​SAP's Plattner wants to work with Apple to build voice recognition

Admitting SAP was late to the party with its adoption of artificial intelligence, SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner wants to see his company look to the expertise of others when it comes to voice recognition.

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Hasso Plattner at SAP Sapphire Now

Image: Asha McLean/ZDNet

SAP co-founder and chairman of the SAP Supervisory Board professor Hasso Plattner has praised the work Apple has done when it comes to voice recognition, touting Siri as the benchmark his company should strive towards.

Speaking with journalists at Sapphire Now in Orlando on Wednesday, Plattner admitted that SAP started a little bit late in diving into artificial intelligence (AI).

"We have thrown all of the resources we have into machine learning for the next foreseeable future to get as many projects going in order to have an impact," he said, hoping to make up for lost time.

"The Googles have been driving for I don't know how many years in the Bay Area -- and all the other ones. AI was there 25 years ago, but it was not fast enough for our type of applications and was outside the system, but now we can apply AI inside the system."

Plattner said it is unnecessary to acquire or build such capabilities inside a business when there are others better resourced and more advanced in the space.

"I am not running the company anymore -- I can only make recommendations -- but I made the recommendation we restart voice recognition in connection with these new applications and we find ourselves in a world where we have greater capacity," he explained.

"I think it is time now -- not all components that we use have to be acquired -- so for example we could work together with Apple."

He said Apple would be his first choice and if Tim Cook's company didn't want to work with SAP, then SAP would move down the list onto the next option for voice recognition partnerships.

"I think it will be very much the future -- our fastest way of communication is talking," he added.

In delivering his keynote on day one of Sapphire Now, SAP CEO Bill McDermott divulged the total spend his company has outlaid on innovation-related products and services.

"Since 2010 we've accelerated our innovation strategy," he said. "In fact, we have invested more than $50 billion in innovation to drive your business forward."

Such innovations announced on Wednesday include the general availability of its SAP S/4HANA Cloud 1705, which features the general availability SAP Co-Pilot, a digital assistant launched on Tuesday as part of the company's Leonardo digital innovation system.

In plain-language, Plattner said Leonardo is a box around a set of tools to build a machine learning system that produces software.

"Artificial intelligence solutions are not perfect ... but this boundary is moving and we're getting better every single week," Plattner added. "We can do unbelievable things with AI ... and the system never gets tired."

On the topic of AI and the chatter around the machine replacing jobs, Plattner is convinced people will still serve a place.

"There are things machines can do better ... but design is pretty much a human task," he said. "Our human brain will not be made superfluous, we will remain in control."

Other updates in the company's updated ERP Software-as-a-Service solution include the availability of statutory financial consolidation, SAP S/4HANA Cloud for Finance for credit integration, and SAP digital payments add-on integration; as well as expanded manufacturing processes management; an SAP Project Companion mobile app; and integrations to third-party systems, including creating sales orders for Salesforce automation.

"We're not launching a new product here, because S/4HANA has been in the market before," Sven Denecken, SVP product management and co-innovation at SAP, told ZDNet in February.

"But we are seeing that the market is picking that up in a much, much higher speed than ever before and that's why we are doubling down on this cloud innovation -- especially for complete entire ERP suites."

An update to the SAP Analytics Cloud -- formerly SAP BusinessObjects Cloud -- will also be available this month and will include a new mobile app on iOS, live connections to SAP BW/4HANA, R scripting, enhanced visual linking, and new smart discovery features.

The company's SAP Cloud Platform Predictive service also received an upgrade, as did the SAP IT Operations Analytics 2.0 software; and the company also announced support for hybrid datacentres and that its SAP Predictive Analytics software enables machine learning via SAP S/4HANA both on premise and in the cloud.

Following the announcement SAP was offering a multicloud environment, integrating with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, SAP Digital Boardroom now also supports Microsoft Surface Hub.

"We have the big three infrastructure providers in the mix ... Yes we neglect the smaller ones which will play no role in our future -- Oracle is one of them," Bernd Leukert, ‎member of the executive board of SAP SE, products & innovation, told journalists in a briefing on Tuesday.

Also on Wednesday, SAP Ariba announced a partnership with IBM Watson that will see the pair combining to bring intelligence from procurement data together with predictive insights from unstructured data, in a bid to aid customers with enterprise-wide procurement.

Disclosure: Asha McLean travelled to Sapphire Now as a guest of SAP.

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