SAP CEO Christian Klein

Big tech joins forces to build SAP’s Gen AI capability

The world’s biggest tech firms are carving out new levels of cooperation among themselves as cutting-edge generative AI capabilities shift into the enterprise market.

Tech giants are realising that they need to combine their forces and offer a consistent generative AI experience to businesses that use a combination of software from different sources. A siloed approach is out.

That became obvious after attending European software giant SAP’s Sapphire conference over two days in Orlando, Florida.

SAP, an enterprise software giant based in Germany, says more than 299 million cloud users access its software with 27,000 customers currently using its Business AI ecosystem. Customers generate 87 per cent of total global commerce, some $US46 trillion. More than 40,000 developers work on its software.

It’s not just major corporations, about 80 per cent of SAP customers are small to medium-sized enterprises, according to a company profile.

SAP’s customer and partner base includes some of the world’s biggest tech firms such as Apple, Amazon, Nvidia, IBM and Accenture who use SAP software to run their internal businesses in arrangements that go back decades.

Over the weekend, SAP announced the integration of its generative AI co-pilot Joule into virtually all of its software suites. It also fleshed out ways enterprises can adopt generative AI in all facets of their business.

“…We are entering a new phase of AI with endless possibilities for all of us,” said SAP global chief executive Christian Klein.

SAP already prides itself on flexibility when transitioning businesses to its cloud-based ecosystems. Businesses can choose SAP’s own cloud, Microsoft Azure, AWS and Google Cloud or have SAP software operate in a business’s private cloud. Its new generative AI copilot ‘Joule’ is destined to run in those environments.

That makes sense for businesses that buy software from multiple vendors.

Mr Klein spelt out a series of deals. SAP will leverage Meta Llama large language models’ “language nuances and contextual understanding” for translating enterprise business requirements into “tangible outcomes”.

SAP and Microsoft Copilot will glean each other’s information to offer seamless access to information about SAP and Microsoft applications.

Another deal with French AI firm Mistral AI adds Mistral’s large language models to SAP’s generative AI capabilities.

Other deals include SAP’s Joule tapping into Nvidia AI, linking up with Google Gemini AI assistant for understanding the impact of marketing campaigns, alerting customers to supply chain disruptions, and more. These will be available in the second half of 2024.

There are new deals between SAP and Accenture, and SAP and AWS. SAP also committed itself to adopting the 10 guiding principles in UNESCO ethics in artificial intelligence.

Then there’s Apple, a SAP partner of 30 years standing. Joule would come to the Apple VisionPro headset later this year along with SAP apps.

“On Apple Vision Pro, the app enables employees and executives to immediately access their data dashboard and arrange their most critical business workflows, apps, and cards beautifully in their space,” Apple said in a statement.

SAP CEO Christian Klein discusses Generative AI with nVidia CEO Jensen Huang. Picture: SAP
SAP CEO Christian Klein discusses Generative AI with nVidia CEO Jensen Huang. Picture: SAP

The Joule Copilot would also be available on the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, said SAP.

The move to embed Joule across all SAP offerings including its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) suite of business applications, and Business AI applications, throws up other use cases.

There’s Joule’s integration into supply chain management applications, its capability to pinpoint the nature of supply disruptions and propose alternative suppliers.

The longer term impact of AI copilots communicating with one another is massive.

SAP gave the example of a hybrid workplace that uses SAP’s business applications but also uses Microsoft Azure. Joule can grab information from other systems. For example, the Joule Copilot could ask Microsoft Copilot to read the work calendar of particular employees to help set a meeting date.

There’s the financial management revolution. A company’s chief financial manager can write a two sentence request to Joule to change a screen full of figures, such as making changes to spending to increase cash flow. AI can detail a series of scenarios on a spreadsheet that make this possible.

A chief marketing officer can perform financial planning and analysis using text requests to Joule. You might want to keep supply chains in lock-step with finances and external factors such as inflation, GDP and other indicators. Tell that to Joule.

The massive change AI is bringing to the workplace, including to executive roles, is evident by these applications.

SAP is not the first company to highlight generative AI’s ability to read documents, reports and invoices, then digitise details, make observations and recommend follow up actions. Workday flagged a similar capability last year and it represents a massive change in how business data is captured and used.

Mr Klein said Accenture, Deloitte and PwC were already testing SAP’s developer tools for consulting. He claimed a savings of 600 million working hours per year in productivity gains in an ecosystem of more than 5 million consultants.

Academy Award-winning actor Reese Witherspoon was interviewed at the closing keynote. She spoke mostly about her upbringing, and her passion for books, and only briefly referenced the rise of AI, which she generally supports.

“I said before, AI is not going to take your job and the person who understands AI is going to take your job … I have been doing a lot of online courses.”

SAP also announced a $US1.5bn acquisition of WalkMe, a business that walks end users through data entry tasks.

Chris Griffith was a guest of SAP in Orlando. Published in The Australian newspaper, June 7, 2024.

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