SAP has released its guiding principles for artificial intelligence (AI).


Recognizing the significant impact of AI on people, our customers, and wider society, SAP designed these guiding principles to steer the development and deployment of our AI software to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.

For us, these guidelines are a commitment to move beyond what is legally required and to begin a deep and continuous engagement with the wider ethical and socioeconomic challenges of AI. We look forward to expanding our conversations with customers, partners, employees, legislative bodies, and civil society; and to making our guiding principles an evolving reflection on these discussions and the ever-changing technological landscape.

1. We are driven by our values

We recognize that, like with any technology, there is scope for AI to be used in ways that are not aligned with these guiding principles and the operational guidelines we are developing. In developing AI software we will remain true to our Human Rights Commitment Statement, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, laws, and widely accepted international norms. Wherever necessary, our AI Ethics Steering Committee will serve to advise our teams on how specific use-cases are affected by these guiding principles. Where there is a conflict with our principles, we will endeavor to prevent the inappropriate use of our technology.

2. We design for people

We strive to create AI software systems that are inclusive and that seek to empower and augment the talents of our diverse usership. By providing human-centered user experiences through augmentative and intuitive technologies, we leverage AI to support people in maximizing their potential. To achieve this, we design our systems closely with users in a collaborative, multidisciplinary, and demographically diverse environment.

3. We enable businesses beyond bias

Bias can negatively impact AI software and, in turn, individuals and our customers. This is particularly the case when there is a risk of causing discrimination or of unjustly impacting underrepresented groups. We, therefore, require our technical teams to gain a deep understanding of the business problems they are trying to solve, and the data quality this demands. We seek to increase the diversity and interdisciplinarity of our teams, and we are investigating new technical methods for mitigating biases. We are also deeply committed to supporting our customers in building even more diverse businesses by leveraging AI to build products that help move business beyond bias.

4. We strive for transparency and integrity in all that we do

Our systems are held to specific standards in accordance with their level of technical ability and intended usage. Their input, capabilities, intended purpose, and limitations will be communicated clearly to our customers, and we provide means for oversight and control by customers and users. They are, and will always remain, in control of the deployment of our products. We actively support industry collaboration and will conduct research to further system transparency.

We operate with integrity through our code of business conduct, our internal AI Ethics Steering Committee, and our external AI Ethics Advisory Panel.

5. We uphold quality and safety standards

As with any of our products, our AI software is subject to our quality assurance process, which we continuously adapt when necessary. Our AI software undergoes thorough testing under real-world scenarios to firmly validate they are fit for purpose and that the product specifications are met. We work closely with our customers and users to uphold and further improve our systems’ quality, safety, reliability, and security.

6. We place data protection and privacy at our core

Data protection and privacy are a corporate requirement and at the core of every product and service. We communicate clearly how, why, where, and when customer and anonymized user data is used in our AI software.

This commitment to data protection and privacy is reflected in our commitment to all applicable regulatory requirements as well as through the research we conduct in partnership with leading academic institutions to develop the next generation of privacy-enhancing methodologies and technologies.

7. We engage with the wider societal challenges of AI

While we have control, to a large extent, over the preceding areas, there are numerous emerging challenges that require a much broader discourse across industries, disciplines, borders, and cultural, philosophical, and religious traditions. These include, but are not limited to, questions concerning:

  • Economic impact, such as how industry and society can collaborate to prepare students and workers for an AI economy and how society may need to adapt means of economic redistribution, social safety, and economic development.
  • Social impact, such as the value and meaning of work for people and the potential role of AI software as social companions and caretakers.
  • Normative questions around how AI should confront ethical dilemmas and what applications of AI, specifically with regards to security and safety, should be considered permissible.

We look forward to making SAP one of many active voices in these debates by engaging with our AI Ethics Advisory Panel and a wide range of partnerships and initiatives.

Background and Context

The principles were formulated by a specially formed ethics steering committee comprising nine senior leaders from across the organization (see below).

The committee focuses on SAP’s internal processes and on the products that result from them, ensuring that the software is built in line with ethical principles.

Members of the Internal Steering Committee

Maricel Cabahug, Chief Design Officer | Mathias Cellarius, Data Protection Officer, Head of Data Protection and Privacy | Brigette McInnis-Day, Chief HR Strategy and Digital Transformation Executive | Markus Noga, Senior Vice President, Machine Learning | Rogerio Rizzi de Oliveira, Senior Vice President, Corporate Strategy | Daniel Schmid, Chief Sustainability Officer | Peter Selfridge, Global Head of Digital Government | Freek Staehr, Head of Global Legal, Commercial and Operations | Sebastian Wieczorek, Head of SAP Leonardo Machine Learning Foundation

As well as setting up an ethics steering committee, SAP became the first technology company in Europe to launch an external advisory committee. Its members (see below) are experts from academia, politics, and business whose specialisms are at the interface between ethics and technology — AI in particular.

Members of the External AI Ethics Advisory Panel

Prof. Dr. theol. Peter Dabrock, Chair of Systematic Theology (Ethics), University of Erlangen-Nuernberg | Prof. Dr. Henning Kagermann, Chairman, acatech Board of Trustees; acatech Senator | Dr. Susan Liautaud, Lecturer in Public Policy and Law, Stanford & Founder; Managing Director, Susan Liautaud & Associates Limited (SLAL) | Prof. Dr. Helen Nissenbaum, Professor, Cornell Tech Information Science | Dr. Nicholas Wright, Consultant, Intelligent Biology; Affiliated Scholar, Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics Georgetown University Medical Center; Honorary Research Associate, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London

Google and Microsoft are among a number of other companies to have also stated their position on AI and drawn up their own principles for addressing the ethical issues associated with it.

SAP’s guiding principles stem from the SAP Global Human Rights Commitment Statement and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and build upon conversations with customers, partners, and employees, as well as by public debate.

Interview with Luka Mucic

SAP Executive Board Members Jennifer Morgan, Global Customer Operations, and Luka Mucic, chief financial officer, have agreed to act as the Executive Board co-sponsors of the initiative. Mucic shares his perspectives on the new guiding principles here.

Q: Why does SAP need ethical guidelines for AI?
The ethical guidelines for AI are used to address concerns about AI and aim to ensure that SAP’s AI portfolio maintains integrity and continued trust in our company and our solutions. As the leader in enterprise technology touching 77% of the world’s transaction revenue and serving more than 400, 000 customers worldwide, SAP applications impact the lives of billions of people on a daily basis. We are looking at the ethical and societal implications of the latest advances in technology and contributing to the public debate about this subject. Our objective is to carry on creating software that augments humanity to use its intellectual potential.

Q: These principles are similarly vague to what other companies have published. Why?
A: Unlike other companies – like Salesforce, which just launched an external advisory group at the end of August – we have had a staffed and fully transparent Steering Committee in place since May 2018. The outcome of their discussions are already reflected in the current version of our guiding principles for AI ethics. Starting in Q4 they will be joined by the panel of external advisors.

These two groups will meet regularly to continuously advance and operationalize the discussion within SAP. The Steering Committee meets on a monthly basis, and the External Advisory Panel joins the discussion on a quarterly basis. We want to make sure, we live up to these guidelines: The Internal Steering Committee, for example not only ensures that the principles are up to date, it also supports internal teams realizing concrete AI Ethics activities. And the External Advisory Panel not only brings in the important external perspective, but also reviews the outcomes of policy and procedure changes to ensure that gaps are actually closed.

While the scope of the principles may be similar to what other companies have been doing, our commitments surrounding the principles set an important precedent for the industry that we believe can serve as a template for other companies.

Q: Some expect AI to cause large scale unemployment. What are you doing against it?
A: There is still a lot of uncertainty about the precise impact of AI on the labor market and the time horizon in which changes will occur. We think it’s important to be honest and say that while we believe that AI has incredible potential to make the world run better and improve people’s lives there are, always have been, and will continue to be people who are adversely impacted by technological change. However, we also recognize that the changes brought by AI will most likely look take shape just as other major technological developments throughout history (e.g. the industrial revolution) where new types of jobs were created in place of the jobs that were replaced by technological developments.

The responsibility of companies is to ensure that we fulfill the tremendous net positive impact which AI can have by creating products which allow people to enjoy their jobs more, focus on the things that they are good at and drive the type of innovation that will continue to create more jobs. At the same time, we must work with governments, for example through the EU High Level Expert Group, to facilitate investments which enable students and workers to make the most of the opportunities at hand! SAP’s massive open online courses (MOOCs) are just a small example of what that might look like.

Next Steps

The rollout of the ethical guidelines can be seen as an ongoing process. The commitment to the seven principles is a first step. It should create awareness and encourage employees to take the topic seriously. Alongside the broad spectrum of massive open online courses on offer about AI, SAP is designing an internal machine learning education program for employees that will also deal with the topic of AI. In addition, there will be opportunities for SAP employees to become more closely involved in the topic including one concept of having Employee Ambassadors, particularly from teams that are working closely with AI.

Going forward, the ethics steering committee will focus on instilling and fostering the guiding principles within SAP. It will keep the external advisory committee informed about its progress and findings – and deliberate with its members on ways to enhance and improve the principles. The group will furthermore examine how the new principles can be integrated into existing policies at SAP. As an example, already every SAP product must pass 150 quality checks before it is released. These checks will now also be extended to take account of the extra requirements that AI brings to the mix.

The committee will also serve as an interface between the employees who develop the software and those who sell it, providing a platform for discussing open issues and deciding on precedents. Algorithms that may not comply with the principles will be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.