Machine learning, A.I to follow on the priority list for businesses: SAP

SAP believes the next technology adoption phase for businesses will be around how they can use intelligent applications to assist them with their operations.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor on

While assisting customers through their digital transformation is the current priority for SAP, CEO Bill McDermott has predicted over the next five to 10 years the hype will be around machine learning, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality.

"I think very strongly that intelligent applications will fundamentally change the way you do work in the enterprise and the way you collaborate with your trading partners outside of the enterprise," he said during his keynote at 2016 SAP Sapphire Now.

He went on to say it's no longer viable for businesses to just automate internal processes, rather the future needs to focus on using automated systems to make intelligent predictions.

"This idea of CRM and SFA -- that's dead; everybody has got that. We're not just automating internal sales process anymore so the sales director has a sales forecast that makes sense. You know why? Even with all that technology investment you still only have about 22 percent confidence on the sales forecast, while other companies have 44 percent, so there's something wrong with the sales forecast," he said.

"We need the system to tell us what to do. Based on algorithms of that data and inputs that are in that data bank, we need to be able to advise you on what the next step for your sale cycle, who you should meet with, and what the expected outcomes are and what the level of probability would be on you striking a deal."

At the same time, McDermott said the appeal of using machine learning as part of business processes is that it will "liberate workers".

"The difficult, tedious tasks will get essentially helped out a lot by the technology. For example, if you're matching a job candidate and profile in the human capital management department, or you're selling a product as a retailer and on social media you're getting a lot of feedback, the machine will learn what that feedback is and make a decision on what the response should be based on what is going on," he said.

SAP chief operating officer Christian Klein further echoed this with a demonstration of how SAP has been using the Digital Boardroom to turn big data into insights, before using it to take action.

The company first announced the Digital Boardroom at last year's Sapphire event, which it touted at the time would "contextualise and simplify performance reporting across all areas of business in real-time". It is built on SAP's Cloud for Analytics and runs data from the SAP S/4 HANA platform. It looks at data from inside as well as outside the company, including risk value by country, stock performance, and analyst estimates.

One industry that McDermott believes intelligent applications will significantly impact is healthcare, saying it will help solve some of the difficult challenges that are currently faced.

"I don't understand why we can have great first responders, nurses, doctors, surgeons but we still have an archaic medical record system. The patient needs something digital, they need somebody to know them...I can't understand why we can't put an electronic record in a secure cloud that is aligned to one individual, and if they provide the authorisation for people to see their history and they can go from one person to another seamlessly ...I believe they should do that."

SAP's commitment to helping customers gain access to valuable data follows on from the company's pledge to be more "empathetic".

"We have to care. And it only happens when you're empathetic and intellectually curious at all times," said McDermott. "If we don't get it right on Monday, we'll get it right on Friday. We are now a customer driven company."

Disclosure: Aimee Chanthadavong travelled to 2016 SAP Sapphire Now courtesy of SAP.

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