SAP TechEd is a developer-focused conference so, therefore, it made sense that Bernd Leukert’s executive keynote was themed around building the intelligent enterprise – the services SAP provides to technical teams to bring data, processes and users together creating SAP’s Intelligent Enterprise.

Two big announcements – ABAP on the SAP Cloud Platform and SAP Open Connectors (covered in my last blog) – preceded SAP TechEd 2018, suggesting something new and big was on the horizon. Sure enough, there were big announcements around SAP S/4HANA and the SAP Cloud Platform – around the 20-minute mark came the announcement that SAP S/4HANA would include embedded Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and SAP Cloud Platform would now feature serverless functions.

Mark Williment

Head of Technology

Robotic Process Automation

RPA uses digital workers (or bots) to carry out repetitive tasks previously done by people, to improve operational efficiency and client experience – an area we are very excited about at Keytree. RPA is different to desktop automation because it allows digital workers to run unattended with their own log-in credentials. They mirror the activity of a user, running via the user interface and executing a set of rule-based activities. When combined with machine learning such as image recognition, the number of opportunities for automation expand significantly.

Bernd Leukert’s brief announcement at SAP TechEd contained a number of interesting aspects. Firstly, that RPA would be embedded in SAP S/4HANA – the challenge with RPA is the rules that digital workers follow may need to change if the UI is modified but being a core part of SAP S/4HANA should remove this limitation. Bernd also said the SAP S/4HANA RPA will utilise machine learning including natural language processing. This approach has the possibility of allowing the bots to understand the context of the data they are working on – extending their use from structured data, to performing tasks that depend on “meaning” in natural language data.

Finally, as well as SAP standard bots there is an intention for a marketplace for bots, which would create a great opportunity for SAP partners to cover specific cases and for organisations to create their own specific bots for their business such as bots tailored to processing mortgage applications, insurance claims, invoices and tax forms.

Serverless Computing

Serverless Computing is a way of running code in a cloud environment where instead of reserving compute capacity – it’s created on demand in response to an event. To explain further, a web service responds to a request by running some code and returning a result. Before the use of cloud technology, a physical server was needed to run that code. Cloud bought virtual servers, and Platform as a Service (PaaS) abstract containers to run the code – for all – the capacity is pre-assigned.

Serverless takes this a step further – when an event occurs the computing power to respond to it is dynamically assigned, and then goes away once the event has finished. The developer does not need to worry about capacity, it’s assigned dynamically. Also, if the event occurs infrequently, the capacity to run it is not paid for most of the time, which was pioneered by Amazon Web Services with their Lambda service, but is not in beta on SAP Cloud Platform.

A simple demo was shown during the keynote. Albeit simple, it showed that the SAP offering may be very powerful. Serverless functions are run in response to an event, originally with Lambda an incoming HTTP request (e.g. a client calling a web service), events are then extended to queued items, timers and so on. An important source of events that companies need to respond to is business events within their systems of record – an order to be created, a new hire, an invoice being received, a manufacturing event occurring.

The keynote demo showed how easily these events in SAP products (S/4HANA, SuccessFactors, and so on) could be used to trigger SAP Cloud Platform serverless functions and make data from that event available to the function.

So with very little coding, developers can write specialised responses that are triggered automatically to core business events – they can create post processing or notifications but where events are relatively rare there is no need to have spare compute capacity assigned for them – it’s assigned dynamically as and when those events occurred. A very powerful tool and one that I personally think will rapidly become a key element of the SAP Cloud Platform.