—except this time, with the capacity to waterfall right down to individuals whose work or lives have nothing to do with software but are no less improved by this software company.


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