Since its SAPPHIRE conference in mid-2018, SAP has been working hard to give more shape to the Intelligent Enterprise message. This Intelligent Enterprise combines human intelligence as well as possible with smart technology, i.e. applying newer technologies to business processes. Data plays a crucial role in this message because the Intelligent Enterprise is a true data-driven Enterprise.
When you talk about intelligent organizations, you soon think of hyped technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). According to SAP, we shouldn’t separate this from the Intelligent Enterprise and look beyond that hype. In this way, you really become an intelligent organization.
Within these companies of tomorrow, or in some cases already today, employees are assisted in such a way that they become better at their work and can focus on tasks that matter. For example, SAP provides customer service employees with insights to act proactively, ensuring customer satisfaction and possibly retaining dissatisfied customers.
To make this possible, data must be handled efficiently. In order to gain more insight into this link with data, we decided to talk to Gerd Danner, vice president EMEA Centre of Excellence for Information Management within SAP. Danner is involved in all kinds of data disciplines and can, therefore, tell us more about the role of data within the Intelligent Enterprise.
Combining data with intelligence
Danner immediately draws our attention to the growing amount of data that is generated every minute. According to Danner, the cloud providers have a major role to play in this, making it affordable to store a zettabyte (1 billion terabytes) of data. Numbers we couldn’t imagine much about ten years ago, but because of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and customer data, for example, they are now realistic.
The enterprise systems on the market today are inextricably linked to the storage of that data. One can think of AWS and Microsoft Azure, but SAP itself is also capable of processing large volumes. Because all these systems store data, it is possible to use the data as food for the intelligent technologies that form the basis for intelligent organizations. In the case of the Intelligent Enterprise message, the focus is on AI, machine learning and automation. In a sense, the ideal intelligent organization is linked to SAP’s more famous AI engine Leonardo.
Intelligent applications use digital platform
For Intelligent Enterprises, SAP delivers data-driven applications with built-in intelligence. The ERP giant has its digital platform for this, which includes S/4HANA (ERP) and C/4HANA (CRM). As a result, data is stored in the SAP systems in order to apply technologies from the Leonardo framework to them. The company’s own systems therefore already form a solid basis for the Intelligent Enterprise message. The company’s own sources contain a lot of unique data.
Nevertheless, SAP, with its digital platform, must look a step further, by also having an eye for data from other sources. The German company has the so-called SAP Data Hub at its disposal for this purpose. This solution makes it possible to manage data from connected systems. It does not matter whether it concerns an older on-premise SAP ECC installation or object storage systems of one of the cloud hyperscalers. The Data Hub has an eye for all kinds of enterprise applications that contain crucial data, such as Oracle databases and a Hadoop Distributed File System.
This makes the Data Hub an enrichment for SAP’s digital platform. A user can use this solution to set up his own data pipelines. In order to realize these data pipelines, standard connectors for various databases and platforms are available. The list of connectors will be sufficient for many companies, although SAP will, of course, continue to expand the list during new releases. As a result, support for databases and platforms that some users may miss may be added later on.
From the Data Hub, intelligent algorithms can also be used. Here, too, Leonardo offers a way out, but there is just as well a role for Apache Spark, for example.
Open ecosystem crucial
With the Data Hub, active efforts are being made to establish connections with other systems. This is something that is expected of IT suppliers nowadays since data from any source can be important for their own solutions. Almost all SaaS, PaaS and IaaS suppliers aim for a certain level of openness. While SAP with the Data Hub responds to the collection of data from other solutions, it is also important for the ERP giant to make data from its systems accessible. Other IT solutions are, in fact, partly dependent on data from SAP systems in order to realize intelligence. A true Intelligent Enterprise is therefore dependent on a multitude of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS suppliers.
A good example of a party that also creates intelligent organizations is SAP partner Celonis. Celonis’ software crawls into enterprise data from a variety of systems to perform an MRI scan of the business processes so that processes can be further optimized. It relies heavily on data from ERP systems.
Celonis told us earlier how data extraction from SAP systems works. According to the process mining vendor, extraction is generally quite simple. The easiest way is to use S/4HANA Cloud, as the cloud APIs enable communication between them. But even when using on-premise ERP, which can also be S/4HANA, data extraction usually does not cause any problems. A partner like Celonis shows that SAP itself also cooperates sufficiently in data sharing, which makes the whole story work both ways.
Danner says that SAP strives for applications that are as open as possible, but that there is a difference per application. That in itself is logical because the portfolio of SAP solutions is quite large. Although every solution may not yet have reached the desired level, the ambition is to ultimately move towards the 90 to 100 percent openness per SAP application.
The broad Intelligent Enterprise
As far as we are concerned, SAP is demonstrating that it is on the right track to support the Intelligent Enterprise. It has an eye for data from its own systems, from systems of other IT suppliers and opens its systems to other parties. The latter is an important point for a general Intelligent Enterprise message. Solutions from other IT suppliers also contribute to an intelligent organization. For example, a Qlik analytics application that extracts data from an ERP system could be a good example. These kinds of solutions also promote an Intelligent Enterprise.
In addition, SAP also looks at the further development of its Intelligent Enterprise message. During Mobile World Congress, there was the announcement that the Internet of Things (IoT) should become more part of business processes. For this purpose, for example, it has entered into a partnership with Microsoft, so that Azure IoT Hub can be used as the connectivity and device management layer for IoT telemetry data. This data is forwarded to Leonardo IoT, as we indicated in a previous message. Again, the data are central.
At MWC, SAP showed us that it is far from finished with the further development of its ideal Intelligent Enterprise and the IoT part of it. During the upcoming SAPPHIRE event, which is planned for mid-May, we could expect more about this. In any case, we will continue to keep an eye on it here at Techzine.