SLN Spotlight_SAP Labs China: Machine Learning with a Purpose
As an early adopter of machine learning, SAP is changing shoe manufacturing and the shoe shopping experience in Chengdu, China.
When people are wondering whether artificial intelligence will steal their jobs, here comes the news from the Future of Go Summit in the town of Wuzhen, China, on May 25, that Google’s AlphaGo beat Chinese wunderkind Ke Jie, the world’s top-ranked Go player. Luckily, you are not a Go player, but a developer. Hmm…wait a second, it seems that AI can write coding too, so how do you see it, as a threat or benefit?
Actually, machine learning, AI’s most successful approach, frees workforces from repetitive work so they can devote more time to innovative work. Furthermore, even though AI/ML seems so powerful, it still has its Achilles heel: It cannot create meaning. As the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari said, “Homo Sapiens gives meaning to the world,” not others or machines.
Innovate with a purpose at SAP
SAP uses digital innovations to fulfill its vision and purpose: to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. And the innovations are enabled by SAP Leonardo with technologies and services such as machine learning on the foundation of the SAP Cloud Platform. Machines have no purposes, and no matter how fast they can learn, they never know why to learn, and will never initiate themselves to bring intelligence into customers’ enterprise applications. However, customers who are ready to capitalize on machine learning don’t know where to start and how to realize the promise of breakthrough technologies. It’s all for us to tell. Because we are the early adopter.
The competition in machine learning is not about whose algorithms are smarter, but about who can use it better, with speed and scalability. As SAP partners with Google, machine learning models including vision API, speech API, translate API, and natural language API are all ready to use.
The real matter is how and how innovatively they can be used, with a purpose to improve people’s lives or, as in the following case, to improve the shoe shopping experience.
Shoe shopping experience at the next level
Shoe shopping is not always a pleasant experience and can even be frustrating when buyers desperately want a new pair of stylish shoes yet couldn’t find the perfect pair after a whole day’s tiring searching in department stores. Meanwhile, footwear manufacturers, while facing fierce competition, are having a difficult time in capturing a fashion trend in advance.
“Our designers used to follow their instinct in fashion trends, and sometimes what they came up with didn’t meet market demands. It resulted in massive stock,” said Lin Yuchun, president of Aimickey Shoe Company in the Chinese city of Chengdu, one of the four footwear industrial clusters in China.
Lin came to SAP for help. And the SAP S/4HANA Connected Products team in Labs China combined machine learning and VR technologies in the SAP Connected Products solution, which Lin’s designers use to evaluate market requirements and initiate the design process by using trendy elements based on different algorithms and shoe models created by machine learning engines. Consumers can view the newly published designs on Aimickey’s online web shop, and add a final touch by choosing styles and colors.
With VR glass to have a preview of what your self-designed shoes will look like on your feet, and a 3D scanner to make your shoes a perfect fit, the co-innovation project brings the shoe-shopping experience to the next level.
And it is an affordable experience. SAP Connected Products enables a much shorter design and production cycle for footwear, without raising the cost. Everybody now can design their individual pair of shoes and have it produced within a week.
“Through SAP’s digital innovation platform, we gained agility and precision in designing and production, and reduced inventory. It is totally game-changing for the footwear industry,” said Lin, who is quite excited about the future of his company. According to World Footwear, China’s annual footwear production accounts for about 60% of the world’s total, which reached 23 billion pairs in 2015. And this is how Lin distinguishes his products from billions of others.
The city government is happy to see local entrepreneurs like Lin embrace digital transformation. Previously, Chengdu’s footwear industry was rather low-end manufacturing. “Through companies’ co-innovation with SAP, we wish to promote the upgrading and transformation of the regional economy … for Chengdu to gain a competitive advantage and a higher position in the world footwear empire,” said Ye Zhijun, Vice Mayor of Chongzhou, Chongqing City.
Collaboration at the next level
The SAP S/4HANA Connected Products team didn’t innovate alone, but together with the customer. And this project is just one of the co-innovation projects that Labs China’s Customer Circle Program supports. The aim is to bring developers closer to customers to understand their needs and to better co-innovate with them. After all, the customers have the desire to do something and the in-depth knowledge of their industries, and SAP has the technology advantages.
And as Hasso Plattner, chairperson of the SAP SE Supervisory Board, said in his SAPPHIRE NOW keynote: “First of all, the word is together!” With the newly announced SAP Leonardo digital innovation system, what SAP can do together with customers is much bigger. And in China, SAP is doing things much bigger, together with customers. So, stay tuned…