SAP Innovation Day - Setting a Standard for the Next 40 Years
When SAP's five founders launched the company in June 1972, it's unlikely they foresaw where the IT industry would travel in the decades to come. SAP's core business applications, including enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, continue to support tens of thousands of companies globally -- but how those organizations and their employees work, communicate and collaborate, both at the office and on the go, is changing.
That evolutionary issue and how it impacts SAP was the subject of a recent Innovation Day event for analysts and reporters at the company's facility in Palo Alto, Calif. In essence, SAP executives, partners and customers offered examples and opinions on how the its traditional enterprise applications square with and are energized by newer technologies and solutions including analytics (BusinessObjects), cloud (Ariba, Business ByDesign and SuccessFactors), database and in-memory (ASE, HANA and Sybase IQ) and mobile (Sybase and Syclo).
SAP and its partners are also creating mash-ups that blend various application features and functionalities into hybrid solutions aimed at business clients and their end customers. That was obvious in efforts integrating mobile endpoint technologies with cloud computing back-end infrastructures, but it also informed a discussion of how SAP utilizes "Design Thinking" strategies in product development to take advantage of the latest collaboration and cloud technologies and methodologies.
HANA in the Spotlight
One example: Denis Browne, SAP's SVP of imagineering, and Tom Rodden, director of applications at Varian Medical Systems, demoed Personas, a new SAP GUI slated for availability later this year. With Personas, users of Varian's X-Ray, oncology treatment and other products can customize and simplify SAP screens, making them easier to operate. Modifying SAP screens is hardly new, but in the past it required considerable levels of training and effort. With Personas, anyone with the right permissions can simply drag and drop commands into new configurations with no knowledge of ABAP, back-end systems or coding.
SAP's HANA (High-Performance Analytic Appliance) solution enjoyed the spotlight in several Innovation Day sessions, including the customer and partner panel (with IntelePeer, Taulia, NextPrinciples and CSC, all of whom have developed HANA-based offerings). In addition, Amit Sinha, who heads the company's database and technology marketing organization, noted that SAP is working with 37 startups that are leveraging HANA for solutions ranging from enhanced airport security to online gaming player personalization.
HANA is also the centerpiece of recent SAP customer wins. On July 25, the company and the National Basketball Association (NBA) said the league had chosen SAP's HANA, BusinessObjects and BusinessObjects Explorer as a platform to provide real time updates of player statistics during NBA games. Additionally, the pair announced a multiyear marketing partnership making SAP the official business analytics software partner of the NBA and associated organizations, including the Women's National Basketball Association and the NBA Development League in the U.S. and international markets, including Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India and Russia.
No Long-Term Vendor Lock-in
Especially intriguing was an Aug. 1 SAP announcement detailing a new solution for Sentiment Intelligence with HANA, which allows organizations to scan and analyze customer sentiment from social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, along with communities, wikis, blogs and other public sources, in real time, and to combine the information with customer relationship management (CRM) text data. By doing so, companies should be able to more effectively track what customers are saying about them, understand those sentiments, and do what's needed to support or preserve their brands.
Along with being an example of the technological value of in-memory database solutions, HANA has delivered significant commercial benefits to SAP. In a recent interview with Investors' Business Daily, Bill McDermott, SAP's co-chief executive, said HANA represents the "biggest growth area" in the company's software portfolio, and helped drive SAP's largest-ever year-over-year percentage jump in software revenues (Q2 2012 software revenues rose 26 percent to US$1.21 billion).
In contrast to some competitors' in-memory systems, such as Oracle's Exalytics and Exadata, SAP is not attempting to leverage HANA in its own hardware offerings. Instead, HANA runs on industry standard hardware from numerous company partners including Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, Hitachi, HP and IBM. That strategy, along with SAP's extensive outreach efforts among developers, is helping to make HANA a popular choice among customers that want the substantial benefits of real time big data analytics but prefer to avoid long term vendor lock-in and proprietary platforms.
If one phrase describes SAP's Innovation Day event, it is "embarrassment of riches." As its recent quarterly report bears out, the company's traditional business applications continue to do well, and are being further buoyed by new solutions like HANA and offerings related to transformational acquisitions, including Sybase, Ariba and SuccessFactors. Those deals are delivering significant revenues to SAP, but they also provide a solid foundation for new efforts in emerging mobile and cloud computing markets.
This all sounds fine and dandy, but is there anything to be concerned about? Actually, yes. Having too many options and opportunities can sometimes be as big a challenge as too few, and HANA is a good example. Since there are so many areas where in-memory and big data solutions can be successfully applied, it can be difficult for organizations to understand which HANA offering best fits their needs. Add to that the often contradictory claims of various hardware vendors and developers, and the result can turn what should be clearly obvious into confusing murk.
Fortunately, SAP fully understands these issues and is working to address them and related points in other new market opportunities. In fact, you could argue that this is, and will continue to be, a simple fact of life in an IT industry where ongoing consolidation among large traditional vendors is leading to highly flexible and complex hybridized solutions.
Overall, SAP's Innovation Day highlighted the efforts of a vendor whose four decades in traditional business application development are providing the means for it to branch out and embrace a wide range of new and promising opportunities. If the clear success of HANA offers any indication, the future of SAP's efforts in burgeoning markets like cloud and mobile computing should be very bright.