The German technology giant recently announced a raft of new business tools designed to help companies tackle digital transformation, with the aim of enabling firms of all kinds benefit from data analytics
As digital transformation continues to gather pace, SAP has developed a range of business tools designed to enable access to advanced data analysis for businesses big and small. Andrew Fawthrop reports.
On the European leg of its 2019 TechEd conference tour in Barcelona last week, German technology firm SAP revealed several product updates geared towards helping businesses of all types futureproof themselves against digital changes in the marketplace.
Beneath the surface of the announcements ran a theme of democratising access to modern IT infrastructure, so that any company – no matter how advanced its digital capabilities – can benefit from tools designed to exploit the virtues of technology and data management.
For SAP, the focus for achieving this equality has been to develop closer integration between the various data analytics tools it offers and its cloud-based infrastructure – making the process of digital transformation simpler, more accessible and less dependent on existing physical IT systems.
The idea is to combine the disparate elements of traditional data analytics – such as business intelligence, predictive analytics or planning – into more of a “one stop shop”, so that decision-makers across all levels of a business have the tools they need all in one place, rather than having to switch between multiple applications.
The development of this “business technology platform” was described by SAP CTO Juergen Mueller as a way to help any organisation make “smarter, faster and more-confident business decisions”, characterised by “high levels of openness and flexibility”.
There is no doubt digital disruption is occurring across industries of all kinds, and the challenge for companies is to harness the power of technology and tap into the opportunities it offers by understanding its full potential.
SAP business tools aim to extend the power of tech to a broader user base
Traditionally, firms with the biggest IT budgets and departments have held a significant technology advantage over their less well-resourced rivals, by virtue of being able to task teams of data scientists with the extraction of valuable insights from the information produced by daily business processes.
But the integration of analytics tools with cloud computing is beginning to weaken that advantage, by making it easier and cheaper for a smaller enterprise to collect and derive value from data.
SAP president of platform and technologies Irfan Khan said: “Over the past two decades of IT, the vast majority of investment has gone into creating specialised teams to build specialised infrastructure.
“That’s all well and good, but if you are a large organisation you probably had a high level of competence around that.
“If you are a new, competing organisation you probably still want to compete on those foundations but you don’t have that five, 10, 20 years of legacy to be able to draw upon.
“This is why the foundation of cloud – and having all the integrations of analytics and data management coming together – means that not a single customer will feel disadvantaged from their starting point.
“The idea is that with conversational AI, the foundation of machine learning or the ability to start using more digital assistance, the evolution of the user experience means you don’t expect to be sitting in a technical capacity orchestrating how technology can support your business.
“We’re broadening the scope of analytics by providing the tools for the management of information along with all the infrastructure around that.
“And then the analytics that you can infer is a lot more powerful for every user – not just a subset we traditionally used to call ‘power users’.”
SAP business tools put the user ‘right inside’ the heart of business operations
The move by SAP to align itself closer with everyday business operations has been a conscious decision, having recognised that the digital transformation sweeping across industries is compelling businesses of all types to become data-driven.
Vice president of product marketing for the SAP analytics portfolio David Williams explained: “As every industry becomes a data driven industry, this is where the digital transformation comes into play – organisations need to run a modern infrastructure that can support that.
“The capabilities need to be used pervasively, and one of the ways to do that is to make it easier to use – so you don’t need a data scientist to summon some of these advanced analytics.
“That’s one element, but the other is actually embedding analytics into end-to-end business processes themselves.
“Before there were separate tools where you could access the data you need, but it was not real time, it was after the fact.
“Now it’s right inside of where you work, you’ve got the context and live access to the data you need – instead of having to jump around all these different tools.
“As a professional you want to have all the tools available to you in one system right where you work – so the value comes from the simplicity of it, but also the timing side of things.
“The data you see is live and real time, so you don’t have to worry that it’s out of date or unavailable.
“You want to know that the data you’re looking at is accurate, and to be able to access it when you need it.”
SAP business tools help firms become ‘experience businesses’
As developed economies continue to shift away from being based on the supply of goods towards services and experiences, customer expectations are also changing.
Businesses hoping to thrive in this new environment will need to embrace data analysis and the insights it can offer about their customers’ preferences and what they think about the company.
SAP’s head of product management for its integration platform, Harsh Jegadeesan, said: “As a business, you’re more successful if you make beautiful experiences – for your employees, for your customers and your partners.
“People remember things based on the experiences that they have.
“If people remember you and they are happy with the experience you provide, they will develop a connection to your brand – and so you can then build a cult around it.
“Businesses can become experience businesses by learning how they are currently faring.
“They have access to a lot of data – and if you are able to combine it and understand it all, you will be able to fine tune the experience better.”
SAP business tools can improve transparency and ethical considerations in the supply chain
Jegadeesan gave the example of PostNL – a Dutch postal company that adapted its existing business model to become equipped for the e-commerce environment, having witnessed the decline of traditional postal services.
PostNL realised it possessed a wealth of unique and valuable data on “last mile connectivity” – the fine details relevant to mail and parcel delivery like letter box size, the number of stairs to an apartment or customer delivery preferences.
Jegadeesan said: “Post NL wanted to figure out new growth streams. It could see the parcel business was growing, and wanted to find ways to move into the e-commerce ecosystem.
“It built an online order channel based on an application programming interface (API), so if you are a web shop you can integrate directly with it and have all the orders and parcels going through that.
“It opened up its data and charges people money to use it via a consumption-based model – it’s a complete business transformation.”
But it is not just the variety of services a company is able to offer that customers are demanding more from – there is growing scrutiny of corporate transparency and ethical behaviour right through the supply chain.
And developing greater awareness and traceability of the data flowing across the entire supply chain can help companies to respond better to these new expectations.
Khan added: “If you look at the challenges we had with diesel cars which became heavily pollutant, and some of the cover up that was going on by certain automotive manufacturers – that’s created even more awareness now on the consumers’ part.
“Everybody wants to have a foundation of trust with whoever the supplier is, so firms have had to go down a completely different path of understanding what the supply chain looks like.
“That means understanding everything about the assembly of these vehicles – especially with autonomous vehicles coming down the way.
“Or in the pharmaceuticals industry, it’s important to have traceability for certain drugs to make sure they’re not counterfeit – particularly in the developing world where you tend find a lot of knock off medicine that comes into the supply chain.
“And while people may not have the ability to pay for the full branded versions, you still want to make sure they’re ethically produced and sourced, and that there is isn’t any pollution going into that supply chain of drugs.”