Anke Frier, Associate Director SAP Transformation Strategy, explains how SAP systems are implemented and what this has to do with a container in Malta.
Ms. Frier, today more and more companies are talking about Intelligent Enterprise, artificial intelligence and process optimization through digitalization. Is your job more challenging now than it was ten years ago?
Yes, but it has also gotten more exciting! Today, artificial intelligence (AI) processes play an increasingly bigger role when it comes to the ERP systems and analytics tools from SAP. These processes recognize patterns in data, meaning they can pick out elements found in text, images and language, and even in company processes. A feature that is helpful for optimizing processes for companies. However, a certain degree of uncertainty remains with these procedures. It is our task to be able to assess this in order to apply the procedures at the right point in the overall process or at the right point within the system architecture. All in all, we have to think about many more interfaces across ERP landscapes today. It is not enough to simply implement ERP systems that integrate and manage the processes within a company. It is also important to ensure process reliability and optimization for our customers beyond company boundaries. To this end, it makes sense to operate at least parts of the Intelligent Enterprise landscape from a cloud, such as the provision of mobile end user applications that may have to be available globally or publicly and support end users, for example with AI processes.
As digitalization progresses, the traditional end user of Intelligent Enterprise systems is changing. The end user may be working for another company or may be the end user of our customer. Customer centricity is the buzzword here. Increasingly, Intelligent Enterprise systems are only communicating with ERP systems of other companies. The processes are much more complicated and the requirements for connectivity and the associated process accuracy have become much more demanding.
Could you give us an example?
A good example of this is the purchase of aircraft parts. In the past, purchasers used to manually create the orders in the company’s internal SAP ERP system. These days, the order process begins with the customer, online, away from the company. For aircraft parts, the customers are various airlines or third-party repair companies. The buyer expects a good ERP solution to keep them up to date on everything without having to carry out routine activities themselves – up to date on feasibility, prices, deadlines, part availability and much more.
With this trend of SAP systems end users no longer being part of the customer’s company, the business models are changing rapidly. This is why our teams must also be agile for SAP projects. Transformations – from old SAP applications to SAP Intelligent Enterprise solutions and landscapes – do not happen in one go, but take place gradually. It’s important to deliver results in short cycles of four to six weeks, that add measurable value to our customers’ business and help our customers see where we are heading. This enables us to work with the customer to make any adjustments that may be necessary as requirements change at an ever faster pace.
How do you keep track of this volume of connected intelligent systems?
By always asking the simple question: is the system doing what we want it to do? When artificial intelligence is used in incoming goods, for example, it is important to know whether the system has a higher accuracy level than a human being. If this is not the case, then safety risks could arise or data quality may deteriorate significantly. SAP Intelligent Enterprise advisers need to be able to precisely assess how high system security needs to be in each business context. An important aspect here is which technical architecture to choose for the solution to guarantee that it does exactly what our customer wants it to do, such as ensuring the necessary safety of aircraft parts. System designers possess a great responsibility and automated test procedures across business processes are becoming more and more important. When using AI components, it is occasionally necessary to also consider a technical dual control check. Conceptually, this is very exciting. I very much enjoy these challenges.
Does your job have you spending all day and all night at your desk, poring over figures and SAP architectures?
A job as an SAP Intelligent Enterprise adviser is not just an office job. Our customers operate around the world. However, travel is only expected in exceptional circumstances and is accepted on a voluntary basis. For example, I spent most of 2009 flying back and forth between Malta and Sofia as a program manager, because we were working simultaneously with two teams at those locations. Just recently, in a film about Malta, I saw that, in addition to the container and the two offices where we worked at the time, huge hangar landscapes have now been created and the location there has become very large. The SAP system designed back then is still in use and will soon be used in Puerto Rico, which is a great feeling.
Are you in regular contact with SAP?
At Lufthansa Industry Solutions we are in close contact with SAP and this helps us offer our customers decisive added value. We are informed in advance about the latest SAP products and trends. In addition, we know exactly where the strengths and weaknesses of new SAP products lie and know what alternatives are currently available, or can assess which products may not yet be ready to use. SAP’s strength clearly lies in the speed that products or components offer when they suit the customer’s needs and are deployed in the right place.
In addition to this practical experience, how important is training on the new SAP Intelligent Enterprise products?
You always need to be on the ball where SAP is concerned. It is not enough to be an expert on one single topic. Knowledge of the widest range of business areas is important to design intelligent, digitalized processes between departments, companies and customers. When the systems do what humans want them to do, they are intelligent. We also make these demands on our advisers.
About Anke Frier
As Associate Director SAP Transformation Strategy at Lufthansa Industry Solutions, Anke Frier works at the Norderstedt location. She graduated with a degree in mathematical economics from Hamburg. Her final thesis was on the topic of neural networks. She first started gathering SAP experience in the food industry and switched to Lufthansa Industry Solutions in 1998. She is currently working with a Group-wide team on new intelligent, incoming goods processes for aircraft parts within a complex SAP landscape.