SAP has been on a journey or two this decade. SAP HANA has grown and experienced augmentations and enhancements. SAP Leonardo has gone through similar elevations. And SAP products in general are getting bolstered, boosted, and variously bundled into a combination of industry-specific offerings designed to accelerate digital transformation.

As SAP naturally expands and enhances its products and platforms, the company has now shifted to placing what is an arguably higher level of emphasis on the SAP Cloud Platform. SAP has announced more powerful platform capabilities and embedded intelligence in all applications that use its platform. Now though, as we look to finish the year, SAP is also explaining where its business technology platform stands in this mix.

The company has gone as far saying that other vendors’ databases could and should run on its cloud, if that is the customer’s data layer of choice. Equally, SAP CTO Juergen Mueller has said that customers should be able to bring their infrastructure as a service of choice to the mix. There is a new openness here, and it may signify what we could call the “second quarter of play” for the SAP connected cloud technologies.

“With the business technology platform, we will give customers the highest level of openness and flexibility to do this [and achieve this choice]—also in terms of deployment models,” Mueller said. “By addressing the key technology markets of database and data management, analytics, application development and integration, and intelligence, SAP will deliver one of the best technological foundations customers have ever experienced.”

Is this Just Integration, or Orchestration?

SAP’s business technology platform is described as a technology that helps companies connect processes and experiences to make decisions with its data management, analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain technologies, as well as application development services on an open cloud platform. That makes it sound like an integration tool, but ASUG spoke to SAP President of Platform and Technologies Irfan Khan, who insists that it is much more than that.

“The Business Technology Platform unites SAP Cloud Platform, SAP HANA, analytics, and business services into a cohesive 'orchestra' of technology solutions. It is designed to be unified and open, helping developers easily embed intelligence across integrated, modular applications—whether on-premise or in the cloud, SAP or non-SAP technology,” Khan said.

So, it’s not an integration of one application or data surface to another, it’s a more unified and harmonious orchestra of a technology proposition. SAP’s acquisition of Qualtrics XM has pushed its agenda to gravitate toward experience management. This thread is also prevalent here. The company says that the combination of SAP Cloud Platform with SAP business technology platform is all about connecting business processes and experiences so ASUG members can make confident decisions with integrity.

Machine Learning Pilots to Take Off

SAP is also now explaining how directly it wants to position SAP Cloud Platform as a key pillar of the business technology platform. The company has stated quite openly that it is “piloting” machine learning and AI techniques at this still comparatively early stage in its development. So, does SAP think that many routes to machine learning and AI are still unproven, too complex, and too tough to architect into existing incumbent systems, or too difficult to code and too hard to successfully integrate in working production environments?

“When we talk to our customers, two-thirds view machine learning and AI as important business initiatives, but only one-third or less are confident in their ability to implement them,” Khan said. “This arises from the fact that information management and AI/machine learning technologies have worked in silos, preventing customers from bringing these critical models to production.” Khan explained that in his experience, customers have a complex mix of structured, unstructured, and object-oriented data residing in a blend of cloud and on-premise systems, with access often being limited or nonstandardized via APIs.

“What customers are looking for are the real nuggets from these complex data sets—predicting customer churn and making product recommendations. SAP recently launched SAP Data Intelligence that brought together the information management capabilities and AI in an integrated tool to cover the entire process from connecting, understanding, and preparing data to creating, deploying, and operating machine learning models. This will enable companies to speed up the development and deployment of machine learning/AI models into production environments and quickly start seeing the business value,” Khan said.

SAP Data Intelligence is described as the first enterprise cloud service with an end-to-end life cycle for data management and machine learning. Technologies such as machine learning and data orchestration are on offer here to understand everything from customer churn and consumer behavior to manufacturing predictions.

Fumbling Jumbles or Connected Bundles?

Looking at SAP Intelligent Business Process Management (SAP Intelligent BPM), this bundle of services is designed to help customers transform paper-based processes into digital workflows. Customers can now use SAP Cloud Platform Workflow, SAP Cloud Platform Business Rules, and SAP Cloud Platform Process Visibility services together to create process extensions on top of business applications, orchestrate tasks, or build process-centric differentiating applications.

But does that make things simpler or not? SAP is talking about “bundles of services” rather than one single platform play. How are we supposed to understand where the central platform proposition really resides? SAP insists that the idea and value of a platform is better understood when the platform is described to accelerate and deliver better business solutions. For example, SAP’s Intelligent Business Process Management solution consists of several services, but SAP describes the business solution area and targets use cases for better business outcomes with these bundles of services.

“We believe that this is what business leaders want, e.g., integrated services that provide faster and better business outcomes, not embracing the vendor with the most developer tools and services,” Khan said.

Turning to augmented analytics, SAP has detailed updates to the search-to-insight extension, which give users a newly designed conversational analytics experience to better understand and use semantics across all business data. Users can now chat live with their data in SAP HANA applications and reveal key factors influencing positives or negatives in a table of metrics with “smart insights” algorithms ready to mine data points. So, is SAP augmented analytics just a smart chatbot then?

“SAP augmented analytics relies on machine learning technology to explore data and produce intuitive results that are easy to understand for making better decisions, faster,” Khan said. “SAP Analytics Cloud’s machine learning technology augments the analytics process, helping to go from insight to action in a fraction of the time. Automated technology enables users to avoid agenda-driven, biased decision-making by revealing the real story of what drives your business. The latest capabilities surrounding augmented analytics offer live chat with all data types and applications across an enterprise for much smarter insights.”

SAP HANA, Still a North Star?

So, where did SAP HANA feature in any of these product updates? Has it finally dawned on SAP that a higher-level cloud-centric platform play is more important than trying to position a high-performing data solution as the company’s leading selling point?

“SAP HANA is mentioned last [in recent news updates] because it underpins everything we are doing at SAP, including the business technology platform,” Khan said. “From SAP S/4HANA to SAP C/4HANA to business services to cloud data management, HANA is critical to SAP’s strategy. The core claims of SAP HANA still stand true—its ability to process both analytical and transactional workloads, removing aggregates and secondary data structures, and harnessing the performance of in-memory computing.”

As we see an explosion in the amount of data produced, what is arising is the growth of digitalization and the move to the cloud. What SAP says it is taking the “brilliance” of HANA and transitioning it into this new context. SAP HANA is still very much the guiding North Star for the SAP application and platform future.

Register for the ASUG Experience for Enterprise Information Management (EIM) Oct. 28–30 in Minneapolis to learn from peers how to manage your data to meet business goals.

Photo: SAP