Today, disruption has become the new normal. In a world where the pace of technological evolution opens up a whole new level of business opportunities, only companies that use intelligent technologies to put consumer needs first will succeed.

Then again, business innovation is not just about the pure product or technology, but about the entire end-to-end experience – including product, service, and business outcomes – it creates.

Last year, TechTarget proclaimed that “ERP has been pretty boring for the past 30 years, but it’s about to become very interesting.” This perfectly sums up what drives us at SAP every day: We want to change the perception of SAP from “necessary, but not-so-shiny enterprise software” to an innovation driver that reinvents business processes and enables new business models.

More Than a Vendor, a Whole Ecosystem

Since 1972, SAP has supported the world’s most critical business processes. Our deep knowledge in more than 25 industries allows us to digitalize and automate businesses like no one else can. However, as business processes evolve and innovation requires expertise from other industries, today it is even more about partnership and collaboration.

The SAP ecosystem is extremely important to drive and adopt innovation. The close collaboration with our customers and partners helps us continuously improve our solutions, identify further business needs, and deliver enhanced value to our customers.

Not Only Software Matters, Experience Too

Modern business processes are powered by a high level of automation, intelligent insights, and an intuitive user experience (UX). The more automated and intelligent the process, the more intuitive the UX, the better the overall customer experience will be.

By reinventing existing business processes, companies can establish new business models, for example through offering value-add services in addition to existing products. Such innovative businesses also require to be steered in real time by making even better use of a company’s data and by automating critical business processes.

Automating business processes along the entire value chain goes beyond software integration. Moreover, this requires united business processes end-to-end and with the real world, which requires deep domain expertise by line of business and industry.

A perfect example is the value that data from the Internet of Things (IoT) adds to end-to-end and real-time business processes, for example by enabling new usage, payment, and business models. But the power of IoT can only be unleashed by embedding the data in core business processes, and these are reflected in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

New Era for ERP, Both On Premise and in the Cloud

While it might be a new platform or front office that attracts attention at first sight, the innovative business processes underneath make the difference. A modern system not only reflects but enables and runs any kind of new business processes that are needed to stay ahead of the competition. This is where a modern cloud ERP as the nucleus of every innovative business comes into play.

From a market and customer perspective, a strong ERP suite covers all the core business processes of every innovative business, running processes end to end, connecting the front office with the supply chain, and enabling the agility and flexibility companies need to move ahead with their innovation journey. This journey leads us to the cloud.

SAP’s intelligent enterprise strategy addresses these needs with the intelligent suite built on one digital platform with intelligence embedded in every solution. SAP S/4HANA is a core element of the intelligent suite and hence at the heart of the Intelligent Enterprise, extended by cloud line-of-business solutions, with integrated end-to-end business processes and a consistent UX across the entire suite. It allows our customers to connect across all lines of business and beyond for transparency across their entire value chain.

To help our customers focus on high-value, forward-looking activities that provide differentiation, we deliver intelligent business process automation as part of the core ERP scope. Applied to the data of our customers, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning offer a entirely new level of automation and insights.

While customers increasingly move to the cloud thanks to qualities such as standardization and continuous innovation, we know that a complex landscape — for example in the chemicals or oil and gas industries — is mostly hybrid and will stay hybrid for many years. Our customers can follow a modular approach, which means they do not have to change everything at once but can start with one module in the cloud according to their individual needs and expand over time. We allow for customization, also in the cloud. APIs offer the flexibility for customers and partners to build applications on SAP Cloud Platform and expand their solutions as needed.

To secure our customers’ investments, SAP delivers innovations both for the cloud and on premise, which enables our customers to build the business landscape they need to be successful in their markets. With SAP S/4HANA, customers have the full choice and can balance standardization with customization rather than fit their business to the desires of an ERP vendor.

This allows them to design their own journey to the cloud, taking into consideration business requirements and strategic vendor relationships when choosing between public cloud, private cloud, or on-premise landscapes.

One customer example of the transformation toward the cloud together with SAP is VINCI Energies, based in France. The services company focuses on connections, performance, energy efficiency, and data in order to accelerate the rollout of new technologies and support transformation in the digital and energy area. VINCI Energies supports its customers by offering solutions and services, from design to implementation, operation, and maintenance. Over the past decade, the company has expanded its business internationally, and a key challenge is to manage growth, complexity, and new business fields. VINCI Energies uses SAP S/4HANA across all lines of business, covering key functions including finance, human resources (HR), procurement, and project management. Having introduced SAP S/4HANA with a brownfield approach, the company is now live with more than 31,000 users in 14 countries. In addition, VINCI Energies relies on SAP C/4HANA and benefits from insights through SAP Analytics Cloud and SAP Leonardo machine learning solutions. More details about SAP’s collaboration with VINCI Energies will be shared next week at SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando.

Joint Journey

From my many conversations with customers, I know that a move to the cloud can seem daunting. To help companies move from an on-premise ERP system to an intelligent ERP — SAP S/4HANA in the cloud or on premise — we have set up the SAP S/4HANA Movement initiative. The program offers tools for creating a business case, decision support regarding system conversion versus new implementation, and packaged SAP and partner implementation services designed to safeguard the deployment.

With innovation comes learning tailored to the individual needs of our users. SAP Enable Now is a solution that provides intelligent user assistance as an integral part of SAP solutions, enabling and supporting users in the flow of work – from the initial user onboarding to continuous innovations and new capabilities for users. SAP content can be easily customized and extended to provide optimal assistance for all users and a unified user assistance across SAP and non-SAP systems through this content management and authoring solution. SAP Enable Now is now available for SAP S/4HANA and SAP SuccessFactors solutions via the Web assistant service, providing context-aware help and micro-learning offerings for users.

Coming back to the statement that “ERP has been pretty boring over the last 30 years,” it is now becoming a true game changer for intelligent enterprises, because in today’s world, it’s all about excellent experience built on highly automated, integrated, flexible, and intelligent business processes. I couldn’t be more excited about what’s ahead for our customers and SAP.

Thomas Saueressig is president of SAP Product Engineering.