SAP poaches Microsoft exec as its new global head of AI
SAP has appointed a new global head of artificial intelligence, Walter Sun, after the previous post-holder quit to found her own AI startup.
For the past 18 years, Sun worked at Microsoft, most recently as VP of AI for its business and applications platform group. Sun has a PhD from MIT and continued to publish academic research papers during his time at Microsoft, in addition to teaching at Seattle and Washington universities.
As part of Microsoft’s development team, Sun created Bing Predicts, the inference engine that provides the “favored to win” forecasts beneath search results for sporting fixtures and attempted to predict the 2016 US presidential election winner. (Spoiler alert: it failed.)
More usefully for enterprises, he also helped develop Dynamics 365 AI for Market Insights, a feature for Microsoft’s ERP and CRM platform that scans search data to provide enterprises with information about emerging trends in social interest and sentiment around their brands. Most recently, he was involved in the introduction of Dynamics 365 Copilot, which draws on OpenAI’s GPT-4 generative AI model to, among other things, help marketers write engaging sales pitches. In a recent blog post, Sun described how Microsoft researchers conducted experiments to compare the performance of different AI models for use in Dynamics 365. His colleagues also studied how to write the most effective prompts for soliciting useful responses from generative AI systems.
Sun replaces Feiyu Xu as SAP’s global head of AI. She joined the company in 2020, after a three-year stint in a similar role at Lenovo. Prior to that, she had worked for two decades at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, DFKI.
In the three years Xu led SAP’s AI initiatives, the company introduced AI technologies to many of its products, including tools for supply chain planning, expense management, customer experience, and online commerce. In May 2023, around the time Xu announced her intention to leave the company, SAP said it would embed IBM’s Watson AI technology into its products.
SAP’s AI product team
The entire AI unit that previously reported to Xu will now report to Sun, an SAP representative said. Sun’s team will include two VPs of AI technology, Sebastian Wieczorek and Ulf Brackmann; a CTO, Johannes Hoffart, and a global AI product manager, Nadine Hoffmann.
Sun will report directly to Philipp Herzig, SAP’s head of cross-product engineering and experience, who reports to SAP’s executive board member for product engineering, Thomas Saueressig.
SAP couldn’t say whether Sun will have a seat on the company’s AI Ethics Steering Committee as his predecessor, Xu, did. For now, the only representative of the AI team on the committee is Wieczorek, the VP of AI technology. The other eight committee members hold senior posts with responsibility for marketing, data protection, government affairs, legal, diversity, customer data, quality, and sustainability.
As for Xu, after leaving SAP, she co-founded Nyonic, a Berlin-based startup that aims to build industry-focused, multilingual AI models that meet European ethical and legal standards. Xu is Nyonic’s chief innovation officer, and her co-founders include serial AI entrepreneur Han Dong as CEO in Shanghai, NLP expert Johannes Otterbach as CTO, computational linguist Hans Uszkoreit as chief science officer, and Vanessa Cann, a board member of the German AI Association, as CEO for Europe. The company is hiring engineers in Berlin and Shanghai.
Enterprise Applications, SAP