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Author's profile photo Andreas Welsch

What are intelligent processes in SAP S/4HANA?

This year marks the 70-year anniversary of Alan Turing proposing the famous question ‘Can machines think?’ along with devising the so-called Turing test to determine if a machine can respond with intelligence equivalent to or indistinguishable from that of humans.

The field of artificial intelligence (AI) has of course advanced significantly since the 1950s, certainly in recent years the ensuing hype has been hard to escape. The latest revision of Gartner’s hype cycle for emerging technologies illustrates how the field of AI is maturing. For example, AI has matured to the extent that it is reliably leveraged in planning processes in the world’s biggest manufacturing companies. However, pure AI is just one capability of modern business systems. In combination with conversational AI, robotic process automation, and process intelligence, these technologies enable what Gartner calls hyperautomation. If we take a broader and more business-centric view, we can safely say that (just like beauty being in the eye of the beholder) ‘intelligent is what a user perceives as being intelligent’. With modern ERP such as SAP S/4HANA to support your business at its core, intelligence is a key enabler in the digital age.

Kicking off a series of posts, I would like to share with you three key themes on how you can:

  1. learn more about our vision for intelligent processes in SAP S/4HANA,
  2. promote intelligent process thinking in your organization, and
  3. enable intelligent processes that help transform your business.


Intelligent processes in SAP S/4HANA

Even before a pandemic hit all aspects of business and of our private lives, businesses were under pressure to reinvent their business model, increase efficiency, and improve customer experience in order to compete in a global market. As we talk about the future of work, we also look at purpose and meaningful work – for example, transforming spreadsheet-driven tasks into processes that are truly digital and intelligent. While internally, a technology-driven approach to automation can offer a few quick wins, it also adds complexity as it creates a patchwork of different capabilities. Oftentimes, spinning up a proof of concept for a new intelligent automation idea can be done quickly, but when we reach the point of scaling it within the business and considering regional or global specifics, it is a much harder endeavor: IDC and Accenture have both conducted research on this point – while their numbers differ (IDC say 28%, Accenture say up to 76%), both conclude that a large proportion of intelligent automation projects fail, but don’t have to. This is where a holistic and integrated approach to intelligent automation in business processes helps. We call them intelligent processes.


Intelligent processes in SAP S/4HANA

We’ve embedded intelligence in SAP S/4HANA directly where business users benefit the most and where it delivers tangible business value: in end-to-end processes and in the context of the user’s task. Leveraging intelligent processes puts the outcome into focus, resulting in measurable business impact.

Here are a few examples that customers running an intelligent process have achieved:

  • 20% faster material creation (Severstal)
  • 25% faster quarter-end close (a multinational pharmaceutical company)
  • 480 hours/ year savings of manual tasks (REHAU Polymer)


A end-to-end driven approach

With these examples in mind, let’s look at an example of how you could achieve similar benefits. Let’s take the role of a sales manager for example (video). Through a combination of capabilities along the sales manager’s role, intelligent capabilities are embedded in SAP S/4HANA in order to assist the end-user and increase automation and insights. Some tasks are best solved by leveraging a software robot (via SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation) while others are most effectively addressed by machine learning or AI, or by simply alerting a user to a business situation (via Situation Handling in SAP S/4HANA) to initiate a follow-up activity.


An intelligent end-to-end process in sales

It is the combination of these capabilities that make an end-to-end process intelligent out of the box. They help business users be more efficient and more effective and that help them focus on those aspects of their job that require human strengths such as creativity, communication, and problem solving.


Getting started with intelligent processes

You might say ‘That sounds great! But where do I start?’ Every journey has a starting point. To measure what you want to improve, you first need to understand the status quo. Spotlight by SAP enables you run process intelligence on your existing system. There are currently more than 250 intelligent capabilities available for SAP S/4HANA (and that number is growing) – many of which are directly embedded. Further to those, SAP’s ecosystem provides additional capabilities that boost process intelligence. Lastly, individual intelligent technologies, such as SAP Cloud Platform AI Business Services, enable you to extend your process. Enable scope items in your test system to validate them in your business process. You can find the details on the SAP S/4HANA product page. Sign up for a trial of SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation and test drive any of the 70+ bot templates we provide and see how easy it is to start and to scale.


Getting started with intelligent processes in SAP S/4HANA


What’s next?

In the next articles, we will look at the broader vision of intelligent processes and how you can unlock intelligence in your business processes in 30 minutes.



Andreas Welsch is Head of Intelligent Processes, SAP S/4HANA Product Management. 

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      Author's profile photo Marc Rouhana
      Marc Rouhana

      Thank you for a great blog, looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

      I strongly agree that intelligent processes are a major and essential part of transformation and future of work. However, the end to end approach should extend beyond automation to include manual tasks as an example for situation handling in your diagram above. The solution is not complete without ensuring users are adapted and prepared to make quick and accurate decisions when RPA needs to be assisted. For that, a digital adoption platform  should also be integrated as part of the end to end design.

      Author's profile photo Andreas Welsch
      Andreas Welsch
      Blog Post Author

      Marc- You’re spot on! ‘If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ To your point, we rather see it as leveraging different ‘tools’ for different tasks, and leveraging the best-suited ‘tool’ for the task at hand. I’ll cover more on that in my next post...

      Author's profile photo Moe Alhennawi
      Moe Alhennawi

      Thank you Andreas for a well-written, practical, and meaty article on a topic that often is explained in a dreamy fashion.

      I encourage everyone reading this to ask their leaders this question: what are we doing to make S/4HANA a more intelligent ERP? And is it enough? Take the lead and seek support from the intelligent processes unit!

      All the best!


      Author's profile photo Sean D'Silva
      Sean D'Silva

      Excellent article, Andreas. Looking forward to the next 2 that are planned!

      Author's profile photo Andreas Welsch
      Andreas Welsch
      Blog Post Author

      Thank you, Sean!