At this year’s recently held SAP Sapphire Now conference in Orlando, Florida, a key theme for the company was introducing machine learning to its HANA (high-performance analytic appliance) cloud platform.

CEO Bill McDermott predicted that over the next five to 10 years machine learning, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality will increasingly come to the fore: “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.

McDermott went on to say that machine learning has the capabilities to help businesses make more informed decisions around how they can better serve their end-customer. “We need the system to tell us what to do,” he said. “Based on algorithms of that data and inputs that are in that data bank, we need to be able to advise you on the next step for your sales 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,” McDermott said.


One industry SAP plans to apply machine learning to is healthcare, with McDermott saying it will help solve some of the difficult challenges that the industry is currently facing.

“I don’t understand why we can have great first responders, nurses, doctors, surgeons; but we still have an archaic medical record system,” McDermott said.

“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,” McDermott said.


SAP said it also plans to use machine learning to help tackle gender bias. Using capabilities within its SAP SuccessFactors HCM Suite, SAP plans to help companies identify and track where bias exists in talent acquisition and management processes, with hope it will address any workplace biases.

Despite these plans, it’s still the early days for SAP when it comes to machine learning and combining it with data, said SAP executive board member Bernd Leukert, who believes it’s a “completely new business” that requires new business models, and one that will receive dedicated investments going forward.


Three Key Takeaways:

  • SAP plans to use machine learning to help customers stay competitive by personalising the end-customer journey.
  • Specific focus areas in which SAP plans to use machine learning include in the boardroom, to tackle gender bias, and to develop new applications.
  • SAP is taking its analytics business a step further with machine learning, which further signifies another phase of the company’s transformation process into the cloud.


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