SAP Labs France, Olena Kushakovska sets sail with AI4Business

Par La rédaction, 1 septembre 2023 à 13:50

De Tech à tech

She first came to SAP Labs in 2000, when the company had just set up in Sophia Antipolis and had just fifteen employees. 23 years later, she manages 400 people at 3 different sites, in Sophia, Paris and Caen. Interview with Olena Kushakovska, the new President of SAP Labs France. Without doubt, a lady of action.

Olena Kushakovska probably doesn't regret the choice she made 25 years ago to follow her husband from Juan-les-Pins, who had had enough of the London rain. With a doctorate in applied mathematics in her pocket, she found it difficult to find work on the Côte d'Azur, even though she had a good background. She challenged herself, took a distance learning Masters course in IT and it paid off. SAP welcomed her and took her on as a developer. It was to be the start of a long adventure.

I comme ICAIR

This acronym of initiates - Industrial Council of Artificial Intelligence Research - is indebted to her. She co-founded the body in 2019 with Gilles Floyrac, then Chairman of Amadeus. At the time, there was such a buzz around the region's 3AI label that manufacturers didn't want it to fade. Every major company based in Sophia had its own AI researchers, but because of the competition, this grey matter remained compartmentalised within each company because of the confidentiality associated with business secrecy. ICAIR was born out of the local desire of a handful of industrial decision-makers to encourage informal exchanges between their AI researchers. Not to spy on each other, but to discuss the challenges of a revolutionary new technology with a dazzling societal impact. In concrete terms, there are regular exchange points between members to disseminate each other's public research work, common fronts have been established for certain advocacy initiatives (Sustainable AI Manifesto) and ICAIR has its own presence at certain events, notably the Soph.I.A. Summit, to show that, in terms of research, competition must come to the fore in the face of global challenges. This cross-fertilisation has spread quite well locally, and 14 major Côte d'Azur companies are now part of it, the majority of which are based in Sophia (Accenture - ACRI-ST - Air France - Amadeus - ARM - Docaposte - HP - IBM - NXP Semiconductors - Orange - Renault Software Labs - SAP Labs France - STMicroelectronics - Thales Alenia Space). A number of ICAIR-iens are also involved locally in the AI Cluster and, on a broader scale, in the European AI4EU project (aimed at accelerating innovation) and GAIA-X (the European Sovereign Cloud project). At the heart of this group's approach is the desire to make this new technology reliable and sober, so that it can serve humanity. We can only wish them every success.

AI4Business & Business4AI

The Sophia Antipolis ecosystem is particularly conducive to the widespread adoption of an AI approach by companies. SAP's Sophia Antipolis site is renowned for its expertise in AI and cybersecurity, and the Labs' R&D teams are often called upon to help. More broadly, the company has forged close links over the years with other AI players on the Côte d'Azur (3iA Côte d'Azur, AI Cluster) and at the Sophia site alone, some fifty researchers and PhD students are working with the company on applied research, with 18 patents already accepted. The Research Tax Credit and the national incentive scheme for hiring young PhDs facilitate research-industry interactions and enable the French branch of SAP Labs to differentiate itself internally, because within the group, several SAP entities are also jockeying to be considered as the benchmark AI Lab. The Sophia site has many assets to bring to bear in the current debates and help shape the most relevant solutions in a healthy entrepreneurial spirit. All that remains is to convince people internally, and one way of doing that could be to spread AI within local businesses. This is a real challenge, and it is the stated ambition of the new governance.

Whatever the size and activity of the company, Olena Kushakovska sees three key arguments for jumping on the bandwagon of the current technological revolution. The first generative AI models were trained on huge databases that were not contextualised to the company's activity. These are Foundation Models such as ChatGPT or BARD. The applications derived from them will therefore necessarily have to be acculturated to the company's internal data and processes. If you don't want to miss the AI curve or fall behind, that's reason enough to take an interest. A second reason is that AI that is properly configured and used wisely in a company can help to detect human errors and therefore be more efficient. Admittedly, AI is not infallible, but if we connect it to the Larousse, it is highly likely that spelling mistakes will become less widespread... A third reason is that the concomitant deployment of 5G will enable some interesting innovations, in particular the possibility of creating passive networks that do not require a power supply to operate. The range of possible futures is therefore dizzying...

In this societal and economic sprint towards digital transition, SAP Labs France can count on its internal strengths and on particularly fertile local soil. The aim of the new governance structure is to position the company as a leader with sufficient clout in the technical and technological debates around AI. With 78% of the world's financial transactions passing through an SAP system at one time or another, the company's clout is immense. This is quite a corporate responsibility, and one that SAP is fully aware of. It's no surprise, moreover, that the first economic players to acculturate to AI are the financial players. Along with all her teams, Olena Kushakovska is part of the small elite that is shaping the current technological revolution with a clear focus on sustainable development. Quite a responsibility, Madam. Hats off to you.

Parution magazine N°42 (septembre, octobre, novembre)

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