Companies running SAP are interested in innovating and taking their business to the next level. Although they are usually bogged down by executing tasks that already exist to keep the business moving, we know they’ve got their sights set on innovative technologies—most notably, artificial intelligence (AI).
ASUG research shows that 65% of those familiar with AI are extremely or very interested in it, which is more than any other emerging technology including the Internet of Things (IoT) or blockchain. One popular application of AI is robotic process automation (RPA), so it is no surprise that in its quest to solidify the intelligent enterprise, SAP has ventured into this space with its own Intelligent RPA. ASUG News sat down with Sebastian Schroetel, SAP’s head of Intelligent RPA, at SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference to learn more.
What Is Intelligent RPA?
To understand what Intelligent RPA means from an SAP perspective, we first need to define RPA. At a high level, it is simply automating business processes. RPA does this by first recording the tasks end users do within their systems, and then creates a bot that makes the process more repeatable using some simple logic. Finally, it monitors the “digital workers” that are automating the process. So, the four steps of any common RPA model are to record, build, run, and monitor.
SAP is offering this standard framework functionality, but has now made it “intelligent” by wrapping it up within the SAP Leonardo offering that allows companies to take advantage of multiple emerging technologies. And of course, it is optimized for use on a cloud factory powered by SAP Cloud Platform (SCP), so those already using this technology now have another easy add to their toolkit. In fact, SAP Intelligent RPA is now baked into the service agreements of SCP, so all SCP customers are automatically also SAP Intelligent RPA customers and can take advantage of this functionality immediately.
SAP and Non-SAP, Brought Together by Intelligent RPA
For those that don’t use SCP, Schroetel was clear that SAP can still work with you. “We can automate any kind of application, including a Windows app like Microsoft Office or any legacy applications,” he said. “But we also support any kind of SAP application that includes SAP Fiori, SAP GUI, or anything that has an API. We can steer, we can call, we can automate.”
Combining SAP and non-SAP applications is a standard challenge for RPA, and one SAP knows it needs to respond to. “We know that more than 60% of the RPA bots that are currently out there are touching an SAP system,” Schroetel said. “So, it makes total sense for SAP to offer our customers that piece of that entrant automation toolbox.”
For this reason, SAP purchased Contextor, a company that specializes in business process optimization with a focus on RPA. “We don’t need external technology or external help to automate our own applications,” Schroetel explained. “The core value of RPA is automating business processes that span across multiple systems. Contextor brings in the technology to automate non-SAP applications. SAP’s intelligent RPA combines SAP technology and Contextor technology to make one combined, powerful product.”
Examples of Intelligent RPA in Action
Obviously Intelligent RPA is not for every business process. Some situations remain highly customized or need a human element to make sure they are done correctly or can handle the variations within specific tasks. But for those that are repetitive, Intelligent RPA can fill in the gaps. One example Schroetel gave was the “hire to retire” scenario used in this year’s SAPPHIRE NOW keynote by Christian Klein. Using Intelligent RPA, a company can automate the process of creating contracts when hiring.
Another example given was financial close. “Everyone has to do financial closing. When you close a period, you need to run depreciation on your assets. This is another typical example of RPA—consolidating information and bringing it together.” Even something like master data management—end-of-month reports, for example—is a good test scenario for Intelligent RPA.
The Future of Intelligent RPA
While the offering itself is still new, Schroetel has two specific goals over the next few years: integrating Intelligent RPA deeper into the SAP landscape and then making it easier for customers to implement it. SAP announced the first Intelligent RPA scenarios for SAP S/4HANA earlier this year, but Schroetel’s vision is to get it deeper into the other areas of SAP’s technology and application offerings so that it can help any customer, regardless of the functional department or industry they are in.
SAP also is hoping to embed more of its intelligent offerings into RPA itself, using sits capabilities to simplify some of the processes that are necessary to make a system ready for RPA. Bot creation is one example Schroetel gave, as well as enhancing the bot’s ability to learn and make decisions using computer vision.
What Should I Do About SAP Intelligent RPA?
While on the face it may seem like any other RPA offering, SAP customers should be encouraged that SAP is committed to helping them run their business from SAP to non-SAP applications. It also gives those that are using or considering SCP another tool to evaluate against third-party RPA offerings. This could help some customers with cost efficiencies and limiting vendor expansion. In short, SAP Intelligent RPA may not be right for everyone, but it could be right for you.
Want to learn more about the pros and cons of RPA, register for ASUG’s on-demand webcast, “Automating Financial Processes through Robotics Process Automation (RPA).”