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Author's profile photo Michael Renz

Intelligent Enterprise – Making ERP sexy again

Over the last decade ERP systems have evolved from being the backbone of the company to being more akin to a multi-functional swiss army knife, addressing various vital problems of an enterprise in real-time, from any device. It sounds like a dream:  single program access, monitor and control all the transactions of a company linking bits of data and make it a smooth, almost seamless flow of transactions. But it can be a love hate relationship.

Despite the multiple benefits that ERP offers, there are some undeniable reasons why it’s not easily accepted by all users. Let’s face it, ERP systems can be overwhelming in their sheer size. Keying in data via static data entry forms is not an enjoyable experience. The early approach to ERP wrongly assumed that a system could be built and used without much attention to the user experience and if VA01, MIGO or CATS make sense to you, then you know where I’m coming from. For the Generation X+Y; these are transaction codes being used over a decade to tell the machine your intent to create sales orders, initiate goods movements and to maintain working hours. At that time humans had to learn the machine’s language by studying codes in order to make the machine understand what you wanted to do. Fortunately, the ERP of 20 years ago is not the ERP being developed today. ERP systems adopted consumer grade experiences by offering web-applications, which are simplifying doing business via your browser or your mobile device, in the same way that you would book a flight. The evolution doesn’t stop here, machines continue enhancing to understand the human language, mainly driven by new highs of computing power paired with mind-boggling levels of data and advances in AI in the form of natural language processing.

While we are far from creating intelligent machines, which can make fully automated decisions for humans, we’ve become pretty good at understanding the human language in a narrow context. This is thanks to deep learning, a process where the computer is taught to understand speech, rather than asking the human to speak the machine’s language – a complete game changer to usability. This is opening a world of opportunities for AI-powered applications, transforming systems toward UI-Less interaction, making voice the UI of the future.

In our Labs we re-imagine how employees will record working hours in the future. A standard process which is seen by employees as one of the boring, low-value activities, often perceived as micromanagement. Let’s face it, not all daily tasks are exciting. Some just feel dull, because they are. But we still have to wash those dishes and take care of those monotonous, routine tasks. The bottom line is to make time recording an enjoyable, humanized experience for employees by offering solutions tailored for these types of bite sized interactions, and that’s what AI is capable of, as of today. In the prototype we are showcasing how a smartwatch application, which is connected to the time recording software, is monitoring daily the timesheets of the employees, looking for missing days, and proactively reminding the employee to record the time by offering the most likely projects, and making it easy to report it back to the system in a timely manner without having to actually open the software. The ERP solution acts as digital core and the data is collected via natural language.

This tiny prototype shows how AI helps employees to get the job done by utilizing free seconds in a gamified way, and is transforming what today is a boring task into an enjoyable experience. It’s a simple but tangible example demonstrating how AI is capable of offering a shortcut through a processes to record hours into a traditional system of records by replacing the keyboard and offering new ways to engage with the digital core. This offers a more productive means to feed data into a system in a bite sized and humanized way, via devices and applications employees use every day.  AI, in this case in the shape of NLP, is automating the chasing process of untracked time, which allows project managers to focus on higher value tasks, transforming the traditional data entry form into an easier to consume process. Working hours are maintained in a more timely fashion, which increases the data quality and the decisions made on top of it, and ultimately improves business outcome.

Conversational applications go far beyond usability, it’s a new way to bring timely data into your digital core and make more informed decisions. Progress in AI will eventually demote traditional Interfaces and move the majority of interaction to voice and chats.

Photo by courtesy of Miranda He, SAP Yoga Club. Special appreciation goes to our SAP SuccessFactors colleagues Qin, Qiao Feng; Wang, Neil; Gu, Jerome and Peng, Ryan.

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