SAP is renowned for its enterprise software, providing solutions across finance, supply chain and more.  Another side of its business, however, lies in advising customers on the adoption of innovative technology.  Frank Wilde is a Vice President for SAP’s Global Center of Excellence (COE), which serves to provide this advice and expertise. “The Global COE is designed to be an incubator to support the sales motion and create a linkage to our product organization,” he explains. “We help introduce new innovations and showcase the latest aspects of our portfolio to drive new customer conversations.  A core component lies in making it easier for our sales teams to learn about new aspects of our portfolio, and then turn those into customer driven conversations. We're fundamentally changing the relationship with customers to be much more customer focused and much more agile as a result.”

One of the most potentially transformative technologies of recent times is 5G, and SAP is ensuring companies successfully weather the change with the aid of technology. “5G is a fundamental transition and transformation of the network,” says Wilde. “Moving from hardware driven upgrades and a hardware driven network into a software defined network turns the network into a platform. For example, because you are now able to guarantee a level of connectivity to a robotic arm that's performing a surgery a hundred miles away, you can wrap a new business model around that and charge for that as a service. You can then expand that to remote equipment diagnostics, or being able to engage in a retail experience in novel ways. We see 5G as very much a game changer as we look at the next three, four or five years.”

The introduction of 5G brings with it a host of considerations as well, an increase in data volume being one of the most important to address. “One of the main opportunities that we're encountering is data management,” says Wilde. “As we move from a 4G to a 5G world, the size and quantity of data streams is growing exponentially.  We're envisioning, a six, seven, eight-fold increase in data usage over the next few years.  That is going to be a significant challenge for our customers with regards to data management and data strategy.”  To successfully deal with data in such volumes, one solution SAP offers is its recently launched Data Hub, which can link data regardless of where it is stored. “Organizations which had been trying to organize data into data lakes can now lean on HANA and our Data Hub platform to stitch together a hybrid data environment.  Knowing that a central depository or even one data lake is not going to be able to serve the enterprise needs of a given customer, we've put in place a framework and a data strategy that relies on a hybrid approach.  You need to take into account that federated model rather than try to centralize it.”

Aside from 5G opening up new business possibilities, Wilde also identifies the potential of the technology when deployed with new technologies such as AI, machine learning and edge computing. “We're embedding AI and machine learning across our entire portfolio,” he explains. “Everything from being able to automate the selection of resumes to embedding it within analytics to help streamline and drive decision making.  We see it as very much as a fundamental component of how we handle design and development, and when it comes to innovation, that's where we're helping customers on the ground think differently.  How they can use 5G coupled with AI and machine learning, with conversational AI, to bring new processes to life and streamline their approach, for example.”

This combined approach is emblematic of the solutions SAP provides. Wilde identifies two guiding principles informing the company’s operations: customer driven innovation and an ecosystem approach. The company’s work with key telecommunications firms serves as an example of this mindset in practice. “It's very much a strategic partnership as well as a customer relationship that we've nurtured over the course of the last couple of years,” says Wilde. “We’ve helped them put in place a core data backbone and the ability to lean on the core functions around finance and supply chain that they need to be able to succeed and grow going forward. We realize that SAP is uniquely positioned to be able to help telecom organizations digitally transform, consolidate their environments and land on one enterprise data platform, not only for their own internal use but also for how they go to market. Where telcos bring the connectivity, SAP brings an enterprise data platform and the two solutions very much are tied at the hip, particularly as we look to innovate around 5G.”

The process by which SAP’s Center of Excellence brings customers on board is comprehensive, aiming to understand the customer’s needs and in turn inform them of the possibilities SAP offer. “We've put together and created a co-innovation playbook that's specific to 5G through our partnership with Deloitte, for example. We're helping customers look holistically at what 5G is, understand what the use cases are and develop solutions together,” says Wilde. To accomplish this, SAP employs concrete demonstrations. “We've started 5G proofs of concept to showcase the art of the possible and bring 5G to life. We want to be able to use these engagements as a lighthouse to say, ‘this is one example of the smart manufacturing of the future,’ for example. Or, ‘these are the use cases that we've identified and brought to life in a retail environment.’ We're doing that across targeted industries and then flowing into all 26 verticals that we have business process expertise in.

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“Based on the proofs of concept that we run, we create points of view to identify the top 12 or 15 innovations in a given industry. Whether it's predictive modeling or AI or machine learning, we bake that into a point of view to showcase the art of the possible for each one of the industries we operate in.  Having that baseline with tangible outcomes is one of the core components that helps us drive customer conversations, because we're able to point to work that we've performed.”

Going into the future SAP has assembled a 5G Council, pulling together hardware manufacturers, telecommunications companies, equipment providers and customers to further innovate in the 5G space, and Wilde is clear that such innovations do not represent business-as-usual incremental upgrades, but instead a transformative tsunami. “5G adoption is not just for the sake of new technology but represents a fundamental shift in thinking, moving from a hardware driven network into a software defined one,” says Wilde. “Look at how fast Tesla, Uber and Airbnb came to life. We're seeing an ever increasing speed of testing new business models. We want to be able to give our customers that same platform, so they can incubate new ideas and land on new monetization strategies as they go to market in new ways.”

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