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Machine Learning at SAP: How Companies Benefit

Feature Article | October 5, 2017 by Michael Zipf

In the complex world of business processes companies can benefit from machine learning in numerous ways. But they need a trustworthy partner.

SAP’s Christian Boos had a light-bulb moment this year at SAPPHIRE NOW. The global business development expert for machine learning was due to hold a 20-minute meeting with a long-time SAP customer, but 20 minutes soon turned into 90. “They just kept on reeling off the use cases for machine learning at their company,” Boos says.

This and many other conversations at the event fed his conviction that, far from being “just another bandwagon,” machine learning is a topic that will help decide many companies’ future.

While the consumer market is already brimming with highly advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning products, many enterprises are only just starting to embrace these technologies. Yet, in the world of business processes ‒ which is much more complex and much more constrained by data privacy and intellectual property issues ‒ the use cases are also endless and are only just beginning to be identified.

Today, businesses can still stand out from their competitors by offering intelligent solutions. For instance, SAP does this with SAP Brand Impact, a machine-learning solution that enables companies to measure the exposure of their brand assets at sponsored events. “Nothing like this has ever been available on the market before,” says Boos, citing new applications and business models like this as a way for SAP to generate fresh revenue potential.

Human resources is another area in which SAP has brought machine-learning products to market ahead of its rivals. Take SAP Resume Matching: Part of SAP Fieldglass, this solution helps recruiters identify the best candidates for a specific job.

Boos is in no doubt that this and solutions like it “will become commodities in the medium term.  Technology providers without these in their portfolios will quite simply end up on the sidelines.”

More Than Just an ERP Provider

This, Boos says, applies particularly to SAP, which in many regions of the world is still seen principally as a traditional ERP shop. “So we really have no choice but to tackle the topic of machine learning with maximum energy and vigor,” he adds. Because the opportunities are there for the taking.

For Markus Noga, head of the Machine Learning team in the SAP Innovation Center Network, machine learning is more than just a new technology. “It’s an approach to gaining insight from data to solve business problems in enterprise applications in a way that has never been possible before.”

But, he is quick to add, machine learning is not some kind of secret weapon. And artificial intelligence can’t magically solve every problem that crops up in the everyday running of a company. Nevertheless, he says, machine learning has “immense potential for supporting the decision-making process by automating routine tasks and relieving humans of activities that are often seen as monotonous.”

There are huge opportunities for SAP here, he adds. Peter Weigt, co-head of the SAP Innovation Center location in Palo Alto, even speaks of a “right to win.” SAP, he says, is the first address for machine learning in the business environment. “The data is there in our cloud solutions; we know the business processes; and we can integrate business intelligence at every level. Other providers can’t,” he adds.

And last, but by no means least, “Our customers trust us to take proper care of their data.” Data protection and confidentiality requirements are much more stringent in enterprise applications. “Without doubt, SAP, as a trustworthy partner to its customers, is very strongly placed in that respect,” says Weigt.

The long-term SAP customer would appear to share that view. It is currently exploring which machine-learning projects it wants to implement with SAP.

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