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Deploying Machine Learning to Build an Intelligent Enterprise

by Peter Russo | SAPinsider, Volume 19, Issue 1

January 18, 2018

An absence of strategy trails only domain expertise as the reason why many companies have yet to adopt artificial intelligence and machine learning. Companies are challenged with how to apply these and other breakthrough technologies for business value. This article details several examples of how organizations can deploy machine learning today, and how SAP S/4HANA and SAP Leonardo come together in the cloud and on-premise to address the many innovative opportunities the technology brings.

Chances are that you cannot scroll through your inbox each morning without running across at least one email trumpeting the impending arrival of artificial intelligence, blockchain and machine learning. They are just two of today’s hot topics in a long list of new technologies that promise to radically transform the way business is done -- much as electricity, production lines, computers, and the internet transformed business and society in days past. As a long-time innovator for businesses, SAP is keenly focused on utilizing breakthrough technologies to help companies of all stripes deliver on their digital transformation goals.

SAP has been researching the topic extensively, both from a pure technology standpoint and from the perspective of business value. Results from SAP’s latest global survey of business leaders show two big hurdles to adoption. Given its nascent status, the major challenge to adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning is a lack of domain expertise. But, a close second is an absence of strategy. Said another way, “How can I take a transformative technology and apply it for business value?” This is not so different from the introduction of past technological innovations.

Machine Learning with SAP S/4HANA and SAP Leonardo

The following are several examples of how organizations can deploy machine learning now, and how SAP S/4HANA and SAP Leonardo come together to create an intelligent ERP system — in the cloud or on-premise — capable of addressing today’s needs and tomorrow’s opportunities. Figure 1 shows examples of how automating knowledge work with SAP Leonardo, in conjunction with SAP S/4HANA, can achieve the impossible.

Figure 1 -  SAP's vision for enterprise machine learning

Bringing SAP S/4HANA and SAP Leonardo together results in a more flexible and intelligent enterprise. It’s not a question of “either / or.” Customers in every industry are demanding innovation. Companies are responding with new products and services that better meet individual needs. These new offerings  impact every facet of business, not just the front office. Companies must address end-to-end processes, across departments and lines of business, to deliver on new customer experiences, products, and services. To do this effectively, companies need an intelligent ERP solution that can be continuously enhanced and extended with innovative business services and applications, built on emerging technologies including machine learning, block chain, and IOT. Customers that have big innovation appetites or prefer to be early adopters have already begun this journey.

A Look at Machine Learning in Action

Below are three examples of intelligent applications of machine learning from SAP in very different areas — the finance space, the supply chain, and the consumer world. One of the more prominent intelligent applications is SAP Cash Application. Utilizing matching criteria from historical financial clearing data and machine learning, SAP Cash Application automatically matches invoices with incoming payments, allowing businesses to further scale shared service centers or redeploy finance professionals to more strategic activities. Routine transactions are processed autonomously. Unlike previous automation in this space, SAP Cash Application is constantly learning from an organization’s financial data. Companies no longer have to worry about manually maintaining complex rulesets. Instead, the system is continuously evolving, becoming smarter and more capable. While this obviously delivers new scalability through increased automation to an organization, it also empowers employees to shift away from monotonous work. Finance professionals can focus on the outliers where their efforts deliver a higher value to the organization.

Machine learning, of course, is also applicable outside of the core finance space. Another area of focus for SAP is the Digital Supply Chain, which is at the epicenter of the new ways in which companies interact with their customers today; nimbler and more buyer-centric. With SAP Stock in Transit, business users get real-time prediction of delayed shipments, allowing them to mitigate or lessen the impact to operations. This proactive approach minimizes late deliveries throughout the supply chain, thereby increasing customer satisfaction. 

Finally, most people use machine learning in their everyday lives, even if they do not realize it. Digital assistants such as Siri, Google Home, and Alexa are finding their ways into  consumers’ hands and homes. This is where SAP CoPilot comes in. Users now have a consumer-grade, business context-aware digital assistant to help them work smarter and more efficiently. SAP CoPilot allows users to find and interact with almost any piece of information in their enterprise. Thanks to the machine learning embedded within, SAP CoPilot is constantly improving, allowing users to perform their work more efficiently and effectively.

Figure 2 shows a host of new intelligent apps created with SAP S/4HANA and SAP Leonardo. However, this list just scratches the surface of what is possible with machine learning. Leveraging the power of SAP S/4HANA and SAP Leonardo, you can also build your own intelligent applications to extend existing functionality or develop entirely new use cases for digital technology.

Figure 2 - Creating new intelligent apps with SAP S/4HANA and SAP Leonardo

The Future of Intelligent SAP Applications

Tomorrow’s killer enterprise applications will no doubt leverage innovations built on machine learning, blockchain, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. SAP is making it easy for companies to collect, analyze, understand, and act upon a vast new world of data, on one holistic in-memory platform, fed directly to core business processes. This, then, is the future of ERP systems. Hundreds of companies are already enjoying intelligent applications that increase the efficiency and effectiveness of core business processes, while providing visibility and foresight out to the edge of the enterprise. Given that insight, flexibility, and responsiveness are critical to success, companies cannot rely on yesterday’s technology. 

Visit to learn how machine learning is enabling intelligent ERP.

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Peter Russo, Global VP, Head of SAP S/4HANA Marketing, SAP
Peter Russo

Peter Russo is Global Vice President, Head of SAP S/4HANA Marketing for SAP

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