With SAP HANA, the Rear-View Mirror Is Yesterday’s Story

As I sank back with a sigh into my seat on the flight back from SAPPHIRE NOW 2012 (Orlando, Florida), a fellow passenger looked up at me – I felt I had to explain that it had been a high-energy week, and I was a tad bit drained. He, interestingly, asked me what would stand out in my mind if I distilled all my interactions and activity from earlier in the week. That got me thinking. Then, it was clear.

More than the inspiring keynote addresses from SAP’s leaders and the introduction of new capabilities from SAP, I found an interesting recurring theme amongst attendees – customers and partners alike. I found that there is now an expectant air about them as they have started to look at different ways in which SAP HANA can help them. Somewhere deep within all the buzz surrounding SAP HANA, there is a growing realization amongst those in the ecosystem that the muscle and power of SAP HANA is a strong weapon in achieving unprecedented advantages – especially as enterprises seek to drive forward looking in front of them and not so much in the rearview mirror. I was particularly intrigued that two of my conversations were coincidentally based on quite similar business process needs – that of gaining predictive capabilities.

First, I had a discussion with a start-up company called Basis Technologies International (BTI). They were showcasing an app called, Predictive Customer Insight (PCI), powered by SAP HANA. In their words, PCI is designed to enable “organizations to develop a deep understanding of their customers’ behavior based on data held within millions of individual data transactions. PCI identifies at-risk customers by predicting how they may react in the future based on the way in which similar customers acted historically according to patterns in data transactions. For example, it is possible to isolate the transactional events – such as inaccurate billing or repeat customer service calls – that often led to customers leaving. This data is then used by PCI (a SAP HANA based application) to ‘fingerprint’ customers so that managers can divert attention to retaining their highest risk customers in order to improve business profitability.” The key business focus here is to grant enterprises, such as Utilities, the ability to manage customer satisfaction dynamically thus making a direct financial impact. This is accomplished by using historical data (SAP and non-SAP) to help predict what customers might do in the future; PCI analyzes millions of actual interaction events across customers and identifies patterns of behavior. These patterns are then used to segment the existing customer base appropriately, and then, looking at related current data in real time, customer issues/problems are identified and addressed.

The key technological process needed here is the ability to analyze millions of historic customer interaction events (so preventive action might be taken in a timely fashion) – with SAP HANA this can be done without having to be concerned about how much data can be handled. This last point is significant because without SAP HANA, this data-intensive process could easily cause the operational system to be shut down for hours or even days at a time preventing normal operations (e.g., billing) – obviously, an unacceptable scenario. As I see it, contrary to what certain products from SAP’s competitors might claim, I do not see anything else on the market that could guarantee such performance; these other products are burdened with having to limit how much data their products can handle, and often have to resort to separate steps of tuning, indexing, or data caching – all of which rob the business of a true real-time experience when dealing with large volumes of data.

Second, when I was in a conversation about an overall solution map with the CTO of a global Fortune 100 company, he proceeded to share with me his views on how SAP HANA can help in several different business scenarios. In fact, he described the use case of a project his team is currently working on; when completed, they will be able to use the power of SAP HANA to gain the ability to perform predictive profit and loss statements dynamically, and as often as needed. Today, this is a manual (and somewhat painful, I believe), activity where the results can never be truly real-time. The unique nature of the business for this enterprise is such that commodity prices have a direct and significant impact on the profitability of each of its units. This company has had some challenges taking static data, mashing it up with historical trends plus dynamically changing commodity prices, and then coming up with accurate predictions of what the profitability of each of its units might be at the end of a fiscal year. With SAP HANA, what used to be a fairly cumbersome, time-consuming, and static activity performed at regular intervals can now be translated into a simple, truly real-time analysis drawing on data that sits across various platforms and in various places across the organization, and beyond. The ability to use SAP HANA to power a next generation app that actually does this on the fly, and as often as needed will be a tremendous boost to this company’s operations. With a far more accurate prediction of profitability, the company will be able to better utilize its resources leading to significantly greater operational efficiencies.

This is only possible because SAP HANA can address data from multiple sources (SAP and non-SAP) and is not limited to smaller data sets unlike some other products such as Oracle Exalytics which from all accounts seems to have a meager 1 TB limit with even less available for actual in-memory data. This is an important factor as the process calls for processing large volumes of data from a myriad of sources. This app should be a boon for planning purposes as it will provide actionable insight, and for a company with millions at stake, this can truly be a differentiator.

It is exciting that in both these examples – one from a SAP partner and another from a customer – they are seeking to develop capabilities that are going to provide the ability to look ahead and not merely in the rear view mirror as an enterprise drives forward. This is something businesses have long wished for and then given up on because historically “real-time” in many situations was not truly real-time, and when it came to large data sets they were always challenged with having to pre-treat the data and in the process often made decisions that limited the scope of the analysis.

In fact, their excitement about SAP HANA in this context is very special vis-à-vis anything else on the market, because unlike the products seeking to position themselves as its alternatives, SAP HANA can handle large data sets (successful tests with 100 TB done recently) without any pre-aggregation, tuning, or data caching, and since it was not cobbled together with a number of other products it does not have some of the limitations that these products (e.g. Oracle Exalytics) do. In his keynote address at SAPPHIRE NOW this past week, Vishal Sikka (Head of Technology & Innovation and Member of the Executive Board, SAP AG) made it demonstrably clear that SAP HANA is designed and built to enable new solutions, and has the robustness and muscle needed to provide the agility enterprises seek. In addition, SAP press releases from last week (http://bit.ly/KESMaI and http://bit.ly/Kt6UlL) provide further evidence that the reach and impact of SAP HANA for business value continues to grow.

In the weeks ahead, I will be selectively highlighting other business use cases where SAP HANA is directly delivering business value. For a dynamic listing of SAP HANA use cases, please visit the Resources page at Experience SAP HANA.

P.S. You can follow my other blog posts at: Café Innovation Blog on the SAP Community Network (SCN)

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