We might think of Cloud computing as a relatively recent phenomenon, but in fact the drive towards virtualization and sharing of computer resources which led to the Cloud can be traced to the 1950’s and some of the earliest mainframe systems. In the 1970’s, the time-sharing model deployed by large mainframe providers reached its apex with the introduction of the virtual machine, providing an early, primitive version of the Cloud. In the early 1990’s, large telecom providers began offering Virtual Private Network (VPN) service, enabling customers to leverage resources of the public network as though they were their own.
In the mid-1990’s, as it became apparent that the Internet would transform computing through connections and shared resources, the concept of the Cloud as a computing platform began to come into focus. By the late 1990’s / early 2000’s, a few pioneering software vendors introduced multi-tenant Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, some of which began to enjoy widespread adoption. In roughly the same time frame, the first true Cloud infrastructure offerings became widely available, with services focused primarily on storage and computation. From 2005 – 2010, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offerings began to enable growing numbers of user organizations to move aspects of product development and delivery to the Cloud. In the most recent years, we have seen the emergence of Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offerings that provide both a computing platform and a solution stack, enabling users to fully develop and deploy applications via the tools and resources provided via the Cloud. Meanwhile, the Cloud isn’t the only thing evolving. Business models are rapidly changing, as are demands from customers, requirements from government and other compliance-seeking entities, risks from cyber-thieves and other bad actors, and, of course, relentless challenges from competitors. To survive, businesses must be faster, more responsive, and more flexible than they ever have before. They are called on to bring new products and services to market, or to implement whole new ways of interacting with customers, in a fraction of the time that would have once been available. More than just relieving existing administrative burdens, these organizations are looking to the Cloud to transform how they deliver value in this accelerating environment.
Throughout the long evolution described above, organizations have enjoyed significant technological and business benefits from the virtualization and resource-sharing that lies at the heart of the Cloud. Chief among these benefits is the increased business focus that moving to the Cloud can enable. Relieved of the burden (and much of the expense) of implementing and maintaining IT infrastructure, organizations can now turn their attention and resources more fully in the direction where they belong: their core business functions. As businesses venture more deeply into the Cloud in pursuit of this transformation, they come to vendors of cloud services with a list of significant challenges:
- How do we integrate multiple technologies to provide a single and operationally elegant solution to our customers?
- How do we deal with hybrid cloud deployments that include public cloud, SaaS, and PaaS into a single solution that can be
governed via GRC regulations?
- How do we deal with the fact that real-time is no longer a novelty or luxury, but a necessity regardless of the volume, velocity, and variety of data and regardless of the complexity of the infrastructure?
- How do we deal with cross-cloud integrations and security?
- How do we deal with the reality of data locality and privacy laws that are complex as anything we’ve seen (including different accounting rules)?
To meet to such demands, Cloud vendors have had to evolve along with the services they are offering. With their customers demanding increasingly sophisticated and responsive PaaS solutions, it is no longer enough to be a service provider. They must become true business partners with their customers.
Recently I wrote about SAP Simple Finance, which combines secure Cloud delivery for financial processes with the real-time capability of the SAP HANA platform. I was pleased to note that our customer, Zurich Insurance, is looking at a 65% faster monthly close process and reporting that is 1000 times faster than the previous implementation of financials provided. Other early adopter users are talking about even more sweeping changes to their financial processes as enabled by the new platform. One customer is looking to cut an 18-day close process to a single day, effectively enabling a daily rather than a monthly closing of the books.
Multiply those kinds of sweeping changes by the thousands of business processes that SAP supports across the Enterprise – and then multiply that result by the thousands of SAP customers who have moved to the Cloud or are doing so now – and we see transformation of business process on a global scale. SAP customers are making the move, with some 35 million business users already using the SAP Cloud across HR, finance, procurement, ERP, and more. SAP offers the most comprehensive cloud computing portfolio for business applications in the market and that is just the beginning of the story.
Users of the SAP HANA Cloud Platform leverage an environment that works with them where they are as a business, one that encompasses SaaS, PaaS, On-Premise, Hybrid and Public Cloud. Those implementing PaaS can now develop and deploy customizable and extensible applications to meet any imaginable set of B2B or B2C requirements. The apps can be extensions of existing applications on-premise or cloud applications or whole new creations. They are introduced to solve specific problems or to open up new revenue opportunities. A few examples demonstrate how the SAP Cloud Platform meets customers where they are:
Apps to Better Connect with Customers
Multinational food and beverage giant Danone was immediately attracted to the SAP Cloud Platform because of the way it brings together the Cloud, big data, and mobility. They saw the platform as very much in line with their own strategies for reaching out to and connecting with their customers via new purpose-built apps. To date they have deployed a lightweight call center in South Africa and a web shop for selling nutraceuticals in Germany. They have found that the platform allows them to start small and rapidly deploy alternatives as they explore.
App Extensions to Enterprise Systems
One of the world’s leading management consulting companies, Accenture, introduced an app for Audit and Compliance as-a-Service in response to the reality of hybrid on-premise and SaaS environments. Accenture’s app, an extension of SuccessFactors, leverages a rules library to identify compliance issues and eliminate inconsistencies between the Cloud and On-Premise HCM solutions. Accenture was so impressed with the results that they are now looking to build extensions to integrate their own cloud-based and on-premise solutions.
A Business Built on Apps
Opal is a start-up providing native applications, developed via the SAP HANA Cloud Platform, for the fresh-food retail business. The company delivers pre-sized forecasts to help retailers better plan the demand for their fast-moving goods, reducing costs of stock and product waste. Thanks to HANA, users can manage operations in real time with access to the most up-to-date data.
In addition to the requirements for greater speed and flexibility noted above, businesses are called upon to be more extensively connected with one another – as customers, as vendors, as partners – than ever before. In response to such requirements, business networks have evolved to streamline and automate vital inter-business functions. Users of the SAP HANA Cloud Platform have access to critical business networks to support the apps they deliver. Via SAP Hybris, our customers have access to enterprise software and on-demand solutions for e-commerce, multi-channel commerce, master data management, and order management. The more than 500 Hybris users include such big names as Target, Samsung, and 3M, as well as a large number of startups.
Then there is Ariba, which enables our customers to market and sell their apps to over 250,000 customers worldwide with the SAP HANA Marketplace. The Ariba Network is the largest open trading network in the world, used by nearly one million companies in more than 140 countries around the world. Companies like Volvo, OfficeMax, and Aviva are among the many SAP customers experiencing a whole new level of connectedness and opening up tremendous new opportunities in the Cloud via Ariba.
Across the board, SAP has made significant advancements in acting as a true partner, elevating the business impact that customers can achieve running applications and key custom function extensions in the Cloud. Powered by the unique capabilities of the SAP HANA Cloud platform, SAP is increasingly positioned to be the Cloud company, leading the way in combining both the infrastructure and the deep business understanding required to enable our customers to overcome the challenges, leverage new capabilities, and deliver a new generation of business results.