Over the past few decades, technological advancements have created powerful computers that are smaller and more affordable than ever, making advanced mathematics tools more accessible to businesses. These tools—dubbed “intelligent technologies”—allow businesses to dig deep into their existing pools of data for analysis and business insight. Through the use of algorithms and automation, companies can complement their existing manual business processes with automated and digital options. This move from manual to digital processes is known as “digital transformation."
As a leading software vendor, SAP has been on the leading edge of adding “smart,” intelligent technologies to its product portfolio and functionalities.
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Before we dive into specific SAP intelligent technologies and solutions, there are a handful of key, system-agnostic technologies that should be discussed. These can help businesses develop greater efficiency and lower costs. Here is a look at each:
Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the techniques that allow a machine to replicate a human action. AI has been around in various forms for decades. For example, automated phone directories replaced the traditional operator who would connect callers with the department or person they were looking to speak with. Similarly, chatbots have been integrated into many online help portals such as on Microsoft.com, providing users with common troubleshooting help and linking to relevant articles that will help solve problems.
A type of AI, machine learning is focused on the process of determining and defining relationships between data so stakeholders can make more-informed decisions. Often used for large data sets where there is no immediate identifiable pattern in the data, machine learning algorithms can be programmed to both look for certain trends as well as learn from the data it parses, continually updating its analytical capabilities.
There are numerous machine learning algorithms available to analysts. These include linear regression, naïve Bayes, k-means, and Monte Carlo. These algorithms become even more powerful when partnered with other intelligent technologies like robotic process automation (RPA).
Blockchain is a decentralized ledger that utilizes a peer-to-peer network to provide greater transparency for transactions. First popularized in the late 2000s by the founders of Bitcoin, the technology’s use increased during the 2010s as companies looked to improve financial reporting capabilities.
Blockchain groups transactions into containers called blocks; each block is then hashed to link it to parent and child blocks. This provides a holistic look at all transactions across the entire ledger, meaning those viewing it can see where items came from and where they went. For example, those interested in purchasing sustainably grown or harvested food products may patronize companies that can prove, via blockchain, where their products came from.
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to interconnectivity among assets and devices, allowing them to talk to and interact with one another. This leads to a whole host of advantages for stakeholders. For those that create and use assets to provide services for others, IoT provides important feedback mechanisms on things like user behavior, component wear, and other maintenance needs.
Those that have IoT-enabled devices in their homes can use them to make certain recurring tasks easier. For example, smart thermostats can learn from your daily temperature adjustments and automatically begin to make these changes without you having to get up and change it yourself.
SAP has been adding “smart” functionalities to its product suite over the past decade. Solutions such as SAP Predictive Analytics and SAP SuccessFactors’ Intelligent Services tool have been available since as early as 2008, helping users collect historical data and make predictions about future results.
Intelligent technologies have also been integrated into SAP’s current business suite, SAP S/4HANA. For example, machine learning capabilities were added in 2017 in order to perform easier goods and invoice receipt reconciliation, as well as automate invoice assignments. Predictive accounting functionality was subsequently added to the SAP S/4HANA Finance line of business in 2018.
As the demand for intelligent technologies grew in the mid 2010s, SAP launched the SAP Leonardo toolset in 2017, which consisted of services in areas such as IoT, machine learning, analytics, blockchain, and big data. In 2019, SAP began breaking each of these out into its own area of development. These make up the majority of SAP’s current intelligent technologies suite of products.
Here is a non-exclusive list of SAP intelligent technology-based solutions.
The Business Entity Recognition Service is a machine learning-based service that reads incoming unstructured documents, pulls relevant information out, and performs tasks based on the information it read.
SAP AI Business Services is a cloud-based tool for businesses to use when wanting to add AI and machine learning capabilities to their business operations.
SAP Analytics Cloud is a software-as-a-service with a platform of tools and functionalities for data visualization, data analysis, and business planning.
SAP Blockchain Business Services is a tool for business stakeholders to use when working together. It provides a transparent, neutral infrastructure for all parties to have a single source of business data available for decision making and pursuing business opportunities. It is available in two versions: SAP Blockchain service service for blockchain-based application development, and SAP HANA Blockchain service for connecting external blockchains to an SAP HANA database.
SAP has also released blockchain functionality for supply chain solutions like SAP Logistics Business Network, a material traceability option, SAP Information Collaboration Hub for Life Sciences, and an option for the United States supply chain, to name a few.
SAP Conversational AI is a platform for developers to use in creating digital assistants known as chatbots. It was formerly known as SAP CoPilot and includes functionality from SAP’s acquisition of Recast.ai in 2018.
SAP Data Intelligence is a cloud service that combines artificial intelligence and machine learning to better use siloed data and bring together the IT and data science departments of an organization.
SAP Edge Services is a product that helps process data at the edge, rather than having to transport it to a central repository first, cutting down on processing time and storage needs.
SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation (SAP Intelligent RPA) is a tool for automating repetitive, rule-based tasks by using machine learning to train bots to complete these tasks after watching users perform them.
SAP Internet of Things is a data-based solution that takes information gathered from the various IoT-enabled devices and assets in a business and uses it with business data to provide a more holistic look at business results.
SAP Predictive Analytics is a solution that takes existing business data and provides useful and actionable results.
Spotlight by SAP is a tool that measures the performance of manual business tasks and provides feedback on where inefficiencies are occurring and automation may help.
As these intelligent technologies are fleshed out in the SAP S/4HANA suite, their functionalities will eventually be ported into all SAP solutions.
In addition to the information laid out above, there are a handful of important intelligent technology terms and SAP solutions you should also know:
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