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By Ivona Crnoja and nik.sacher#overview.



New artificial intelligence technologies are in the process of fundamentally transforming the financial services market. Over the past years especially the financial sector has recognised the economic benefits of artificial intelligence - gaining new insights from existing data to optimise credit decisions and improve financial risk management, automating business processes that previously only worked with manual human intervention and improving the customer experience through intelligent chatbots for example. AI is truly disrupting the sector with “frontrunner financial services firms achieving companywide revenue growth of 19% directly attributab...”. And the transformation has only started.

The role of finance has constantly evolved over the past decades. Initially focusing very much on labor arbitrage and shared services models, it soon became apparent that process standardisation and centralisation are absolutely necessary to further increase the efficiency and effectiveness of modern organisations.

In today’s world, this role has again changed fundamentally. CFOs are heavily investing into automation technologies such as Machine Learning or Robotic Process Automation as a next step in the evolution to enable enterprise transformation.

There is no doubt about the necessity to further automate finance processes. Most finance resources in today’s world are busy with running the finance organisation and taking care of operational activities. Therefore, only limited time and resources are left to focus on value adding activities like providing analytical insights. Automation serves as a key enabler to free up those urgently needed resources, allowing them to not only provide real-time insights into the current status of the business, but with advanced predictive algorithms, also allowing them to have a look into the future and proactively steer the business.

Recent studies reveal, that indeed world-class organisations, those that are leading with respect to efficiency and effectiveness, re-allocate freed-up resources into value adding activities, putting the finance organisation into the driver’s seat of finance and enterprise transformation projects.

Automation has ever since been a key competency and objective for SAP. The technology developed over the past decades was always motivated by the idea that computer and software can do things faster, more accurate and reliable than humans. Yet, with the emergence of new technologies like Chat Bots, Machine Learning or Robotic Process Automation, automation has been brought to a whole new level, making things possible which have not been possible before.

Real-life Struggles in the Accounts Payable Department


Let’s illustrate this with the help of a little story in the accounts payable department of the Acme Corporation.

Please meet Sam.


Sam is an accountant who works 8-hour shifts at Acme Corporation and has to respond to customer and vendor enquiries that are raining down his task list every single day. To add complexity, a single requestor can be raising issues across multiple channels on more than one related issue.

After struggling to identify the dilemma in the incoming inquiry in the first place, Sam also struggles to find the related documents in the heterogenous system landscape. Sam is frustrated since he is spending much time on searching related documents while more and more requests are entering his inbox.

And then we have Amy.



Amy wrote an email to Acme Corp two days ago in order to find the right person to provide her with the details regarding her current payment status. One day later Amy receives a reply with the instructions to call the Accounts Payable hotline where she is first being redirected to multiple service desk employees and then ends up waiting for 30 minutes on the phone before she hangs up frustrated without having solved her inquiry.

At the end of the day Amy is frustrated and also Sam is frustrated. 

How can we Help Making Amy a Happy Customer and Sam a Happy Employee?


With the help of Artificial Intelligence, RPA and Chatbots, we can enrich the standard process and are able to significantly increase the level of automation - even automating beyond the core process: The AI algorithms learn from historical data sets and the interactions of the accountant with the system, with that improving the matching rates tremendously. Furthermore, the AI technology allows to automatic extract unstructured information from documents like emails.

As a result, by combining different kinds of innovative solutions, we are able to provide a new level of operational excellence. This means that in the end the solutions are able to analyse incoming inquiries automatically and provide Sam assistance, or even directly answer the inquiry for Sam.

Sam and Amy’s Saviour: SAP Business Entity Recognition Service 


Business Entity Recognition (formerly SAP Named Entity recognition) is a powerful machine learning technology to detect and highlight any given type of named entity in unstructured text into pre-defined categories. By doing so the service helps to increase overall document processing productivity, increase efficiency, and reduce errors through the ability to detect named entities in text entities. Moreover, thanks to pre-trained models the service is productive immediately and can be used off the shelf. In fact, the level of automation can be increased by up to 95% with the help of SAP Business Entity Recognition. The solution does not only save a lot of money and frees up resources, but also helps to speed up the inquiry processing time and with that contributes to having key financial information timelier in the system.

And this is not where it ends! There are various other aspects of inquiry processes that require huge manual efforts and cause extra-work.

There can be data that need to be fed in from outside (SAP-) systems like portal pages for example, or how about customer interactions data and customer experience? Interestingly, although experience management is on the top of every CEOs agenda and 80% of CEOs believe their organisation delivers a superior experience, only 8% of customers would ag....

Relevance from a CFO Perspective


Studies show, that there is a strong correlation between customer experience and key financial figures like sales growth and profitability. To put it in simple words, process automation is about contributing to the bottom line, while customer experience will enable your organisation to also drive the top line.

If we pick up the above example again and think about how the described process could be further transformed leveraging latest Chatbots and Qualtrics technology, both process automation and customer experience can be taken to a whole other level.

We are starting again with the incoming inquiry. With the inquiry arriving in the Shared Service Center and entering the ERP system, the Artificial Intelligence is immediately triggered and starts correlating the data which has been extracted from the request with historical data saved in the system.

In a second step the relevant business objects that are required for the clarification of the request are identified. In the case that further customer clarification or -data is needed the customer is contacted automatically, and simply needs to log on to a self-service UI to provide the additional information while being guided by a bot. Even customer feedback is captured directly in the context of the interaction and fed back into the system.

As illustrated, through seamless integration of the various technical components, both automation levels and customer experience could be increased.

Automation is already reshaping the future of work in many sectors and also finance automation will be an important milestone for future finance and enterprise transformation in general. Time-consuming and low-value tasks will be replaced in the near future giving employees the chance to spend more time on higher value-adding activities, and by this making your employees your most important competitive advantage.

SAP already offers a whole set of integrated solutions, including Machine Learning applications, chatbots and Intelligent Robotic Process Automation supporting you on your automation journey by automating your entire financial End-2-End processes. Leading companies are furthermore already considering the possibilities of how to include the experience management aspect into their process transformation activities.

And what About Sam and Amy?


Amy has become a happy and loyal customer thanks to an efficient and fast handling of her requests providing her with an amazing customer buying experience. Sam on the other side has finally gained some extra time to invest in his professional development to get him on track to achieve his personal career goals.

For More Information

  • Visit our SAP AI Research blog to learn about the latest machine learning research accomplishments and trends.