With latest SAP S/4HANA cloud release, SAP begins automation process march

SAP prefers the intelligent process automation term over robotic process automation, but the end result is the same. More automation using machine learning and artificial intelligence.

SAP S/4 HANA's latest cloud ERP release is the first volley in adding more robotics process automation into the enterprise software vendor's portfolio. Last month at SAP TechEd, the company outlined its investment in intelligent robotics process automation (RPA) with the aim of automating repetitive processes across its suite.

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SAP's Franck Cohen, SAP's President of Digital Core and Industries, said the company prefers IPA (intelligent process automation) over RPA since it is more malleable to changing data flows.

RPA software is captures rules that govern process transactions, manipulate data and transact with computer systems. From there, processes are automated. Today, companies like Blue Prism are early pioneers in RPA. SAP's spin is using IPA to automate processes as content changes.

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With quarterly cloud releases for ERP -- a cadence that goes beyond the typical twice a year cycle in software as a service -- SAP is planning to layer in more machine learning, artificial intelligence and process automation. The latest release of SAP S/4HANA includes 56 algorithms embedded, up from nothing less than 18 months ago. "We decided the way to differentiate ourselves is a massive investment in machine learning and AI," said Cohen. "We want a hands free ERP solution with natural language processing and automating everything that can be."

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The company's broader goal is to automate half of its ERP platform by the end of 2020. "We will have hundreds of algorithms available next year," added Cohen. Ultimately, SAP's master plan is to connect its ERP automation to the broader platform. SAP unveils C/4HANA, aims to revamp CRM, leverage its ERP base

In its November release of SAP S/4HANA Cloud (release 1811), the company built out scenarios for manufacturing and professional services industries. Automation has been added for better supply and demand matching, fulfillment accuracy and supply chain visibility.

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The November release also includes resource management tools to make sure projects at services companies are properly staffed with people who have the right skills.

SAP S/4HANA Cloud also includes supplier performance prediction to gauge delivery lead time at purchase, project raw material shipments and inventory. The company also added tools to identify the costliest maintenance activities and analyze spending.

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On the back end, Cohen also noted that SAP S/4HANA Cloud gets a heavy dose of new application programming interfaces. According to Cohen SAP's cloud ERP flagship now has 3,000 APIs. "Every object we have is now exposed," he said. That API total is up from 1,800 in the last quarterly update.

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