Many companies have already started the move to SAP S/4HANA, but don’t know which innovations they can start using right away and which ones will be possible in the future. An innovation road map can help.

Autonomous things, artificial intelligence (AI), and smart spaces are all among Gartner’s top tech trends for this year. AI does not only serve cyber-physical systems such as self-driving vehicles, drones, and robots; according to Gartner, it also improves the performance of virtual assistants and autonomous agents.

But innovations really flourish when they are used in the right environment. “Smart spaces,” as Gartner calls them, are places where humans and systems can interact in open, connected, coordinated, and intelligent ecosystems.

Innovations such as digital personal assistants and robotic process automation (RPA) must first take root in a business. The initial step should be demonstrating the opportunities that they offer to the different departments within the company in order to convince them of the capabilities.

That is why the SAP Digital Business Services organization, the company’s consulting unit, combines forward-thinking approaches with open innovation. It offers the technical basis needed to help experts at the business take their ideas further and develop new scenarios.

Find 28 Ideas in Two Days

“Often, customers start their move to SAP S/4HANA and they don’t really know which innovations are already possible,” says Maria Fay, innovation architect at SAP Digital Business Services, whose aim is to create individual innovation road maps with customers. “After just two days with one of our customers, we had come up with 28 ideas to improve processes, discover new intelligent applications, and even establish new digital models.”

The team uses tools to support their approach:

  • The process innovation explorer for SAP S/4HANA analyzes a company’s system usage and processes. The benefit is that the tool generates a report that takes the number of users, the usage intensity, and the complexity of certain transactions, and compares them to industry averages. The steps that have the highest usage rates and highest level of complexity offer significant potential for automation. “Machine learning and RPA should be considered wherever they add the most value,” says Fay.
  • The customer code transformation advisor looks at a company’s custom processes and highlights those that might have become obsolete or that might need to be reengineered. The tool generates a list that distinguishes among code that can be transferred to the new system without any changes, code that is no longer relevant, and code that needs to be redesigned. This creates transparency during the transition to SAP S/4HANA.

Example report from the process innovation explorer for SAP S/4HANA

The innovation road map shows short-, medium-, and long-term objectives

Automate Orders with Machine Learning

The next step involves reviewing dozens of use cases and identifying those that are relevant for the company and that can optimize its existing processes the most. One such use case is SAP Cash Application software, which draws on machine learning to automatically match and process invoices sent by e-mail. RPA, on the other hand, can be used to automate processes that always feature the same steps and are therefore repetitive, such as the order process.

“The bot learns the steps, takes the relevant numbers from Excel or another application, and imports them into the designated fields,” says Fay. A chatbot is also an example of an intelligent technology and can be deployed both inside and outside of a company. For instance, a digital voice assistant could be asked to answer a question or look up when a delivery is due. It does this by interrogating the data in the back-end system.

Chatbots can also be used to ease the workload of customer support teams. Because providing customers with their account balance at a telecommunications company, for example, or informing them about a delivery date or the status of a complaint are all tasks that can be automated and completed using voice commands.

Open Innovation at Customer Workshops

In addition to the use cases that are possible in SAP S/4HANA and those that can be delivered using conversational AI, there are others that can be achieved through open innovation. This involves holding workshops with customers to build new solutions. The aim is to draw on inspiration from industry projects, recognize internal company problems, and potential for improvement, and to then use these insights to come up with new scenarios.

“SAP helps companies identify and implement these scenarios, which are not currently available in any other solution but that would add a lot of value,” emphasizes Lars Friedrich, innovation manager for the Intelligent Enterprise at SAP, who serves customers alongside Fay.

Quick Wins, Medium- and Long-Term Goals

Through this service, an innovation road map is created, with the goal to help make lasting improvements to the user experience, provide automation on scale, and cut costs.

  • Quick win: “Our experience with customers so far shows that it is possible to make many process improvements within the first 12 months,” says Fay in relation to quick wins that do not directly involve SAP S/4HANA. Examples of quick wins include functionalities for demand-driven replenishment and SAP Cash Application.
  • Medium-term goals: Some of the goals related to SAP S/4HANA can begin adding value within the first two years, while others might require more time. Predicting delivery dates and machine failure — predictive maintenance — as well as detecting product defects using machine learning are examples of what is achievable in the medium term.
  • Open innovation: Functionalities that must be built from scratch fall into the open innovation category.

During a workshop with a customer, consultants identified 28 ideas, 13 of which could be embedded in SAP S/4HANA scenarios while nine were intelligent applications that would extend current processes. Six were identified as transformational or open innovation ideas.

“To come to grips with all these new ideas,” according to Fay, SAP offers innovation management. Usually, this sees consultants take a structured look at the customer’s innovation needs, apply relevant approaches, assets, and technologies, and involve a network of experts to implement the projects on the innovation road map.

Develop Working Prototypes

It typically takes one to three weeks to create a customer-specific road map, and then the real work begins.

“We can build prototypes in the Mode-2 Garage in Switzerland and at other SAP locations, such as at SAP Digital Studio in Ratingen, Germany, or at a customer’s offices using the innovation factory approach,” says Friedrich.

This story originally appeared on the SAP Germany News Center.