Are SAP users embracing AI?

Image of a blue and red toy robot with dials and sensors. | SAP AI

SAP has been on an AI rampage. SAP customers, and wider markets as a whole, now watch on as the software giant continues to promote its global offering of AI-powered innovations, primed and ready to strengthen users’ toolkits.

It’s worth noting, however, that AI is not a new thing for SAP; they’ve long offered add-on applications that use AI (running on SAP BTP). We’re talking about the likes of invoice matching, resume screening, guided buying, and delivery date predictions. But they’ve elevated this to the next level. The change is, now they’ve started shouting about it.

Given the long radio silence on the AI capabilities, it’s unsurprising that SAP hasn’t witnessed a surge in customer uptake.

Can we expect this to change now that SAP AI is everywhere? It remains to be seen.

The SAP AI toolkit

SAP AI Services automate and optimize company processes by adding intelligence to enterprise applications using AI models pre-trained on business-relevant data.

Over the last year, SAP introduced a dedicated AI business unit, under chief artificial intelligence officer, Dr Philipp Herzig, as well as expanding its Executive Board to help support customers with AI adoption and getting maximum value. Ex-Microsoft VP of AI, Water Sun, has also been brought on as global head of Artificial Intelligence.

From a tech standpoint, SAP’s AI Core, AI Launchpad, and HANA Cloud Vector Engine are purpose-built to encourage customers and partners to build their own AI solutions on SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP). Customers can now store multi-model data for bespoke AI model training as part of the offering. The SAP Datasphere knowledge graph also allows business to better represent their real-world use of data, meaning they can better leverage it for generative AI and reasoning.

SAP has also added new AI features into its S/4HANA cloud, which will assist customers’ teams across the board, by controlling costs, reducing risk, automating sales order functions, and streamlining general processes.

In 2023, users welcomed Joule to the mix, SAP’s AI Assistant, a tool for more general interaction for non-specific use cases. Joule is SAP’s first attempt at incorporating a more general chatbot into their product suite which has the context of where someone is within the application when asking the question. That said, SAP made a point of informing customers of the application’s efficacy, beyond that of its infamous GenAI counterparts. SAP CEO, Christian Klein, claims that Joule will “know what [businesses] mean, not just what [they] say”, reshaping how organizations work.

Users also have access to the new ‘Just Ask’ function, a natural language query feature by AI, accessed through the SAP Analytics Cloud homepage.

Alongside the growing GenAI capabilities, SAP’s centralized resource hub is available to help users leverage AI. Its Build Code offers AI-powered productivity tools, that draw on the power of Joule, embedding code generation capabilities for data model, application logic and test script creation.

Are users making use of SAP AI?

It’s clear that SAP is going all-in to establish itself as the leader in ‘Business AI’.

After an underwhelming response to RISE, SAP went down the incentives route, trying to tempt users with promises of exciting new features. However, long-term customers spoke out when the software giant announced in June 2023 that only RISE customers would have access to new features, including AI – but with a 30 percent uplift.

Realizing a misalignment with the vast majority of their loyal customers, SAP introduced new deals. Even so, while the company now offers users a credit of 60 percent off first-year fees if they migrate to RISE, the uptake of SAP’s AI tools is still in question.

Are they missing out?

It’s no secret that AI has the power to greatly change business processes across the board.

Enterprises can deploy AI, in conjunction with automation, to remove a considerable burden from workforces encumbered by unnecessarily manual tasks, absorbing a significant portion of the ‘heavy lifting’ required by IT teams.

In doing so, stretched IT teams can direct more resources to delivering projects that provide the most business value. Equally, for tasks that require specialist in-house expertise, AI can be used to mitigate the risks of unqualified employees aiming to handle tasks outside their purview.

Other priorities

A potential reason behind the slow adoption of SAP’s AI is that customers have other things on their minds. We’re past the point where AI hype is enough to engage organizations – now it’s all about use cases. All users care about is whether the tools in the tech stack are up to the job of meeting their needs. Whether it’s AI-powered or not, it just needs to work.

It will be interesting to see how the market appetite changes throughout the year, but (for now), given the response so far, we shouldn’t expect a tsunami of AI uptake in SAP.