SAP invests in generative AI startups Anthropic, Cohere and Aleph Alpha

In case one needed more evidence that there’s a massive appetite for generative AI, SAP, the Germany-based consulting giant, yesterday invested in three major generative AI players: Anthropic, Cohere and Aleph Alpha.

The terms of the direct investments, which weren’t disclosed, build on SAP’s $1 billion-plus commitment to back AI-powered enterprise tech startups from Sapphire Ventures, the enterprise venture capital firm. SAP also recently highlighted several internal AI efforts at its annual Sapphire conference, including a digital assistant in its customer experience tooling.

“We’re at a watershed moment, with generative AI poised to fundamentally change how businesses run,” SAP chief strategy officer Sebastian Steinhaeuser said in a press release. “SAP is committed to creating an enterprise AI ecosystem for the future that complements our world-class business applications suite and helps our customers unlock their full potential.”

All three of the investments — Aleph Alpha, Anthropic and Cohere — are very clearly aligned with SAP’s business interests. SAP provides a range of sales-, service- and commerce-oriented products, all of which stand to benefit from text-analyzing AI.

Anthropic is building an AI system, Claude, that helps with a range of business-to-business tasks, including generating answers, coding, automating workflows and processing text within the context of natural conversations. As for Cohere, it provides a generative text platform that’s accessible through an API as a managed service and can be deployed on virtual private clouds or on site to meet companies where their data resides. Aleph Alpha — which was already a SAP Partner — creates and hosts multimodal, multilanguage models, meanwhile, with a focus on interoperability, data privacy and security.

Cohere’s president and COO, Martin Kon, said that working with SAP was an “obvious fit,” given their European roots and Cohere’s ambitions in Europe.

“This investment builds on our existing enterprise collaborations with Oracle, McKinsey, NVIDIA, Salesforce, Sentinel One, and others, as we bring our independent, cloud-agnostic, data-secure approach to generative AI to enterprises globally,” Kon told TechCrunch via email.

Aleph Alpha and Anthropic didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

SAP’s announcement comes after McKinsey said that it would partner with Cohere to help enterprises adopt generative AI — marking the firm’s first partnership with a text-generating AI model provider. And it follows a raft of other announcements from big consulting firms underlining their seriousness about generative AI as a technology.

Accenture earlier this year pledged to invest $3 billion in AI over the next three years, with the bulk to be put toward staffing. The company plans to double its AI-focused army of consultants to 80,000 through a mix of hiring, acquisitions and training.

Not to be outdone, PwC said it would spend $1 billion on AI over the same time frame to expand and scale its AI offerings. As part of the push, PwC will partner with Microsoft to create offerings using OpenAI’s GPT-4 and ChatGPT alongside Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service, which packages OpenAI technologies in an enterprise-friendly format.

McKinsey — which is a tad biased, granted — estimates that generative AI could add $4.4 trillion annually to the global economy, almost the economic equivalent of adding an entire new country the size and productivity of the U.K. ($3.1 trillion GDP in 2021) to the world.

But other strategists say that the AI boom won’t lead to massive profits, warning that the hype mirrors that of the tech bubble of the 1990s. Time will tell who’s right, as always.

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