Automation strategies, from artificial intelligence to machine learning, represent a seismic shift likely to impact every industry.
The broadening application of these technologies — visible today in everything from customer support strategies to back-office planning — will also mean around 14% of the world's workforce will require reskilling.
Companies looking to succeed in automation require a combination of speed and humanity to guide their actions, said Eric Stine, chief innovation officer at SAP North America.
"This shift we'll go through will be everywhere," said Stine, in an interview with CIO Dive.
The World Economic Forum offers scope on AI's impact. Automation stands to create 58 million more jobs than it will eliminate by 2022.
For each customer, though, the value of automation will look different, Stine said.
One example: Customers are looking to eliminate the number of planners they have on staff because demand-forecasting algorithms will be more accurate at predicting outcomes in complex contexts.
"Microsoft, for example, says they can forecast their financials better than they did when they relied on human labor," Stine said.
As machine learning and artificial intelligence impact demand for jobs like planners, some of that work and investment will shift to other initiatives, such as enhancing customer experience.
That's one area where Stine sees opportunity for SAP.
"The rising number of AI projects means that organizations may need to reorganize internally to make sure that AI projects are properly staffed and funded," aid Jim Hare, research vice president at Gartner, in a recent report.
With enterprise AI adoption rates soaring by 270% over the past four years, a lot of companies are seeing what once were experimental applications in AI — like infrastructure, computer vision and natural language processing — turn into necessary tools.
"AI can help with cost savings, but the greater potential lies in opening new doors," said Seth Robinson, senior director, technology analysis at trade organization CompTIA, in an emailed statement to CIO Dive.
For Stine, setting innovation priorities in this context follows two key criteria: the company's ability to offer a product that stands out in a crowded software landscape, and the product's ability to meet market needs.
SAP's strategy shifts away from IT overhauls. Announced at the start of the year, the strategy hasn't altered his approach to decision making, Stine said. The company is pressing forward with a concept it refers to as Intelligent Enterprise, a strategy marked by integrations and cloud interoperability.
Talent crunch ahead?
As businesses absorb and deploy projects, constrained access to talent remains an industrywide concern.
In Stine's view, access to tech talent will become commoditized over time. Vision, more so than technical skills, will gain more relevance as technology advances. "The talent we want is the disruptors and innovators," Stine said. "The talent we need is people who can see that linear supply chains will need to be impacted by supply-chain networks, for example."
"The world needs more people who know mediocre experiences can be made better," he said.