Continuous education, technology modernization, and community engagement took center stage at ASUG Tech Connect, a new in-person learning experience for the SAP community.

Held across three days last week in New Orleans, the conference (Nov. 7-9; at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center) brought together technical practitioners, enterprise architects, and SAP experts for more than 130 sessions around topics including data and analytics, integration, application development and automation, and SAP technology fundamentals.

Kicking off the inaugural event with an energetic Tuesday morning keynote was ASUG CEO & Chief Community Champion Geoff Scott; following a rousing musical performance by the Joyful Gospel Choir, he welcomed attendees to the Big Easy before sharing insights on the need for members of the ASUG community to learn, connect, and grow in order to maximize their SAP technology investments.

“If I could boil today down into one simple word, it would be learning,” he told attendees, sharing ASUG research on SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP) and encouraging all in the audience to seek out new connections while on the ground in New Orleans. “We know, as ASUG, that collaboration is the heart of innovation,” he said. “In-person experiences like this, where you are this week, are where ideas flourish and solutions evolve.”

80% of ASUG members surveyed in recent research either currently use or are considering SAP BTP. "Regardless of where you're at in your journey, BTP is going to be the foundation for all of us," said Scott, advising attendees to "think [throughout] this week about everything that you need to make your technology landscape grow."

"Never Stop Learning"

Juergen Mueller, Chief Technology Officer at SAP and Member of the SAP SE Executive Board, joined Scott on stage for the opening keynote to share SAP announcements and highlight how the company’s emerging solutions, all running on SAP BTP, will help customers drive better business outcomes. 

Mueller introduced major announcements made Nov. 3 at TechEd in Bangalore, India, including SAP Build Code, a new vector database for SAP HANA Cloud, and the AI Foundation and its embedded generative AI hub, while also emphasizing the evolving importance of SAP Business Technology Platform as the unified environment that will support each of these innovations. Calling it a “foundational element” of the SAP product portfolio, and one of the company’s most important components (alongside its SAP S/4HANA solution for cloud ERP), Mueller especially focused on SAP BTP’s application development, data and analytics, integration, and AI capabilities.

SAP is infusing generative AI into all its central cloud solutions and technologies via Joule, a generative-AI digital assistant, part of its effort to enable enterprises to build their own applications and improve developer productivity in working with generative AI and large language models.

For those seeking to develop in integrated hybrid cloud landscapes, the recent announcements (also including new generative-AI capabilities and deeper integration between SAP Build Process Automation, SAP Signavio, and SAP Integration Suite) will support hybrid deployments and customers operating heterogeneous environments. 

Having flown directly from Bangalore—a 34-hour journey—to attend ASUG Tech Connect in New Orleans, Mueller also shared with attendees a personal story about the value of learning, explaining that his grandmother had to drop out of her secondary-school education in Germany after the family was unable to afford the added cost of compulsory foreign-language classes. 

“Never stop learning," he said. "That was one learning for me: If you have the opportunity to learn, like here at ASUG Tech Connect, make use of that opportunity.”

"We Have to Stay Curious"

Mueller and Scott then welcomed Scott Guthrie, Executive Vice President, Cloud + AI Group, Microsoft, to the stage for a detailed discussion of generative AI and its potential business applications through leveraging enterprise data, which included a demonstration of the use of SAP Analytics Cloud with generative AI to generate emails and business reports.

“We’re on the cusp of an absolutely tremendous period of technology evolution and revolution in the world,” said Guthrie, reflecting on Microsoft’s embrace of generative AI within its 30-year partnership with SAP. “We do believe that generative AI will be the single biggest technology innovation that we've seen so far in our lifetimes,” he added, calling it a “catalyst” for lasting change.

"You're going to see every application go through a transformation in the next couple of years, when natural-language and generative-AI models are used," Guthrie added. "Rather than having to always go into a separate application, you're going to be able to start to pull data together."

Microsoft is actively building and developing some of the world's largest generative AI models while leveraging the power of the cloud to train and create those models. In addition, the company is focused on securing more graphics processing units (GPUs) for its data centers in order to meet demand for cloud-based AI services.

Guthrie reflected that the integration of its GPT-4-powered chatbot into Microsoft Teams was a particularly eye-opening moment for him. "You can use it inside of meetings, and it will listen to conversations and summarize them instead of just [providing] the transcript," he explained. Using it during a recent Microsoft board meeting, Guthrie noticed GPT-4 was even capable of evaluating whether those in the meeting had reached consensus on a particular subject. 

"The model was able to understand that someone in the room didn't have consensus, and yet people in the room didn't even realize that that person didn't have consensus," Guthrie recalled. "It was kind of stunning to me that it could actually pick up that subtlety about the conversation." 

Together with SAP, Microsoft is investing significantly in joint generative AI projects and data; earlier this year, both companies announced the integration of SAP SuccessFactors solutions with Microsoft’s 365 Copilot and Azure OpenAI Service to access language models and generate natural language. 

“We’re both deeply collaborative and each other’s best customers,” added Guthrie, noting that both Microsoft and SAP run many of their internal systems on SAP on top of Azure, allowing them to continuously evaluate and advance their collaboration. 

"Trust Is Going to Be at the Center of Everything We Do"

Data security and privacy are top-of-mind concerns for customers exploring generative AI for business; Mueller and Guthrie added that this will be increasingly essential for both their businesses. At SAP, an AI Ethics Council has been convened to evaluate the entire lifecycle of generative-AI use case development, consisting of both internal SAP employees and external stakeholders. 

Scott noted that, from his position at ASUG, he remains knowledgeable of all emerging regulations and guidance around AI, including a recent executive order from the White House establishing new standards for AI safety and security, and asked Guthrie and Mueller for their perspectives. 

“Trust is going to be at the center of everything we do, with Microsoft Cloud or AI broadly,” Guthrie said. “Maintaining that trust, safety, and security is going to be paramount. Governments do need to be involved, and make sure we have the right compliance and legislation, to ensure it drives true advancement.”

In closing, all three executives encouraged attendees to keep connecting and learning more about emerging technologies. “We have to stay curious to make progress for our organizations," said Mueller. "It’s important that you lead the way."

Added Guthrie: "Keep learning and keep giving us feedback. I'm really excited to see what this group does. I think there's a tremendous opportunity for all of us to really change the world."

For more from ASUG Tech Connect, read our coverage of the day-two and day-three keynotes, an interview with Jabil's IT Director Cynthia Kendall on Jabil's S/4HANA migration, new columns by the Boring Enterprise Nerds and the SAP Customer Evolution team, an interview with enterprise architect Sylvain Garneau of Resolute Forest Products, and our pre-conference interview with SAP CTO Juergen Mueller.

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