An ERP application has always been an attempt to wrap code around a business process that enables both automation and standardization. Organizations that embrace packaged ERP applications would then write a lot of code to fill in the workflow gaps between business processes. But as ERP applications move into the cloud, providers of ERP applications are starting to significantly increase the number of business processes that can be automated by applying both machine and deep learning algorithms.
Case in point is the latest release of SAP S/4 HANA Cloud, which among other new capabilities can now automatically extract payment information from PDF documents. Previously, that task inside most organizations was either performed manually or via a separate application that needed to be developed or acquired.
SAP in this release is also moving to automate payment processes. In addition, each time a new sales order is created, revenue forecasts being generated via the general ledger application are automatically updated, which then in turn creates an updated sales forecast using a predictive analytics application.
Similar capabilities for automating purchasing, supply chains and asset management are also being added. Each of those processes essentially can now be adjusted in real time based on the sales orders being generated. Historically, organizations that wanted to apply that level of sophistication to their processes needed to write a lot of their own software or acquire business process management (BPM) software that would still need to be extensively customized.
Christian Pedersen, chief product officer for SAP S/4 HANA Cloud, says the scale at which the number of processes that can be automated from within the SAP HANA Cloud Platform Cockpit console will only increase exponentially. In fact, SAP is now taking requests for processes to automate via a Customer Influence site it just launched.
“We’re crowdsourcing new ideas,” says Pedersen.
Some of those new ideas, however, will be generated by SAP applications that continue to learn how to improve processes over time, adds Pedersen. Most of those innovations will eventually be applied both in the cloud and on-premises. But given the amount of data that SAP can collect via the cloud to fuel machine and deep learning algorithms, every major advance going forward will manifest itself first in the cloud.
It’s not clear how the relationship between man and machine is going to evolve when it comes to automating business processes in the future. The one thing that is clear is that machines will be handling many more tasks. The next question then becomes discovering where humans can add value on top of rote processes that software will soon automate, often of its own accord.