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Why data is the new superpower

In the latest episode of The Future Fast, SAP platforms head Irfan Khan gives ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK an insight into the data demands of the 2020s

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Faster than a speeding train? Leaping tall buildings in a single bound?

That is so 20th century. As we head into the third decade of the 21st century, out-performance will be driven by knowledge and agility, not strength. And that depends on the power of data, deployed to meet the needs of the customer.

You can also forget about data being the new oil, as the cliché goes. Data is the new superpower. 

That is the topic of a presentation given this week at the annual SAP TechEd event for developers, engineers and technology professionals. Held online for the first time due to Covid-19, the pandemic also shaped much of the vision presented during the event.

“When we refer to data becoming a superpower, we firstly look through the lens of Covid, where of course many, many customers and many businesses have been hugely disrupted,” says Irfan Khan, president of SAP’s platform and technologies division, in a video interview on the topic of his presentation at TechEd. “While many customers may have been storing data, hoarding data even, and actually making sure that the data was managed precisely as it should be, with a high degree of competence, the data wasn’t necessarily working for the customer.”

In short, data only becomes a superpower once it is put to work to meet customer needs, rather than being kept in storage on behalf of the compliance and regulatory functions.

 “What we’re trying to advocate, now, with data becoming a superpower, is taking the foundation of all of the data processing, all the data management that is already being invested in, but taking that much higher up the value chain and shorten the time to value to as well. What (our) customers are really looking at right now is how can they make sure that their markets, their businesses, are not being disrupted. They would like to disrupt rather than be disrupted.

“At the same time, as we take a look at the very significant part of the processing aspect of data, there’s also the very important part of a looking at it through a predictive lens. it’s really about making sure that data can be used, not just in terms of the value equation of the past, but the value equation of the future as well.”

SAP’s new Business Technology Platform (BTP), which has been under intense discussion during TechEd, is a key element of this approach.

“BTP ultimately is talking about a selection of different assets, right across database and data management, across analytics, across process excellence, where you’d want to integrate and extend that data and applications,” says Khan. “And it brings together a high degree of integration across all those different environments.

“Take an example where, if you’ve got a customer today that is focusing perhaps on process excellence, (in terms of) data becoming a superpower, you need to have data excellence in combination with that. Through its ability to have trusted data access, the ability to make sure that you can look at data from every significant point of view, the BTP galvanises all of the different assets across data and process excellence. And it makes it very, very easy for you to be able to take all the data, be it on-premise or in the cloud, and being able to unify that data for greater value.”

What does that value look like? Where will businesses leverage these new capabilities and technologies? Khan has a clear perspective.

“The original equipment manufacturers want to put a lot more predictive into individual capabilities, whether it’s a product or service. The reality is that everything is so distributed today, if it’s a refrigeration device, whether it’s an appliance in your home or in a manufacturing plant, the reality is that you need a lot more autonomy, the ability for that environment to be managed with a high degree of predictive value rather than a service technician having to go along and do a service call.

“Also, we take a look at the foundation of revenue operations, where you look at margin leakage and revenue leakage, tying together operations and revenue, so that you have a single straight line thought process between when a product is conceived and the profitability that you would want to get out of that.

“The next decade out, because of 5G, we’re going to see the pervasiveness of enterprise-grade, highly distributed applications. Geographically distributed locations can be connected with a high degree of resilience and integrity across all processes.

“We’re going to see in the next decade, the user experience changing tremendously. Conversational AI will allow us to be able to not just use chatbots on a per-incident basis, but they will become much more pervasive.

“As we start building upon some of those capabilities in the decade ahead, it will be like the cloud computing wave that took place in the last decade. Everything will become mainstream, with a lot more capabilities around AI, machine learning, blockchain. Technology foundations, just like in BTP, will make themselves available to the masses.”

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