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SAP: The intelligent enterprise driven by 5G

Frank Wilde, Vice President Global Center of Excellence at SAP, on the power of 5G and data to enable digital change in organisations

|Jun 30|magazine18 min read

“With 5G, our business technology platform and our IoT capabilities, we can fundamentally change how our customers operate and go to market, it’s an exciting prospect and represents a step function change for enterprises,” says Frank Wilde, Vice President of the Global Center of Excellence (CoE) at SAP. Wilde is a seasoned technology leader responsible for driving innovation with SAP’s customers using the latest technologies to digitally transform, create enhanced customer experience as well as unlock new revenue streams. 

Given such an approach, Wilde and his Global CoE colleagues work closely with customers to use data and technology effectively, to think outside the box and to innovate in a customer-centric fashion. “We help them think differently about SAP, and think differently about technology,” he explains. “We take a data-driven approach, in doing so we bring a team of data scientists and platform architects, and we help the customer think about their data differently. It’s like a test-drive - we’re not simply driven by a particular technology, for example. Rather, we show how responsive our platforms and technologies can be, how rapidly we can change their business models, and demonstrate how exciting the possibilities are. Mentally, we really change the dynamic.”

Central to this work with customers is a blue sky approach to innovation that runs through SAP, and is a particular passion for Wilde. “It’s the centerpiece of how we’re able to instigate change,” he explains. “Whatever the size of the customer or the project, we work closely and collaboratively to drive success. I love solving problems - we all do - and working together on the strategy, the process and technology. An example is work we recently launched with Duke University in North Carolina. They asked for our help to innovate, and when we sat down together they were unaware of our offerings and had little idea we could support data science and analytics, or that we used a platform-based approach to support innovation. And that’s where open and honest conversations are crucial. Often, we see that our customers don’t always know what they need, or what is available, so that collaborative approach we utilise is key.”

Change is an underlying driver of our CoE’s work, in particular helping organisations to better understand technology so as to navigate a successful digital transformation. “We now have the ability for business models on demand to come to life,” Wilde says. “Look at an Uber or a Lyft, and you’ll see the shift towards a platform-based approach opposed to relying on a dedicated application or system to influence change. We base our work around a platform that - in its most basic form - is like Lego blocks. We can create new businesses or concepts in a very short period of time with predefined and pre-built services, or microservices. 

“The acceleration of moving from a mainframe environment to being on the cusp of edge services and edge computing, makes it exciting when you can weave together the fabric of a company in short order,” he continues. “You just have to look at the Fortune 500 as an example; a third of those businesses are slated to disappear from that list in five to seven years - there’s a rapid escalation of new business models coming to life enabled by technology, and it’s really the key trend that’s dominating right now.”

In terms of technology, Wilde and SAP drive customers to innovate and use technology in a customer-centric way. To do this, he explains, the company leverages its 49 years of experience. “It lets us look at our customers through a unique lens,” he states. “When you marry data management, analytics, and digital supply chain services into a holistic platform, it forms a powerful proposition that can bring new technologies and business models to life.” This proposition is the result of a partnership between SAP and Verizon that was announced in October of 2019. The collaboration sees Verizon’s network and platform capabilities married with SAP’s software and services. 

Through this work, customers are able to benefit from new technologies such as 5G, software-defined networking, and Verizon’s Intelligent Edge Network capabilities. The former is an exciting proposition for both Wilde and SAP. SAP launched its 5G Council in 2018, for example, as a cross-industry collaborative council of SAP customers to better understand the changes necessary to adopt 5G. 

“5G represents a step function change in terms of capability, it’s like jumping from a bicycle to a race car,” says Wilde. “You’re able to pull together various aspects - data, AI, machine learning and edge services - and build a true hub and platform for innovation. The 5G Council represents a 5G ecosystem comprising our customers, partners and companies such as Verizon and Ericsson, that addresses new business models and monetisation strategies. Also, we have worked closely with Deloitte Consulting LLP to create 5G ‘playbooks’ that show what can be brought to life with the power of 5G in specific industries such as retail, manufacturing and oil & gas.”

The technology may still be in its relative early stages, but Wilde sees enormous potential to fundamentally change how businesses approach innovation. In particular, he explains, private deployment of 5G will likely gain significant traction over the next few years. “You look at manufacturing, for example,” Wilde says. “We’ve worked on an Industry 4.0 approach for several manufacturers whereby we have created a 5G environment that can support innovations like autonomous vehicles, augmented reality technology that allows work to be digitally tracked as it flows through the shop floor, and so on. 

“Similarly, there’s huge potential in the retail sector,” he continues. “For example, 5G gives us the ability to use video analytics at scale as well as mixed reality to scan product contents or look for drug interactions; you can also introduce autonomous checkout and other innovations. As I said, 5G forms an entirely new platform upon which we can adopt these technologies for each customer and sector across the value chain. It really is an exciting prospect in terms of transforming business.”

Where that prospect becomes truly innovative, relates Wilde, is when 5G is coupled with edge services. “If I can have the processing occur on an IoT sensor or on a vehicle, then I can create a new experience or service,” he explains, “which means you remove any delays, any latency. It’s a level of intelligence and responsiveness that we can bring to life that we haven’t been able to do before. There are productivity changes there, too - you remove that complexity from the shop floor and change the experiences and effectiveness of workers and you immediately improve output. You’re going to see significant change over the next five to eight years as 5G rolls out, so we are bullish on our predictions in that regard.”

Of course, many of the approaches to business and digital strategies have been disrupted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the impact of a shift to remote working has been felt by many industries worldwide, from a technology perspective there is a general sentiment that such a shift will focus many organisations on technology adoption. 

For Wilde, 5G and its associated technologies could play a significant role in a post-COVID environment. “It offers a significant opportunity, particularly on the retail side to remove contact or friction from the experience. So, you could introduce technology that shows optimised routes through a store based on previous shopping trips, or mixed reality technology that lets you identify the contents of products with an immersive, 3D experience. Upon that is the capability to build AI and chatbots, or a level of dynamic content that satisfies consumer needs without requiring face to face interaction with a store’s employees.”

While no one is able to fully predict the ‘new normal’ we face, when it comes to 5G Wilde feels that SAP is well placed in rolling out the technology and working with customers to remain ahead of the curve. “In the next 36 months you’re going to see a watershed moment for 5G,” he states. “If I look to 2021-22, when customers are able to visualise the proof points we have put in place and the potential of edge services, data management and 5G woven together, then I see a strong case for why they should all have it high on their agenda ”

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