SINGAPORE - Software company SAP will double the headcount in its artificial intelligence (AI) workforce here with 200 new hires by 2025 to capitalise on the AI boom in the tech industry.
The company scaled back on its initial plan to employ more than 500 digital professionals by 2025 due to economic challenges following the Covid-19 pandemic in 2022, said managing director Manik Saha, who oversees research and development here.
He said: “We had to revise it a little. Economically, it was a tough year globally… So now we’ve reset that number to (an additional) 200.”
SAP is doubling down on its work in AI due to the growing talent pool here as well as the support from the authorities to develop this field, added Mr Saha.
The Germany-based company, which will expand its staff strength in Singapore to 1,400, announced the plan to expand its AI workforce during its tech developers’ conference SAP d-com on Wednesday, with Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo in attendance, at its Mapletree Business City premises.
The new hires will comprise mostly fresh graduates from the local talent pool with a computing background, in roles that include engineers and data scientists in the field of AI, said Mr Saha. Nearly 50 of these roles have already been filled in the last three months.
The expansion comes a year after SAP set up its $250 million facility in the Republic, backed by the Economic Development Board, with the promise of new tech jobs.
Mrs Teo, who is also the Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity, said in a speech to a room of SAP employees and tech professionals that the expansion of the AI workforce will help build talent here, given the company’s large base of customers. SAP ranks among the world’s largest enterprise software providers.
Large tech companies such as SAP are able to help businesses develop helpful AI, including tools to improve business operations such as supply chain management, customer relations and human resource planning, said Mrs Teo.
“I believe you are in your own way also contributing to what we hope to see more of in Singapore, and that is the use of AI for the public good,” she said.
The Government has poured some $500 million into AI research and development over the past five years under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise plan, said Mrs Teo.
Among SAP’s AI projects is an accounting model that is able to explain its decision-making and analyses to users when matching bank statements with invoices for accounting. The ability to explain itself for transparency is among the key features that should be included in an AI model’s design, according to a developers’ software toolkit made public by the authorities in June called the AI Verify toolkit.
Referring to the accounting AI project, Mrs Teo said that such innovations help to build public confidence and trust in AI, as the bot is able to explain how it arrives at its conclusions – a process termed as “explainability”.
She said: “Those of us who have to make presentations to our bosses will often be asked: Why this recommendation?
“If you said, ‘the AI said so’, that is not particularly satisfactory. But if you can, with the help of AI, explain how you came to this conclusion, it is more palatable.”
The SAP team is in the process of improving the AI model’s accuracy before it can consider commercialising the tool.
Product owner Anantharaman Ravi, one of the developers of the AI accounting tool, said that while the responsibility to get the calculations right still lies with the user, tools like this can help to reduce manual work on large volumes of paperwork.
He said: “This tool helps to build trust with the AI. Sometimes AI is like a black box; we see its output but we don’t know how it got there. This will help to break that barrier.”