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SAP has relaunched its Leonardo platform as a “digital innovation system”, as it seeks to allow customers to take advantage of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, advanced analytics and blockchain on top of their business data.

SAP Leonardo was originally released in January as an IoT platform, giving customers a place to track sensor data from connected assets and start to gain insight quickly.

Now SAP wants to give customers a simple way to embrace all of these emerging technologies to solve specific business problems, before packaging them up for non-early adopters to procure later on. So instead of just helping customers embrace IoT with a cloud system and a set of templates, SAP has expanded Leonardo to the whole spectrum of enterprise problems.

As Mike Flannagan, senior vice president of analytics at SAP put it: “Leonardo is about accelerating time to value by finding generalised, common business problems across an industry.

“It’s about taking a business problem, which is specific to one customer, find the elements of that problem which are common across the industry, then defining the elements of a methodology, the technologies used to solve that problem and package those up and make them available as an accelerator for the next customers”

Defining SAP Leonardo

It can be tricky to find a working definition of SAP Leonardo at this point because it is an umbrella term for a number of SAP technologies, all built on top of its open platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering called SAP Cloud Platform.

Speaking during SAP’s annual Sapphire event in Orlando, Florida this week, cofounder and chairman of the SAP supervisory board Dr Hasso Plattner called Leonardo a “bounding box” which sits around “a set of objects. So this is a box around a set of tools to build a system which then, with machine learning algorithms, finds insights which we can attach to transactions” within your SAP environment.

Plattner reiterated that what makes SAP’s approach to AI and machine learning unique is that customers have all of the important business data right there underneath them, in the SAP transactional systems, and that keeping the data in one place is the best way to safeguard it.

Read next: SAP cofounder Hasso Plattner defends S/4HANA cloud strategy, explains Leonardo and says Mark Hurd isn’t a “software guy”

During his keynote, CEO Bill McDermott said that Leonardo “is the biggest move our company has made since HANA” and that “it’s time for your core systems to fuel your digital innovation, it is time for your data to drive a new customer experience. It is time for machine learning to take the work out of your workflow. It is time for billions of devices to go from thinking to doing.”

McDermott was keen to emphasis the openness of Leonardo for those all-important net new SAP customers looking for cognitive, IoT or big data solutions. As Leonardo is built on the SAP Cloud Platform, customers “can procure Leonardo and snap it into any architecture or environment you have”, McDermott explained, because “the SAP Cloud Platform is an open platform, with all open standards and anybody, including non-SAP customers, can get started”.

SAP Leonardo competitors

When asked how Leonardo can stand out in a crowded market, with rival vendors like IBM Watson and Microsoft Azure offering cognitive services, head of products and innovation at SAP Bernd Leukert said: “I agree there are a tonne of platforms out in the market, but these platforms are living in a silo.

“So by opening up our core system, they can access any physical asset data, HR data, any information they have built up over the years within their ERP system, and connect this with sensor data and even marry this with external market data.

"So if you then want to get intelligence and insight into it, other companies use machine learning to push that information into a dedicated other system, we will call it batch processing, getting insight and then throwing it back.

"We are working with APIs to have real time connectivity into the execution system and we offer that over 25 industries. I am not aware of any company on the planet that can offer that connectivity and that comprehensiveness.”

Read next: Internet of things platforms: Azure, AWS, IBM Watson and more - Which is the best IoT platform for your business?

So Leonardo sounds like it will be competing with the Microsoft Azure cloud platform or IBM Watson, in that customers can pick and choose which cloud-based technology it wants to leverage to solve a business problem. Rather than something more packaged like Salesforce Einstein, which is baked into its software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications to make suggestions and surface insights for users. SAP already does this within its cloud applications, like smart CV matching in Fieldglass or automated service ticketing in Hybris Cloud, but in a less obviously branded way.

As a side note, SAP has taken a partnership approach to developing machine learning capabilities, instead of doing it all in-house. It uses Google open-source project TensorFlow for its machine learning algorithms and Nvidia for the hardware to train these algorithms. Read next: What is TensorFlow?

Getting started with SAP Leonardo

Mala Anand, executive vice president of analytics at SAP, said during her Sapphire keynote that “Leonardo is about the business, we start with a business problem, we apply our design thinking methodologies to define the desired solution and apply rapid prototyping to prove how we can make the solution a reality quickly.”

To bring this to customers SAP has launched a “jump-start” programme for Leonardo prospects to get up and running within three months.

This allows customers to invite SAP on site or to visit a global design centre (the first four are in New York, Paris, Bangalore and Sao Leopoldo, with more coming soon) for a day of "design thinking" sessions meant to identify the key use cases customers want to bring Leonardo to, and ending with a working “low-fidelity” prototype. SAP then provides access to this prototype for employees to offer immediate feedback.

SAP will start to build up a library of pre-built use cases, with the launch templates being for the popular predictive maintenance or vehicle telematics use cases. This allows customers to only worry about integrating the relevant back end systems with Leonardo in order to get started quickly.

Early SAP Leonardo customers

Interestingly, most of the early touted customers for Leonardo fit the IoT mould that the product was initially positioned for.

Heavy machinery manufacturer Caterpillar is eying Leonardo for vehicle insights, Trenitalia is using it for predictive maintenance on its trains, and UK SAP customer Norther Gas Networks is also looking towards Leonardo in the future for a whole host of IoT use cases across its massive gas distribution network.

Read next: Trenitalia to cut train maintenance costs with SAP IoT and big data project

Caterpillar worked with SAP to create a live factory solution to get a real time view of its forklifts to try and drive efficiencies and avoid bottlenecks, as well as using Leonardo for vehicle insights and predictive maintenance.

Speaking at Sapphire, Marty Groover said he sees Leonardo bringing Caterpillar “a common interface and common operating environment. So giving us digital manufacturing insights to look at all factories in one, consistent way”.

Read next: Rolls-Royce uses Microsoft IoT tools to cut down on engine faults and fuel costs, and wants to sell the insights back to airlines

Anand from SAP also shared an early case study from Italian train operator Trenitalia. She explained how “they leveraged our predictive maintenance capabilities as part of Leonardo. They took massive volumes of streaming data from sensors and generated into real time insights and transformed their asset management”. This allowed the train operator to proactively detect machine failures and extend asset life cycles.

Then there is consulting firm Deloitte, which is SAP’s official go to market partner for Leonardo starting with two use cases, one for automating financial processes and another for manufacturers to get a live view of its factory floor, like the Caterpillar example.

SAP Leonardo pricing

Naturally pricing for a product like Leonardo will be pretty bespoke as it comprises of cloud software and services like the design thinking process bundled together.

According to SAP’s Anand, “Customers will not have to assemble pieces and parts to solve a business problem. We will use included services that tailor predefined software elements for the specific customer implementation. Everything will come at a predefined price and our engagement is time-bound, so every customer has an accelerated time-to-value.”