The future about Digital Assistants and Chatbots in SAP S/4HANA Cloud (incl. on premise)
Over recent years, and further exacerbated and accelerated by the pandemic, we’ve been witnessing the ever-increasing importance of enhancing professional business applications with intelligent digital experiences to drive the success of your business. Chatbot communication is on the rise across all types of business (e.g. banks, retailers, and so on) and this development marks an increased demand in system landscapes such as SAP’s intelligent suite portfolio, increasing the user experience and end-user satisfaction in their task force. In response, SAP is implementing the latest conversational-experience innovations to augment the SAP S/4HANA Cloud experience (and beyond) with human-to-machine and human-to-human chatbots to provide your employees and your customers with a superior and scalable user experience.
Digital Assistants and Chatbots for SAP’s Intelligent Suite
The term digital assistant is used collectively for all digital assistants and chatbots in SAP’s portfolio. The Digital Assistant is the end-users ‘support center’ for ad hoc tasks, help, FAQ or any other off-context inquiry. Whenever a user requests tasks or services (whether that be via commands, chat questions, or, in some cases, voice commands) digital assistants/chatbots can convey and interpret the user’s request, execute it efficiently in the system, and promptly provide a response. SAP’s digital assistants can also support direct communication between (human) peers within a system and, potentially, across two systems in your (intelligent suite) landscape. Digital-assistant-based communication facilitates a seamless and coherent user experience meaning that users can obtain help with their questions without having to navigate away from the application in which they’re working to write emails or launch a separate chat application. Digital chats exchange status and work instructions and also include important system-context information or the contextual information for the current processing step. This exchange of status, instructions, and context information means a seamless handover to any subsequent users taking over processing.
We distinguish between two types of interaction, namely human-to-machine and human-to-human collaboration. One example of human-to-machine interaction is an end user asking their SAP ERP system, “Show me the Top 5 list of overdue materials for the production in plant 1010 over the past 3 months!” with the chatbot subsequently responding by displaying the answer in the chat window.
An example of human-to-human interaction, is the Finance Manager for Goods Receipts identifying anomalies in the financial documents, classifying the potential next step, and then contacting the relevant Accountant to make the right booking in the system by entering the item in the chat window. For a seamless handover, the task could be formulated verbally and the relevant SAP Fiori app and an in-app screenshot could be added together with an automatically provided link to the exact position in the screen for a seamless takeover. This exchange of context information from the SAP Fiori app and the chat stream can be used bidirectionally in human-to-human and human-to-machine scenarios.
Digital assistant solutions need to deliver the following Build & Conversational Experience:
Lower Complexity & Boost Productivity
- Support an end-to-end Enterprise Level bot building platform
- Easy roll out of pre-built chatbots for SAP S/4HANA Cloud with default integrations with the Cloud ERP system
- Enable the configuration of pre-built chatbots for SAP S/4HANA Cloud
- The delivered content needs to be based on SAP S/4HANA Cloud business roles and customers need to be able to adapt delivered templates, extend, and create their own embedded chatbots
The Digital Assistant is always aware of the context in which the user is working and gives support tailored to the SAP S/4HANA business role.
- Available in many different environments and locations
- Offers a broad range of languages
- Provides compliance with the individual requests for data protection and data processing regulations in the desired geography
- Ideally integrated with productivity applications (e.g. Microsoft Teams)
Chat capabilities for peer-to-peer communication require a modern chat capability together with elements such as screen capture and a connected, context-relevant business object capture for real-time access.
The Digital Assistant needs to approach the individual users to keep them up to date in topics they need to know to establish a true bidirectional interaction.
SAP’s solution for digital assistants is SAP Conversation AI. The underlying functionality originates from the acquisition of a software company called Recast AI. The solution supports an environment for training, building, testing, and monitoring chatbots to be used in multiple business systems for simplifying business processes across SAP and non-SAP products. It comes with low-code capabilities like API connections, SAP Single Sign-On, dialog building and uses state-of-the-art Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology to analyze text inputs and to enrich key data.
Over the past years, SAP has developed templates to support business processes with chatbots and has also embedded chatbots into SAP S/4HANA Cloud*, for example, the Operational Purchaser Chatbot for SAP S/4HANA Cloud (Links to help and implementation guide documents). In addition, SAP partners have been developing a lot of chatbots for SAP S/4HANA Cloud, independent of the deep integration we are providing.
SAP’s first digital assistant for SAP S/4HANA Cloud was SAP CoPilot, integrated in the SAP Fiori screens of SAP S/4HANA Cloud. This tool supported both human-machine interactions (with chatbots named “Stories”) and human-to-human interaction. For the latter, SAP CoPilot was part of the public cloud deployments of SAP S/4HANA Cloud. For SAP S/4HANACloud, private edition and for on premise shipments, there was an add-on available. This also enabled the users to work with the stories in general.
The basic functionality of SAP CoPilot is still available in SAP S/4HANA Cloud. The technical environment (including the three-tier architecture of SAP S/4HANA Cloud and the technical architecture of SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP) has evolved and is now leading to a next level version of SAP Conversational AI, which will then host all concepts mentioned so far, and going beyond this.
Strategy moving forward
SAP’s is taking an holistic approach to its User Experience for the User Interface and Digital Assistants meaning we will provide single access to all the necessary components.
For the Digital Assistant this means, we intend to combine a central user experience on the according web entry-page (the company-wide launchpad, imagine as a combination of SAP Work Zone and SAP Launchpad Service), with access to the Digital Assistants for the different SAP intelligent Suite applications based on the same technology (SAP Conversational AI). On this common UI, you should also be able to leverage the conversational user journeys of the different Digital Assistants / Chatbots (built in the different SAP intelligent Suite applications) in a “concierge-manner-model”. Such a Multi Capability Assistant (or commonly referred as “Multibot”) combines and connects Assistants / Chatbots in a cross-applications manner and allows orchestration across systems. The Digital Assistants in this concept should serve both for human-to-machine and human-to-human communication (where applicable).
Currently, we are still carving out the necessary architectural and technical prerequisites and interdependencies. The improvement of the current SAP Conversational AI platform designated to build this approach is on SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP) to ensure that all components are planned to work seamlessly together. We expect first communication of timelines and external roadmap entries by midyear 2022 at the earliest.
As already mentioned, if you have gained interest in the topic, look at our successor blog on the concrete implemented use case of the “Operational Purchaser Chatbot for SAP S/4HANA Cloud”.
(and btw., whenever I mention SAP S/4HANA Cloud, I include on premise deployments of SAP S/4HANA)