Much has been said over the years concerning SAP’s strategy to enable Intelligent Enterprises. I’ve written this blog to explain in simple terms what characterises an Intelligent Enterprise and what they do differently from traditional enterprises, and how SAP technology supports their enablement. I also provide some tangible examples of Intelligent processes.
Typically, these enterprises are using next-generation technologies to enable highly innovative, automated, ‘intelligent’ business processes that drive differentiation and competitive advantage. We’ve known about Industry Best practices for many years, whereby enterprises standardise on industry processes that are typically non-differentiating. Intelligent Enterprises go a step further and look to reimagine how they perform their processes within their specific businesses and value chains and thereby move into the realm of what we call ‘next practices’ which are designed to differentiate and not simply achieve parity with industry peers.
These enterprises extract significant value from data to learn from, predict outcomes, and drive efficiencies, often with real-time data visibility so they can respond to process exceptions. Traditional businesses typically respond too late to crucial events and are therefore less agile in responding to exceptions/problems in a process.
Other typical characteristics of intelligent enterprises are:
- User-centric-consumer grade applications and user interfaces are available on any device to drive high productivity, fast adoption, and customer satisfaction. For example, when you walk into many Apple Stores, each salesperson effectively has a point of sale on their mobile device so customers don’t have to queue to pay. Simple, yet effective differentiation.
- High levels of automation. This is not just automation that replaces manual repetitive tasks, but more intelligent automation that uses AI, machine learning, RPA, and predictive analytics to correlate data, predict outcomes, and support complex decision-making processes.
- A Cloud architecture focus so they can adopt new innovations very quickly with regular updates (high on the innovation curve) but at the same time have a lower TCO and risk to adopt change.
- Deeply integrated within their industry value chain with a focus on sustainability. Many consumers want to trust and seek traceability across the entire value system so that they know they are buying ethically and sustainably sourced products. This is where an industry blockchain has huge potential to bring together regulators, suppliers, and customers in a transparent, trusted relationship. Not being able to achieve this transparency and provide sustainability evidence could become a barrier to doing business in the not-to-distant future.
How does SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) enable the Intelligent Enterprise?
This capability is predominantly underpinned by SAP’s Business Technology Platform (BTP), the cornerstone of SAP’s innovation and Cloud strategy. Whether you are using SuccessFactors, S/4HANA, Industry Cloud Solutions, or other SAP applications, BTP is the glue that connects everything together to enable and orchestrate these more innovative business processes across multiple applications (SAP and non-SAP). The platform contains technologies to support building automation workflows, low code applications with great user interfaces, integrations, blockchain services, digital twins, big data analytics, portal access, and other emerging technologies.
One of the challenges we’ve seen with many SAP clients when engaging with BTP, is ‘we know there’s a lot in the box, but how do we use the right components to deliver the business outcome required?’ What SAP has done is to provide a large number of pre-built use cases on the platform called ‘missions’ which makes BTP accessible to the novice. You can use these to start dipping your toe in the water around some typical use cases and then look to expand into key differentiating areas for your business. You can find a catalog of these missions in the SAP Discovery Centre.
What are some practical examples of how ‘intelligent business processes’ can be enabled by SAP technology?
VALUE CHAIN BLOCKCHAIN: One of the great examples I like to share is where one of our partners ArkTree implemented a blockchain solution to drive trust and traceability through the value chain of the wool industry. Producers/farmers, brokers/buyers, processors, and retailers are all supply chain actors on a blockchain capturing private, consortium/semi-private, and/or public events that happen throughout the value chain, ensuring trust through to the final consumer.
MAINTENANCE: Typically, maintenance organisations maintain equipment based on time or certain thresholds being reached but this isn’t necessarily the best way to optimise resources. You service your car once a year or every 15,000 km, but that doesn’t tell you how hard you drove the car. Intelligent maintenance organisations go a step further and use technologies to monitor and predict when failure will occur and triggers maintenance at the most appropriate time.
For example: aircraft turbine manufacturers are constantly monitoring streams of data from every commercial airline to predict failure. Traditional paradigms can cause over-maintenance or maintenance on failure, both of which result in higher maintenance costs. Intelligent enterprises put user-centric applications in the hands of their technicians. Taking a photo of the damaged part on a mobile application is enough for the system to create a maintenance order, identify, and place the order for the required parts.
HUMAN RESOURCES: From an HR standpoint, the aim is to retain critical talent. How often do you lose a key employee because you didn’t see the signs and responded too late? SAP SuccessFactors can transform data and metrics into personalised suggestions and recommendations that improve decision-making around successors, compensation plans, and hiring candidates. Workforce analytics can analyse patterns to identify employee flight risk.
FINANCE: Traditional businesses have large teams reconciling incoming payments to get their bank statements reconciled to establish some resemblance of an up-to-date cash flow report. Whereas finance teams leveraging intelligent technologies, focus more on strategic tasks and service quality to their organisations because they use machine learning to automate the matching of incoming payments.
Implementing Intelligent Processes is becoming crucial to maintaining industry positioning, and establishing differentiation and competitive advantage. Next-generation technologies, (like many of those found on the SAP Business Technology Platform) have reduced technology constraints to developing Intelligent processes and applications. This gives more leeway to draw way outside of the lines and reimagine how you might do business as an Intelligent Enterprise.
Andrew is a seasoned Technology Executive with 23 years of business and SAP technology transformation leadership across consulting advisory, enterprise, and solution architecture disciplines. Andrew is a highly versatile professional with strategic and operational skills in technology and commercial disciplines and has proven success in architecting solutions to support global business transformation initiatives across the USA, EMEA, and APAC. Andrew’s experience covers divestiture carve-outs, ERP platform consolidation programs through mergers and acquisitions, greenfield ERP installations and upgrades, and continuous business improvement initiatives.