I had the opportunity to attend the ASUG Executive Exchange session at SAP Sapphire & ASUG Annual Conference in Orlando, where topics ranged from AI to cloud migration and SAP reskilling. I found the conversation engaging and strategic, offering leaders in the room practical advice for navigating today’s technology landscape.

AI, especially generative AI, was a big conversation topic throughout the day and on the keynote stage at the larger conference. SAP CEO Christian Klein told his audience the company is “entering a new phase of AI with endless possibilities,” vowing to embed “generative AI across our stack to once again revolutionize how businesses are run and how end users will work in the future.”

With AI top of mind for so many SAP customers, Jared Coyle, Head of AI for North America at SAP, was a featured speaker and provided some context around the technology.

Coyle emphasized that what’s needed across the SAP ecosystem is a common understanding of AI’s terms, concepts, and limitations. For example, the large language models (LLMs) used in generative AI still have very little context t, adding that an LLM works similarly to the way the brain works by relying on all it has learned to make new calculations.

When it comes to how these models work, they're more or less trained once and then provide these sequential predictions. The upside of this is that it is extremely natural, Coyle noted. The downside, of course, is that it unavoidably contains all the bias and discrimination of the underlying data set it was given.

Coyle highlighted three areas enterprises should focus on when thinking about AI adoption within their organizations: embedded capabilities that turn on AI within existing systems, bolt-on AI tools and services from external providers, and custom-built AI solutions such as creating retrieval augmented generation models for specific business needs.

For its part, SAP is committed to investing in AI and driving the next generation of AI-centric use cases for business, Coyle noted. SAP’s focus is to make AI more natural and user-friendly, to deliver customized capabilities, and to improve how LLMs use tabular data – a capability that will transform use cases for enterprises

ASUG CEO & Chief Community Champion Geoff Scott and Matt Schwartz, Global Head of AWS SAP Alliance and Partner Network for AWS, meanwhile, discussed innovation and customer focus; one of the standout issues, however, was their discussion on transitioning to the cloud.

While many SAP customer executives are still deciding which path to cloud they will follow, many are challenged with maintaining existing platforms; this remains a time- and resource-intensive endeavor. Schwartz noted the many conversations he has had with customers in which they’ve expressed a desire to modernize and upgrade SAP implementations but reported that they often have multiple ongoing projects, and many of them involve keeping the lights on.

Still, most agreed that enterprises need to prepare for what’s coming. And time is of the essence. Successfully transitioning to SAP S/4HANA in the cloud, for example, involves significant time, complexity, and transformation. Organizations must carefully consider current and emerging business requirements against new SAP technical architectures and then assess the pros and cons of their options—to pursue a one-step approach from on-premises to the cloud with RISE with SAP resources or to take a two-step approach by first lifting-and-shifting current workloads to the cloud. While there are risks associated with the two-part approach (such as getting stuck if your environment changes or no longer supports the transition to SAP S/4HANA as planned), there are also challenges related to moving with RISE with SAP in terms of identifying and allocating resources, developing effective integration strategies, ensuring data security and authorized access, and managing disruptions to business operations and processes.

Analysis suggests the one-step approach may be more beneficial, according to Schwartz. While this is not a trivial undertaking because the process of creating a compelling business case for change is a prerequisite for success, the chances of achieving positive outcomes are significantly enhanced by picking the right partner to build the technological foundation that will support business transformation objectives. He also encouraged executives to fully understand the range of incentives SAP offers to support modernization and upgrade strategies that can be accommodated in the design of SAP’s upgrade contracts.

Longtime ERP analysts Jon Reed, Co-Founder of Diginomica, and Joshua Greenbaum, Principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, offered the advice that, as many SAP customers continue to sort out their plans for transitioning to SAP S/4HANA and adopting some of SAP’s new products and services, they’ll need to actively engage with SAP, voice their concerns, and push back when necessary to make informed decisions that best suit their unique business requirements.

The two pointed to the potential benefits of recent SAP investments, including SAP Cloud ALM, SAP Signavio for process management, and LeanIX (which SAP acquired in November 2023) for architecture management. ​But to capitalize fully on these, customers will need to take an active role in enterprise-wide data governance and not solely rely on SAP for solutions.

Kris Cowles, CIO at Topcon Positioning Systems and an ASUG Board Member, and Jan Gilg, President and Chief Product Officer, Cloud ERP at SAP, also addressed the audience for a discussion about the public cloud. Both stressed the importance of keeping a clean core in the private cloud to make upgrades easier and consume innovation more efficiently. They also touched on a few of the priorities involved with moving from private to public cloud, including data migration, compatibility, change management, and organizational readiness.

Join us Aug. 20–22 at the ASUG Executive Exchange 2024 Summer Summit in Seattle for two full days of interactive discussions, workshops, and conversations with thought leaders, your peers, SAP, and the partner ecosystem. We will break down the business challenges our members face and talk through real-world solutions for today and tomorrow.

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