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SAP Leonardo next-generation technologies sparking interest

Call them what you will, next-generation technologies, like blockchain and machine learning, had their own growth paths before coming under the SAP Leonardo umbrella.

SAP pulled a slew of technologies together to present its latest offering, SAP Leonardo, at this year's Sapphire Now conference.

The combination of artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, analytics, internet of things and blockchain have all been labeled as next-generation technologies, and they do have real-world applications. But while some users have completed projects with these tools and others are testing the waters, experts question how much of SAP Leonardo is really new and different, and how much it can lead to applications for a variety of industries.

SAP is right to bake Leonardo technology directly into the software, according to Brad Shimmin, service director for global IT technology and software at research firm GlobalData. SAP competitors, including Oracle, have already released internet of things (IoT) applications for processes such as fleet management, which only requires you to buy the software -- everything else is done for you. SAP is approaching it similarly.

Demand exists for the technology, depending on the market area, Shimmin said. For example, a financial services company may benefit from implementing real-time analytics on its trading floor, applying machine learning to identify new opportunities. Doing so operationalizes knowledge and eliminates the need for a large staff of data scientists and actuaries to build the data model, accelerating the time to market for new offerings.

The machine learning piece has a definite application in marketing, according to Bruce Petillo, marketing director at Insight Enterprises Inc., speaking in a panel discussion at Sapphire. The technology services provider uses machine learning and automation on the sales side, and by integrating it with the SAP Cloud Platform, is able to move prospects through the sales funnel without as much contact with sales representatives. This frees up the representatives' time to connect with prospects that are more qualified and to solve business problems.

On the predictive analytics side, Insight uses data, such as the types of materials and content that prospects and customers are downloading, to create models to figure out which ones are more likely to buy certain applications, and then provide information that meets those needs, Petillo said.

Blockchain may lead SAP Leonardo next-generation technologies

While it's not completely new -- the first blockchain experiments began in 2008 -- earlier this year, Harvard Business Review called blockchain a "foundational technology."

Despite the potential, blockchain may take decades to mature, but companies are starting to tune into it as a possibility, according to Kris Hansen, senior principal for financial services at SAP.

"People in multiple industries want to understand, 'what does blockchain mean for me?'" Hansen said.

In many cases, it means another way of interacting with other parties in their business networks, and not just moving money, although that is certainly one use case.

Alberta-based ATB Financial ran a blockchain test at the Payments Canada Summit in June 2016 to transfer $1,000 to a bank in Germany. The idea was to immerse the company in the technology and understand the different pieces involved in moving money, according to John Tarnowski, head of customer experience at ATB Financial. The company created the pilot in nine days using SAP technology and partnering with a German bank.

"It raised some eyebrows that it was possible," Tarnowski said.

It worked, and ATB Financial is exploring other uses.

"We have several innovation test cases that we're looking at blockchain to solve," said Wellington Holbrook, ATB Financial's chief transformation officer.

Digital identity may be a very real application for it, and involves creating a blockchain code that is assigned permanently to an individual. That way, when someone changes banks and opens a checking account, it's faster and easier to verify who they are, he said.

The autonomous province of South Tyrol, an Italian province nestled on the border between Italy and Austria, has examined blockchain as a way of securely storing and transmitting citizen data. Government agencies, by their nature, don't share data, meaning citizens must provide the same information multiple times, according to Stefan Gasslitter, general director of South Tyrolean Informatics. South Tyrol built a proof of concept in three months on the SAP Cloud Platform and is attempting to bring together the siloed government departments.

"With blockchain, we've discovered a whole new SAP," Gasslitter said. He added that blockchain capabilities have changed the perception of SAP from a monolith to a more accessible company that has "handshake policy flexibility."

But blockchain still has its kinks, mainly in the area of regulation, according to Gasslitter.

"Next is for us to work on the regulatory framework, because blockchain is not regulated," he said, noting that it could take a while, as government is not known for being responsive.

Still, there are concerns about the SAP Leonardo package, particularly blockchain, as it applies to more than just financial services. Blockchain creates an auditable record, which is important for companies, according to GlobalData's Shimmin. However, there is concern about how blockchain will evolve in various markets like financial services, as well as for companies that are building infrastructure for specific horizontals.

SAP's move to SAP Leonardo is moving the company more toward a broad platform, Shimmin said. What remains to be seen is whether the vendor will have to back off from the branding, as it did for BusinessObjects and for the HANA Cloud Platform.

Overall, the next-generation technologies of SAP Leonardo do have practical use cases, and machine learning, intelligence, big data, IoT and analytics can seemingly be deployed now. What will be interesting is the evolution of blockchain and whether it fits as well in the SAP Leonardo box in a few years as it seems to today.

Next Steps

Learn about SAP Cloud Platform's industrial internet of things features

Read what SAP's CEO said about the intelligent enterprise

See how Leonardo was described when it was launched

SAP Leonardo continues to promote blockchain adoption

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