SAP aims to step up its artificial intelligence, machine learning game as S/4HANA hits public cloud

SAP joins the parade of enterprise software giants planning to bring machine learning and artificial intelligence to their applications.

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SAP S/4HANA is going multi-tenant public cloud. Can SAP bring AI to its customer base?

SAP is planning to step up its machine learning and artificial intelligence efforts in hopes that its applications will have a broader reach when it comes to automating processes such as employee approvals, payment processing, and sales discounting.

At the New York Stock Exchange Thursday, SAP is outlining its public cloud versions of its S4/HANA enterprise resource planning suite. The ERP cloud suites come in three versions focused on project management, finance, and enterprise management and are hosted in SAP data centers.

Darren Roos, president of SAP S/4HANA Cloud, said in an interview that SAP does plan to support other public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and other key players.

But the S/4 HANA public cloud coming out party is a bit of a diversion from what SAP plans to do with artificial intelligence and machine learning in its roadmap. SAP is just starting to talk about machine learning and AI at a time when rivals and the broader enterprise technology ecosystem have dominated the conversation.

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Add it up and SAP's S/4HANA launch and analyst meeting in New York is about the machine learning and AI roadmap as much as it is ERP. SAP CEO Bill McDermott previewed the focus on AI on the software company's fourth quarter earnings call. McDermott told analysts:

We need to start turning up the advertising and the marketing on what we're already doing for machine learning. Whether it is recruiting, employee approvals, payment processing, sales discounting approval, or call center management up to and including effectively using bots, we already have our machine learning solutions in place, and we're rolling them out across industry. It'll be a huge source of growth and probably not factored in your models.

Roos acknowledges that SAP hasn't been beating the drum for machine learning just yet. Why? SAP wanted to highlight a bevy of use cases. "The use cases are really just beginning whether it's matching invoices to payments with machine learning to eliminate human error or advising users on how to match hiring plants with markets and budgets," said Roos. "We've invested in specific machine learning use cases. The reality is that machine learning doesn't have any real value until you get it to the user and the application."

SAP's approach to AI will revolve around bringing functionality to customers via its public cloud offerings. SAP will develop its own tools, but it also isn't going to be shy about partnering. "I don't think where the machine learning or AI capabilities come from is relevant. SAP will partner to leverage AI and machine learning to enhance our applications," said Roos. "We don't think about where the engine comes from as much as how it impacts the customer."

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