Creators: Triggr Health Taps Machine Learning to Prevent Substance Abuse

Stephanie Overby

CEO John Haskell was inspired to use machine learning to replicate human intuition.

John Haskell remembers that he took “more years than most” to get his undergraduate degree from Stanford University. He struggled to finish his major in urban studies while managing his manic depression. Ultimately he found the right treatment.

But a friend with a substance dependency came close to committing suicide following several stays in rehab and subsequent relapses. A phone call from her mother, who picked up on signs that her daughter was in distress, saved the friend’s life.

The incident stuck with Haskell, and it inspired Triggr Health, an app that uses machine learning to analyze a participant’s smartphone data to predict—and hopefully prevent—the potentially tragic consequences of substance use and addiction.

The friend’s mother listened to her intuition when she noticed that her daughter wasn’t playing Words with Friends, was texting at odd hours, and wasn’t returning phone calls. Such instincts are a human method of data analysis, Haskell says.

“She was processing data, understanding patterns, and recognizing a deviation.” Haskell wanted to replicate that process with an app that uses passive phone activity, such as screen engagement, texting patterns, phone logs, sleep history, and location and that uses machine learning to look for patterns that suggest troubling changes in behavior.

Disrupting the Traditional Approaches

What bothered Haskell most about his friend’s battle with addiction was the shortage of proven treatment options. “It’s basically rehab, abstinence, and 12-step programs,” he observes, and the long-term outcomes are poor. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, of approximately 23 million Americans who are dependent on drugs or alcohol, only about 10% seek treatment. A fraction of those (one-third, according to a study published by Evaluation Review) successfully overcome their addiction. “There’s a ton of potential to reach people earlier and to offer them support and guidance that may not require as much motivation or action” as entering a treatment program, Haskell says.

A counselor interacts with participants according to their goals, using data to predict when a person may be at risk.

A complicating factor is that 45% of people with substance abuse disorders also have co-occurring mental health disorders, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Although mental health apps accounted for nearly a third of the healthcare apps available worldwide in 2015, according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, Haskell found none that were specifically aimed at using data to help patients fight substance abuse and addiction.

Worse, most mental health apps do not apply advanced analytics to clients’ data to predict negative outcomes. So Haskell hired a team of engineers and data scientists, most of them ex-Google employees, to build the Triggr Health app.

Rather than take what Haskell terms a “clinical trial approach” to development—working with a small set of individuals at first to prove the app’s efficacy—Triggr Health worked with community programs and other partners to build a robust data set.

The system can predict with 92% accuracy when a participant is likely to disengage from positive recovery behavior (and possibly relapse) within three days.

Haskell says the system can predict with 92% accuracy when a participant is likely to disengage from positive recovery behavior (and possibly relapse) within three days. If the data shows that a participant is at risk, a Triggr Health guide steps in to check in on the individual or alert the client’s designated outside care team.

Overcoming Stigma

Triggr Health’s marketing avoids the use of words like addiction, billing itself instead as a support app for reducing drinking and drug use. That’s because it can be difficult to separate alcohol and drug use from underlying mental illnesses or other issues, such as trauma.

For people who are self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, Haskell intends Triggr Health to be an avenue for them to make positive changes without feeling stigmatized. “It’s really difficult to reduce drug use or drinking—or achieve sustainable change—without addressing the mental health side,” Haskell says. Such treatment may be beyond the scope of a 12-step program.

For such individuals, in-person mental health therapy is by far the best treatment, says Haskell, but not everyone is ready for it or has access to it. Haskell thinks that if the app can recognize through behavioral data what a participant might be experiencing without the individual having to call, text, or otherwise reach out for help, Triggr Health can intervene when those struggling with substance use might otherwise isolate themselves.

Built for Trust

When participants sign up for Triggr Health, they are paired with a counselor (called a behavioral change guide) who can help them manage cravings, practice mindfulness, and plan for situations (such as happy hour with colleagues or a family visit) that are likely to make them want to drink or use. The company has trained a team of more than 20 such guides around the United States utilizing a clinical curriculum developed in part by the company’s chief medical officer (a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco) in conjunction with advisors from the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University, and Dartmouth College.

The Triggr Health app collects phone activity, including texting patterns and location.

These guides have the data they need to make effective, timely interventions. “We’re collecting participants’ phone data on the back end so we understand how they’re doing over time, but we combine that with 24×7 nonjudgmental support,” says Haskell. “It’s critical that the guide builds trust with the participant on the good days and the bad days.” That way, when the system alerts the guide that something may be going sideways, the participant is more likely to respond to the resulting intervention.

The guides may communicate with some participants daily, if that’s what the individual’s goals or needs require. (Other participants may spend more time with self-guided tools to manage cravings and plan for challenging situations.) Each guide today can be paired with as many as 500 participants, but Haskell says the predictive data, which alerts guides to interact with participants when needed, makes the model scalable. Haskell estimates that one guide could handle thousands of participants.

The Cost of Prevention

Triggr Health is not cheap by app standards; it costs about US$2 a day to use. Sometimes individuals pay that directly. In other cases, a health plan or recovery center pays for the app or reimburses the customer. The majority of Triggr Health customers have not yet sought formal treatment, Haskell says.

Over time, Triggr Health may help to reduce treatment costs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a 30-day substance abuse treatment program can cost between $10,000 and $19,000; some residential programs charge more than $35,000. “When we are successful at keeping people healthy, it ends up saving insurers money,” Haskell says. Sprout Health Group, one of Triggr Health’s partners, has said that since the company started using the app with its patients, the overall cost per patient has declined.

Encouraging More Help

Triggr Health’s participants tend to be highly engaged and open to sharing their phone data, says Haskell. Protecting that data by ensuring the app is HIPAA compliant has been a top priority from the start. “We make it clear through our interaction with customers that we are using their data to inform how we reach out to them and help them achieve their personal goals. What we look at is an indicator of how someone is doing, not what they are actually doing.”

Using machine learning to help treat an inherently vulnerable population carries a significant risk, particularly with individuals for whom a relapse can be fatal. When dealing with people who are addicted to heroin, which is life-threatening, Triggr Health’s behavioral guides work closely with individuals to motivate them to seek treatment beyond the app. “We have yet to find someone who loves using heroin and thinks everything is going great. They started using because something else was going wrong in their lives,” Haskell says. “Our goal is to open them up to care that is more intensive.”

At whatever stage Triggr Health’s participants enroll in the app, the approach is the same, says Haskell: “If somebody is open to higher levels of care, we encourage looking into options such as individual therapy or medication-based therapies. Our goal is always to treat the whole individual—on their terms.” D!


We Were Kings (Or When Things Went To Zero)

Spiros Margaris

The title of this post was inspired by the 1996 documentary “When We Were Kings,” about the heavyweight fight of 1974 between two boxing legends, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. In the not-so-distant future, it will also be a fitting phrase for many in the banking and insurance industries.

Readers may ask why I am talking about banking and insurance in such doomsday terms. My bleak forecast does not stem from the notion behind the common fintech (financial technology) and insurtech (insurance technology) industry pitch that they will change their respective industries with innovation and better customer experiences, although I firmly believe that some of the startups will cause significant pain to the incumbents and will indeed change their respective industries. One day, some of the existing and as-yet-unlaunched fintech and insurtech companies will also become incumbents that other startups aim to disrupt.

The real threat to the financial industry will come from a radical approach to penetrate the financial market—an approach that I believe has not yet been addressed or even conceived by the competition. The emphasis is clearly on “yet.”

What is this new concept? It is simply this: offering financial services at or below cost. I have mooted this idea at many think tank events, and I thought I should write it down to share it more broadly. It is, and should be, a terrifying thought for many, and I strongly believe this approach will be implemented in the near future. It will bring many of the incumbents to their knees, unless they prepare for what is to come by investing in technology and adapting radical business models.

People talk about the limited impact of fintech and insurtech on the incumbent business model. I must agree that at this point many startups have little influence, if you look only at the customers they have taken away from incumbents. What the startups are already doing, however, is forcing many incumbents to lower their fees to better match what the smaller players offer to their clients.

Moreover, startups have also changed customers’ expectations of the user experience. Startups will also use artificial intelligence and machine learning to compete against the established financial players that have more resources—such as money, data and clients—at hand to compete. There is no way around investing in AI and machine learning to compete successfully against tech-savvy competitors. Many startups and large companies already use machine learning algorithms to build better credit risk models, predict bad loans, detect fraud, anticipate financial market behavior, improve customer relationship management, and provide more customized services to their clients. Arguably, the biggest effect of startups is that they continuously put pressure on incumbent profit margins. Startups will continue to try to change the status quo because they smell blood in the incumbent water.

The real and biggest threat to incumbents will likely originate from tech giants, such as Amazon, Apple and Facebook, and other big non-tech companies that have large customer and employee bases. These organizations will use their customers and employees to sell banking and insurance solutions, and the big financial institutions will become at best dumb pipes. The technical approaches to doing business within the fintech and insurtech industries may provide some of the tools tech giants and other large companies need to execute this strategy.

I know some readers will say that regulators will stop any attempt by non-traditional players to provide many banking and insurance services. However, I do not think regulators can or will stop the new competitors, because these companies will either obtain the necessary licenses to operate or have a bank or insurer provide third-party financial services to them. This strategy is not unlike the way some fintech challenger banks use the licenses of an existing bank to operate.

Why should we expect this scenario of financial industry disruption to happen? In our case, we all seem to agree that the tech giants are the ones to fear because of the Big Data platform and technology knowledge they possess. In addition, tech giants have several advantages, such as the trust factor and the constant interaction with satisfied customers. Furthermore, studies have shown that millennials would prefer to bank with tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, or Google than with the existing banking players. And last but not least are the tech giants and startups that keep setting the bar higher for exceptional customer experience (for instance Apple’s simplicity or Amazon’s instant gratification) and shape the client behavior and expectations, not the incumbents.

All that speaks to tech giants’ favorable circumstances as serious competitors that are not yet ready to come in at full speed and hit the financial industry broadly, but it does not point to the need to fear an extreme disruption as I projected. I do not believe we will see those tech giants providing whole-spectrum financial services anytime soon, but they have the potential to offer services in certain segments, such as providing payment, lending, or insurance options for their customers and employees.

What is terrifying to imagine is a situation in which tech giants or other big companies provide financial service solutions at or below production costs. No, that is not a typo; I mean providing financial services for nothing—for free.

If we take this scenario to its extreme—that is, selling banking or insurance services for nothing (yes, for zero pounds, euros, dollars, or renminbi)—then we have a situation in which financial institutions in their present forms will die or be reduced to shadows of their current selves.

That can and will happen, and here’s why: Large companies could do exactly that—sell at or below cost—to win or keep customers. The new competitors would not need to earn money and could even afford to lose money in offering financial solutions if these features entice customers and new potential clients to use the companies’ core offerings. Remember that Facebook, for instance, earns the biggest portion of their profits through advertising because they have created a great platform through which people love to interact. Financial solutions would be just another great offering (especially if they are offered for free) to entice many people to join the tech giants’ ecosystems.

Alternatively, car companies such as GM could provide their employees and customers with very cheap or no-cost (no cost to customers, at cost for the company) banking or insurance solutions. Don’t forget that banking and insurance solutions can be provided at very little cost as white-label services from third parties that already have all the necessary licenses, technology and infrastructure.

All is not lost for banks and insurers, but it will be very hard for them to compete against savvy tech giants on their technological home turf. The financial industry must think fast to find ways to compete before their business oxygen runs out.

One solution that banks and insurers should pursue aggressively is to embrace the fintech and insurtech industries for their innovative business spirit and fast, direct execution approach to new ideas. That means financial institutions should buy what they can or partner with startups to make up for all the shortcomings that legacy brings. Size and regulation will not be enough to protect incumbent financial institutions against new competitors, as we have seen in many other industries.

Another idea might be for financial institutions to place advertisements on their websites or apps to compensate for loss of profit margins. I do not think this is the only solution, but financial institutions must innovate beyond their core areas of expertise and standard industry practices. Why do you think Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb have been so successful at disrupting their industries? Because they thought and acted as if they had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The “at or below cost” approach to financial service solutions is not a far-fetched scenario for tech giants and other companies that are trying to find new ways to attract and keep clients. The banking and insurance industries must at least get very comfortable with the idea that low-cost or free financial services are coming.

A tsunami is often unnoticed in the open sea, but once it approaches the shore, it causes the sea to rise in a massive, devastating wave. The financial industry needs to determine if the threat by tech giants and non-tech companies is a small wave or a tsunami and prepare accordingly. My recommendation to all financial institutions is this: You’d better prepare for a tsunami, even if all you see is a small wave on the horizon.

For more on digital transformation in the insurance industry, see Preparing For Digital Transformation: What The Insurance Industry Needs To Know.


Spiros Margaris

About Spiros Margaris

Spiros Margaris is a Venture Capitalist & Thought Leader in the FinTech and Insurtech scene. He was ranked No. 1 FinTech and No. 2 Insurtech global influencer by Onalytica and regularly appears in the top three positions in several industry rankings. He is also ranked worldwide the No. 11 AI influencer by Jay Palter Social Advisory. Previously, he worked in banking and money management (hedge funds) and launched two start-ups in New York, one of which would nowadays be termed a fintech. He is a frequent speaker at international fintech and insurtech conferences and publishes articles on his innovation proposals and thought leadership. Twitter @SpirosMargaris

How To Get The Best Out Of Automation

Dr. Markus Noga and Sebastian Schroetel

In 2016, the management consulting firm McKinsey predicted that up to 70% of all tasks are potentially automatable with so-called next-generation technologies. Companies worldwide jumped on that bandwagon and invested heavily in one of the hottest innovations when it comes to automation – robotics.

Today, only a few months later, some experts claim that robotic process automation (RPA) has only been a fast-paced trend based on the excitement of industry leaders, and it is not the predicted “panacea” for all the challenges enterprises face regarding automation. Recently, another blog post by McKinsey tackled this topic and qualified the initial enthusiasm for bots and their supposed potential to incur all sorts of back-office processes. In fact, the rapid adaptation of robotization waived the consideration of its potential downsides.

According to McKinsey, “installing thousands of bots has taken a lot longer and is more complex than most had hoped it would be” and “not unlike humans, thousands of bots need care and attention – in the form of maintenance, upgrades, and cybersecurity protocols, introducing additional costs and demanding ongoing focus for executives.” All in all, the authors state that the economic results of RPA underperformed the estimations, especially with regard to cost reduction. The impression has been strengthened that “people do many different things, and bots may only address some of them.”

The next level of automation

Considering the latest trends in robotics that came along with unexpected complexity, little flexibility, and additional maintenance, automation is still pushing forward. The aim is to help enterprises realize their potential and switch focus from just “keeping the lights on” through human manpower to growth generation triggered by automation technology. A dedicated automation approach to achieve the intelligent enterprise involves three interacting levels:

  • Software components, or “engines,” that provide automation relying on highly specific process knowledge
  • Machine learning that involves teaching a computer how to spot patterns and make connections by showing it a massive volume of data – algorithms that can learn from experience without having to be explicitly programmed
  • Robotic process automation software that operates another application without the support of a human user, helping to run repetitive, rule-based monotonous tasks and bridging temporary gaps

In contrast to the mere RPA approach many companies have pursued in the past, only the integration of all three layers lifts the enterprise to the next automation level. Engines are the basis of enterprise automation activities. They enable companies to shape their processes by making decisions on where to direct incoming inquiries at subsequent steps. But engines have a fixed logic and limited configuration possibility. Therefore, they cannot cover all facets of the business processes and have the potential to only facilitate automation in up to 60% of all cases.

In credit management, for example, credit-rules engines can help evaluate personal creditworthiness and process credit limit applications in a structured way. This is done by automatically categorizing them based on defined scoring rules and assigning a specific credit limit to the customer after the examination is completed.

Applications for machine learning

But what happens when a scenario occurs that wasn’t encountered by the operator? By adding intelligent automation technologies to the automation portfolio, processes become noticeably intelligent. Machine learning can upgrade the automation level of a process up to 98%. How? By setting up general guidelines without telling the system exactly what to do. The underlying algorithm learns from the operator’s previous actions and takes all available data into account to deliver the most relevant response to an occurrence.

Applying this to credit management, machine learning is useful in those cases where a customer lacks a dedicated credit history. Here, machine learning fills in with more accurate forecasting models based on people’s overall payment history, on information related to the borrower’s interaction behavior on the lender’s website, and other unstructured data sets.

Robotics, as the third automation layer, can help automate the remaining two percent of repetitive, monotonous tasks in a process. But due to its lower integration level, RPA is limited in its reach and adds the percentage on top on much higher costs. In financial risk management processes like bank lending, robotics can deal with requests for overdraft protection or credit card approvals.

A genuine alternative to mere bot systems

Related to the downsides of bot systems, a multi-automation-layer approach is the way to set up a stable and holistic automation concept as an alternative to pure RPA to flatten or avoid the disadvantages bot systems entail.

The McKinsey authors support the thesis that robotics should be used in exceptional cases, instead of being applied as the universal remedy to deal with repetitive tasks.

All in all, enterprises are actively searching for ways to shape their processes and automate parts of their work. Robots are perceived as being too inflexible, expensive, and complex in their maintenance to accomplish these goals in a satisfactory manner. By expanding the automation portfolio with engines and machine learning, a meshing system of automation technology can address these concerns and force a holistic implementation of automation throughout the enterprise.

Currently, companies and CIOs are resetting their bot programs. Figuring out the desired goal of automation might help to steer it into the right direction.

SAP’s automation strategy in general, and our cloud-based machine learning portfolio and related services in particular, are ready to step in and to fill the automation gaps that bots leave.


Dr. Markus Noga

About Dr. Markus Noga

Dr. Markus Noga is vice president of Machine Learning at SAP. Machine learning (ML) applies deep learning, machine learning, and advanced data science to solve business challenges. The ML team aspires to building SAP’s next growth business in intelligent solutions, and works closely with existing product units and platform teams to deliver business value to their customers. Part of the SAP Innovation Center Network (ICN), the Machine Learning team operates as a lean startup within SAP with sites in Germany, Israel, Singapore, and Palo Alto.

Sebastian Schroetel

About Sebastian Schroetel

Sebastian Schroetel is a director at SAP for machine learning in the digital core. In this role, Sebastian and his global team shape and create machine learning solutions for SAP's core ERP products. Sebastian has 10 years of experience in innovation software development, with focus on automation, analytics, and data processing.

Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences

Kai Goerlich


Google Cardboard VR goggles cost US$8
By 2019, immersive solutions
will be adopted in 20% of enterprise businesses
By 2025, the market for immersive hardware and software technology could be $182 billion
In 2017, Lowe’s launched
Holoroom How To VR DIY clinics

From Dipping a Toe to Fully Immersed

The first wave of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is here,

using smartphones, glasses, and goggles to place us in the middle of 360-degree digital environments or overlay digital artifacts on the physical world. Prototypes, pilot projects, and first movers have already emerged:

  • Guiding warehouse pickers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers with AR
  • Overlaying constantly updated blueprints, measurements, and other construction data on building sites in real time with AR
  • Building 3D machine prototypes in VR for virtual testing and maintenance planning
  • Exhibiting new appliances and fixtures in a VR mockup of the customer’s home
  • Teaching medicine with AR tools that overlay diagnostics and instructions on patients’ bodies

A Vast Sea of Possibilities

Immersive technologies leapt forward in spring 2017 with the introduction of three new products:

  • Nvidia’s Project Holodeck, which generates shared photorealistic VR environments
  • A cloud-based platform for industrial AR from Lenovo New Vision AR and Wikitude
  • A workspace and headset from Meta that lets users use their hands to interact with AR artifacts

The Truly Digital Workplace

New immersive experiences won’t simply be new tools for existing tasks. They promise to create entirely new ways of working.

VR avatars that look and sound like their owners will soon be able to meet in realistic virtual meeting spaces without requiring users to leave their desks or even their homes. With enough computing power and a smart-enough AI, we could soon let VR avatars act as our proxies while we’re doing other things—and (theoretically) do it well enough that no one can tell the difference.

We’ll need a way to signal when an avatar is being human driven in real time, when it’s on autopilot, and when it’s owned by a bot.

What Is Immersion?

A completely immersive experience that’s indistinguishable from real life is impossible given the current constraints on power, throughput, and battery life.

To make current digital experiences more convincing, we’ll need interactive sensors in objects and materials, more powerful infrastructure to create realistic images, and smarter interfaces to interpret and interact with data.

When everything around us is intelligent and interactive, every environment could have an AR overlay or VR presence, with use cases ranging from gaming to firefighting.

We could see a backlash touting the superiority of the unmediated physical world—but multisensory immersive experiences that we can navigate in 360-degree space will change what we consider “real.”

Download the executive brief Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences.

Read the full article Swimming in the Immersive Digital Experience.


Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu


Why Artificial Intelligence Is Not Really Artificial – It Is Very Tangible

Sven Denecken

The topic of artificial intelligence (AI) is buzzing through academic conferences, dominating business strategy sessions, and making waves in the public discussion. Every presentation I see includes it, even if it’s only used as a buzzword – its frequency is rivaling the use of “Uber for X” that’s been so popular in recent years.

While AI is a trending topic, it’s not mere buzz. It is already deeply ingrained into the strategy and design of our products – well beyond a mere shout-out in presentations. As we strive to optimize our products to better serve our customers and partners, it is worth taking AI seriously because of its unique role in product innovation.

AI will be inherently disruptive. Now that it has left the realm of academic projects and theoretical discussion – now that it is directly driving speed and hyper-automation in the business world – it is important to start with a review that de-mystifies the serious decisions facing business leaders and clarifies the value for users, customers, and partners. I’ll also share some experiences on how AI is contributing to solutions that run business today.

Let’s first start with the basics: the difference between AI, machine learning, and deep learning.

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is broadly defined to include any simulation of human intelligence exhibited by machines. This is a growth area that is branching into multiple areas of research, development, and investment. Examples of AI include autonomous robotics, rule-based reasoning, natural language processing (NLP), knowledge representation techniques (knowledge graphs), and more.
  • Machine learning (ML) is a subfield of AI that aims to teach computers how to accomplish tasks using data inputs, but without explicit rule-based programming. In enterprise software, ML is currently the best method to approach the goals of AI.
  • Deep learning (DL) is a subfield of ML describing the application of (typically multilayer) artificial neural networks. Neural networks take inspiration from the human brain, with processors consisting of small neuron-like computing units connected in ways that resemble biological structures. These networks can learn complex, non-linear problems from input data. The layering of the networks allows cascaded learning and abstraction levels. This can accomplish tasks like: starting with line recognition, progressing to identifications of shapes, then objects, then full scene. In recent years, DL has led to breakthroughs in a series of AI tasks including speech, vision, and language processing.

AI applications for cloud ERP solutions

Industry 4.0 describes the trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing. This comprises cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, and cognitive computing – everything that adds up to create a “smart factory.” There is a parallel in the world beyond manufacturing, where data- and service-based sectors need to capture and analyze more data quickly and act on that information for competitive advantage.

By serving as the digital core of the organization, enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions play a key role in business transformation for companies adapting to the emerging reality of Industry 4.0. AI solutions powered by ML will be a broad, high-impact class of technologies that serve as a key pillar of more responsive business capabilities – both in manufacturing and all the sectors beyond. As such, ERP must embrace AI to deliver the vision for the future: smarter, more efficient, more flexible, more automated operations.

Enterprise applications powered by AI and ML will drive massive productivity gains via automation. This is not automation in the sense of repetitive, preprogrammed processes, but rather capabilities for software to handle administrative tasks and learn from user behavior to anticipate what every individual in the company might need next.

Cloud-based ERP is ideal for companies looking to accelerate transformation with AI and ML because it delivers innovation faster and more reliably than any onsite deployment. Users can take advantage of rapid iterations and optimize their processes around outcomes rather than upkeep.

Case in point: intelligent ERP applications need to include a digital assistant. This should be context-aware, designed to make business processes more efficient and automated. By providing information or suggestions based on the business context of the user and the situation, the digital assistant will allow every user to spend more time to concentrate on higher-value thinking instead of on repetitive tasks. Combined with built-in collaboration tools, this upgrade will speed reaction to changing conditions and create more time for innovation.

Imagine a system that, like a highly capable assistant, can greet you in the morning with a helpful insight: “Hello Sven, I have assessed your situation and the most recent data – here are the areas you should focus on first.” This approach to contextualized analysis of real-time data is far more effective than a hard-programmed workflow or dump of information that leaves you to sort through outdated information.

Personal assistants have been around in the consumer space for some time now, but it takes an ML-based approach to bring that experience, and all its benefits, to the enterprise. Based on the pace of change in ML, a cloud-based ERP can best deliver the latest innovations to users in a form that has immediate business applications.

An early application of ML in the enterprise will be intelligence derived from past patterns. The system will capture much richer detail of customer- and use-case-specific behavior, without the costs of manually defining hard rule sets. ML can apply predictive detection methods, which are trained to support specific business use cases. And unlike pre-programmed rules, ML updates regularly as strategies – not monthly or weekly – but by the day, hour, and minute.

How ML and AI are making cloud ERP increasingly more intelligent

Digital has disrupted the world and changed the way businesses operate, creating a new level of complexity and speed. To stay competitive, businesses must transform to achieve a new level of agility. At the same time, advances in consumer technology (Siri, Alexa, and Google Now in the personal assistant space, and countless mobile apps beyond that) have created a desire and need for intuitive user interfaces that anticipate the user’s needs. Building powerful tools that are easy to interact with will rely on ML and predictive analytics solutions – all of which are uniquely suited to cloud deployment.

The next wave of innovation in enterprise solutions will integrate IoT, ML, and AI into daily operations. The tools will operate on every type of device and will apply native-device capabilities, especially around natural language processing and natural language interfaces. Augment this interface with machine learning, and you’ll see a system that deeply understands users and supports them with incredible speed.

What are some use cases for this intelligent ERP?

Digital assistants already help users keep better notes and take intelligent screenshots. They also link notes to the apps users were working on when they were created. Intelligent screenshots allow users to navigate to the app where the screenshot was taken and apply the same filter parameters. They recognize business objects within the application context and allow you to add them to your collection of notes and screenshots. Users can chat right from the business application without entering a separate collaboration room. Because the digital assistants are powered by ML, they help you move faster the more you use them.

In the future, intelligent cloud ERP with ML will deliver value in many ways. To name just a few examples (just scratching the surface):

  1. Finance accruals. Finance teams use a highly manual and speculative process to determine bonus accruals. Applying ML to these calculations could instead generate a set of unbiased accrual figures, so finance teams have more time during closing periods for activities that require review and judgment.
  1. Project bidding. Companies rely heavily on personal experience when deciding to bid for commercial projects. ML would give sales and project teams access to decades-worth of projects from around the world at the touch of a button. This capability would help firms decide whether to bid, how much to bid, and how to plan projects for greatest profitability.
  1. Procurement negotiation. Procurement involves a wide range of information and continuous supplier communication. Because costs go directly to the bottom line, anything that improves efficiencies and reduces inventory will make a real difference. ML can mine historical data to predict contract lifecycles and forecast when a purchasing contract is expected so that you can renegotiate to suit actual needs, rather than basing decisions on a hunch.

What does the near future hold?

An intelligent ERP puts the customer at the center of the solution. It delivers flexible automation using AI, ML, IoT, and predictive analytics to drive digital transformation of the business. It delivers a better experience for end users by providing live information in context and learning what the user needs in every scenario. It eliminates decisions made on incomplete or outdated reports.

Digitization continues to disrupt the world and change the way businesses operate, creating a new level of complexity and speed that companies must navigate to stay competitive. Powering business innovation in the digital age will be possible by building and deploying the latest in AI-powered capabilities. We intend to stay deeply engaged with our most innovative partners, our trusted customers, and end users to achieve the promises of the digital age – and we will judge our success by the extent to which everyone who uses our system can drive innovation.

Learn how SAP is helping customers deploy new capabilities based on AI, ML, and IoT to deliver the latest technology seamlessly within their systems


Sven Denecken

About Sven Denecken

Sven Denecken is Senior Vice President, Product Management and Co-Innovation of SAP S/4HANA, at SAP. His experience working with customers and partners for decades and networking with the SAP field organization and industry analysts allows him to bring client issues and challenges directly into the solution development process, ensuring that next-generation software solutions address customer requirements to focus on business outcome and help customers gain competitive advantage. Connect with Sven on Twitter @SDenecken or e-mail at