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SAP Academic Conference: Getting Ideas Off the Ground with SAP Leonardo

Feature Article | September 19, 2017 by Claudio Brecht

At the SAP Academic Conference EMEA, professors and university lecturers could find out more about SAP Leonardo and technologies such as machine learning and blockchain to help them teach the subjects.

The story of inventions is often recounted as a list of famous names: There would be no cars without Carl Benz and no cryptocurrency without Satoshi Nakamoto. We all know that this is only half the story. Every famous inventor worked in an environment that made their innovations possible in the first place.

In recognition of this fact, SAP works to bring companies, universities, and students together to provide a fertile environment for new ideas. The 22nd SAP Academic Conference EMEA took place last week in Karlsruhe, Germany. SAP, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), and Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences invited professors, lecturers, and scientists in the field of business, information technology, and design from more than 50 countries to find out more about how they can become part of a global innovation network.

Innovation and the Digital Economy

Representing the host universities, Professor Thomas Hirth, vice president for innovation and international affairs at KIT, and Daniela Schweitzer, chancellor of Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, emphasized how important collaboration is in bringing technology to society as a whole. KIT’s PionierGarage and Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences’ Innovate platform are evidence of students’ growing entrepreneurial interest.

Companies are looking for people with entrepreneurial spirit, noted Bernd Welz, chief knowledge officer at SAP, and Hans Jörg Stotz, senior vice president and head of IOT strategy and innovation at SAP.

Traditionally, companies started out selling physical products. Then, because of better profit margins, they switched to offering services as well, such as maintenance and repairs. The latest trend, though, is to offer the products as a service. Applying design thinking principles makes the business more responsive to customer needs. For example, specialist compressor manufacturer Kaeser no longer only sells the compressors themselves; it sells compressed air. Rolls-Royce offers mileage instead of just the jet engines.

Companies have to rethink their business: They need to go bimodal. In other words, besides keeping up their day-to-day tasks, they must also try out innovations as if they were a startup. This is where SAP Leonardo comes in. Innovations such as machine learning and blockchain are part of the SAP Leonardo digital innovation system that companies can use to rapidly test new ideas.

Creating a Global Innovation Network

SAP Next-Gen is an open network that brings companies and academia together to get ideas off the ground for digital innovations that help meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The aim of the network is to put people in touch, help customers get their industry ready for the future by using SAP Leonardo services, work with startups to drive groundbreaking innovations, and to learn what a smart company can look like.

“SAP Next-Gen puts businesses in touch with more than 3,200 educational institutes in 111 countries that are part of the network, plus startups, tech community partners, and organizations committed to meeting sustainability goals,” says Ann Rosenberg, senior vice president and global head of SAP Next-Gen.

Presentations, breakout sessions, and three-day boot camps gave conference delegates insights into SAP Leonardo solutions so that they can present use cases for the technologies to their students.

Participants discussed the technologies of SAP Leonardo

Using Artificial Intelligence to Solve Problems

Markus Noga, vice president of Machine Learning at SAP, began his presentation on advances in artificial intelligence by looking at recent improvements in hardware: “We work very closely with companies like NVIDIA and Google, which give us the computing power required.”

SAP, though, also had unique insights into business processes that made it possible to make them more efficient and provide brand new solutions for business units, according to Noga.

He demonstrated the former with SAP Cash Application, which automatically matches payments to invoices, saving a lot of accounting work.

Marketing was the example he gave for his second point. Companies spent only one percent of their budget for sport sponsorship on measuring actual returns, Noga said. This was due to the amount of effort involved in manually evaluating the effect after the events were broadcast. SAP Brand Impact was the answer, said Noga. It uses image analysis, a branch of machine learning, to measure the visibility of the company logo and for how long it was displayed in comparison to competitors’ logos.

Into the Future with Blockchain and Digital Twinning

Blockchain is the hot topic at the moment and on the agenda at the conference as well. “We at SAP believe that blockchain has the potential to change how companies interact,” says Christian Sommer, program manager for blockchain at SAP. Depending on the network, public or private blockchain can be used.

Sommer gave the example of a decentralized database for car rental. At present, if a customer fails to pay for the car, they are sent a reminder with a deadline for payment. If they do not pay by that date, legal proceedings begin. In the future, though, smart contracts, which use blockchain, could be used instead. If the customer has not paid, the car will display a reminder message. If they ignore it, the car’s maximum speed can be lowered or the engine can be prevented from starting. That way, there will be no need to involve third parties, which would save transaction costs.

Sommer described similar benefits in the field of asset management. A digital twin is a digital copy of a physical item, and is the Internet of Things applied to real estate management. There were a number of challenges that had to be overcome: the vast amount of data that accumulates over the life of a building, allocating the data to the parties in the building, and the lack of the overall picture. This is the perfect use case for blockchain: If the digital twin were stored on a decentralized database, the data for all parties in the building would always be up to date, consistent, and reliable. It would also cover the entire life cycle of the building and all information could be verified.

The participants were actively interested in the presented technologies. Throughout the conference, plans for future next-gen labs and courses on the topics blockchain and machine learning were a frequent discussion topic, in order to convey even newest developments to students.

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