SAP re-christens Leonardo as its “system of innovation”

SAP CEO Bill McDermott

SAP CEO Bill McDermott

ORLANDO — As a major player in the traditional ERP game, SAP has a reputation as a company that creates “systems of records” for enterprises. But with an expansion of its Leonardo platform, heretofore its platform for Internet of Things, the company is looking to offer its customers a “system of innovation.”

At its SAPPHIRE Now conference here this week, SAP announced changes to Leonardo, dubbing it the “digital innovation system,” and pulling in capabilities to support that claim, ranging from machine learning to artificial intelligence, to Blockchain.

“This is the biggest move our company has made since HANA, and we all know how that worked out,” McDermott said, referencing the company’s in-memory database, which has become the underpinnings of everything it does and the fastest-growing product in the company’s history.

As it has with other platform offerings, the company is taking steps to build a broader ecosystem around Leonardo, faster, by opening up APIs and other connectors to make it easier for partners and other developers to build custom applications, integrations, and other add-ons that will work with the core functionality of Leonardo. At its Global Partner Summit earlier this week, the importance of partner-developed intellectual property was a major theme.

New functionality being rolled into Leonardo includes tools for embedding machine learning into SAP- or partner-built applications running on the platform, as well as related analytics and data intelligence capabilities, with the aim to make it easier and quicker to derive useful information from the array of data collected. Leonardo will also add support for distributed ledge capabilities based on Blockchain running on SAP’s cloud.

While systems of records are still important, and McDermott said that access to enterprise-wide data afforded by its S/4HANA core ERP offerings are a key to digital business, there is another key in his estimation, and that key is speed. That’s where Leonardo comes in, with demos showing how customers can use both the software and SAP-offered services around it to more quickly introduce ideas like IOT and machine learning into their business transformation — in one instance, the company showed how IOT connections into S4/HANA could allow a tool rental company to go from a model that rents a concrete drill by the day, to one that rents by the number of holes drilled — drill-as-a-service, if you will.

McDermott said that speed is important in this particular business revolution, because in his estimation, previous revolutions (the industrial and Internet) allowed “a buffer” between those who led the way and those who waited for the new way to become mainstream to adapt, this time, there is no buffer.

“There will be early adopters, and there will be also-rans,” McDermott said. “Our job is to make you winners in the digital economy.”

In many ways, Leonardo represents a reversal of the traditional SAP way of looking at the world, Bern Leukert, the company’s head of products and innovation jokes, noting that before, the company made business strategy into software. Now, he said, it’s making software into business strategy.

He stressed the importance of being open — both in terms of how Leonardo and its connections are built, and in terms of the data the system can ingest and enter into consideration, citing the ability to bring in outside data ranging from traffic and weather information for logistics planning, to social media data for customer profiles.

If done right, with the machine-learning piece, Leukert said, Leonardo will drive a great deal of automation.

“In a few years from now, at least 80 per cent of all business processes running through our systems will be fully autonomous,” he predicted.

Leukert also made the case for Leonardo and its related applications, which will be largely cloud-based, as a reason for customers who have thus far remained on-premise to consider moving some, if not all, of its technology stack to the cloud, calling it a pre-requisite to surviving in the digital world.

“[The cloud] is where operation excellence will occur,” he said. “Leave the technology to us.”