SAP takes on intelligent RPA following Contextor acquisition

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Enterprise software giant SAP is bringing to market what it calls an intelligent form of robotic process automation (RPA), following its recent acquisition of French firm Contextor SAS.

The acquisition of Contextor will support SAP’s expansion of its Leonardo machine learning portfolio with added RPA capabilities, which will help simplify common user interface interactions across SAP and non-SAP applications.

Additionally, the integration with its cloud platform and conversational AI technology is being earmarked to create what it calls Intelligent RPA.

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“SAP is working on an intelligent approach to RPA, with the idea that we’re bringing together the classic RPA capabilities to drive connections and automate clicks in software applications with a deep knowledge of the SAP machine learning stack,” Markus Noga, head of machine learning at SAP told Computerworld UK.

Despite the growing list of RPA specialists in the market today, SAP boasts the ability to bring the technology to an existing application stack and translate the findings into back-end automation in a more intelligent way than competitors.

In fact, SAP plans to integrate intelligent RPA into key SAP solutions such as S/4HANA from the first half of 2019.

“The second element that we can do better is we’ve tried integration with chatbots and intelligence because SAP’s offerings work together very closely,” Noga said. “The third area where we can really shine is with content.

“For every automation chain inside SAP applications, or across multiple applications and common surrounding systems, our development teams in the product organisations are putting together ready-made content,” he added, meaning the vendor is going to focus on creating common case studies for customers to easily consume.

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What is Intelligent RPA?

Intelligent RPA, or IPA, is a set of new technologies which combines RPA and machine learning to drastically redesign business processes and assist human workers with repetitive and mundane tasks.

In essence, IPA leverages artificial intelligence to create software that is capable of learning on the job, like a human would, to adapt to changing circumstances. It is the natural end goal for RPA technology but has yet to be truly proved out by any vendor.

Read next: What is SAP Leonardo? Everything you need to know about SAP’s Leonardo platform

"This kind of mash-up between the three technologies: conversational AI, machine learning and RPA, that allows us to drive scenarios in a completely new way," Noga said.

"Intelligent RPA is about triggering actions and enterprise applications while automating activities, which we started development on in early summer 2018 and we’ve now recently augmented with the acquisition of Contextor."

Where Contextor comes in?

According to Noga, SAP entering the RPA market is driven by its vision of the 'intelligent enterprise'.

“Our overall focus is the vision of the intelligent enterprise, helping companies going from digital, where all the information is available digitally at the point of origin, to actually using the information to learn and augment human and business processes based on the new capabilities that machine learning and AI provide to enterprise software,” he added.

“Contextor fits this vision extremely well because they are bringing a customer base already running, with 100,000 bots and 100+ customers already running today, for integrating with our RPA development teams.”

The inclusion of Contextor’s RPA capabilities has allowed SAP to identify common scenarios faster. The combination of machine learning and RPA also helps to respond to customer queries quicker.

“[Contextor] has great breadth in terms of covering traditional SAP and non-SAP systems with adaptors and connectors, which are very easy to integrate with the organic development that SAP already has ongoing,” Noga said.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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