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ORLANDO -- SAP, having listened for years to complaints it wasn’t providing enough details around HANA, its in-memory platform, did its best to quiet those criticisms on Wednesday by providing a barrage of customer stories, new product offerings, and technical details aimed at placating IT.
“HANA is the foundation,” said SAP co-founder and chairman of the board Hasso Plattner, who, along with CTO Vishal Sikka set out to explain why during a sprawling two-hour presentation.
Early reactions were positive.
One of those listening was Tom Moore, director of enterprise architecture at Cintas, the Cincinnati-based uniform company. In fact, Moore’s already a believer in in-memory technology. Cintas is using it right now, he said, just not from SAP.
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Cintas is using Oracle’s Exadata in-memory database, a competitor to HANA, and Moore said their ERP data load times have gone from five days to three hours. “We’ve seen the 100% improvements others are talking about getting from in-memory technology,” Moore said.
Cintas is looking at HANA, he said, but the Exadata database provides a benchmark to judge against, he said. However, given that it’s ERP, using HANA would mean a lot of integration advantages, he said. If the company does deploy HANA at any point, he said, logical places to start would be SAP BPC, or to help it with supply chain planning.
Bob Seaborg, a consultant with EMC, a partner of Cisco, one of the seven HANA appliance manufacturers, said SAP was delivering on the kinds of success stories that potential customers wanted to hear more about, but said caution was necessary.
“You still have the potential to make mistakes, [but] at the speed of light,” he said. Controls and business processes would be even more important with businesses using HANA.
Jon Reed, an independent SAP analyst and head of JonERP.com, said that SAP was finally beginning to make a more convincing case, due in large part to the number of customer examples SAP was able to cite – often with the help of the customers themselves.
“SAP’s signals were clear and confident,” Reed said. “We’re out of the early days.”
From Battlestar Galactica to Burberrys
SAP execs began a walk-through of the different way HANA was being used by showing an application currently that allows an online gaming company to pitch targeted game promotions to thousands of players as they’re logged in to the Battlestar Galactica video game.
Burberry chief technology officer John Douglas demoed another HANA HTML 5-based cloud application that allows in-store sales staff to pull up information on specific customers who walk in, and make recommendations on things they might like, all from an iPad. Because it’s also plugged into the company’s inventory system, staff can arrange for the customer to pay on the spot, but pick the item up at another store.
Plattner acknowledged that some may see it as an invasion of privacy, but said the potential to offer better, more tailored customer service outweighs the downsides.
“It’s a little bit scary, but on the other hand, isn’t that a little bit welcoming?” Plattner asked.
Other testimonials included one from Suning, China’s largest retailer. Using HANA, the company’s thousands of sales managers were able to perform real-time inventory checks up to 1,000 times faster than in the past, even during the company’s peak sales season.
SAP Visual Intelligence
SAP also announced SAP Visual Intelligence for business analysts.
“It’s designed to be a very fast and engaging way for them to be able to discover answers on massive amounts of data,” said Mani Gill, vice president and general manager for SAP business intelligence software.
Visual Intelligence grew out of SAP Business Explorer, SAP’s front end business analytics application that allows customers to look at data in an easy-to-read format, but which was geared mostly toward the more casual, business user, according to Gill.
“[That] product really took the hype around search, and what was happening around the business intelligence sector and created an entire product that allows [users] to discover information using the search paradigm,” Gill said.
Visual Intelligence goes beyond what Explorer offers, Gill said, by giving a more sophisticated collection of features and tools to the business analyst whose data needs goes beyond what a casual user is looking for.
Analysts using Visual Intelligence can alter data structures and correlations in whatever way they want, without the help of their IT department, but then push the data back into the system so that it can then be consumed by those casual users using tools like Business Explorer, according to Gill.
“Other people in the organization can then access the revised information that the analyst has created,” Gill said.
In a typical scenario, a business analyst might have access to the SAP Business Warehouse (BW) system, but information that could help provide a more detailed picture for the analyst and other users might be missing, Gill said. That information could reside in other systems, he said, or in places like the analyst’s own desktop, he said.
“They don’t have the time to wait for IT to take all that information and put it together for them. They need to be able to do it very quickly themselves,” Gill said.
While the application runs in conjunction with SAP HANA, Gill said SAP would be releasing a subsequent version of SAP Visual Intelligence that does not require the in-memory platform.
Other HANA applications
SAP also the following in-memory applications:
- SAP Sales and Operations Planning: Allows companies to plan, using unified model of demand, supply chain and financial data, which can be analyzed in real-time.
- SAP Cash Forecasting analytic application: For cash forecasting and analysis.
- SAP Planning and Consolidation application: Lets companies accelerate their planning process.
- SAP Collections Insight analytic application: Gives businesses the ability to develop profiles of their customers, including real-time analysis of payment history and trends.
- SAP Sales Pipeline Analysis analytic content: An application for sales managers needing greater insight into sales data.
- SAP Bank Analyzer rapid-deployment solution for financial reporting with SAP HANA: A rapid deployment application for banks needing to automate lean banking processes.
- SAP Deposits Management: Also, a rapid-deployment solution for transaction history analysis.
- SAP Supplier InfoNet: An information network for supply chain management.
A bid for developers
SAP announced several initiatives aimed at spurring the creation of custom apps, namely making free licenses available for developers, an announcement that drew several cheers from the audience.
SAP Startup Focus Program
SAP also announced a new program aimed at enabling startup companies to build their landscapes using the HANA in-memory platform. There are currently 10 companies in the nascent program, SAP said.
ERP on HANA
In the keynote, SAP also announced it was on track to let customers run their full ERP system, as well as its smaller ERP system BusinessOne, on HANA. SAP demonstrated that BusinessOne on HANA can be run on a Mac Mini.
Oracle vs. SAP
Plattner addressed Oracle’s recent criticisms of HANA, which has led to a heated back and forth between the two companies. Competition was healthy, Plattner said, but Oracle should keep its collective mouth shut if it couldn’t base its comments on fact.
“We can beat each other up…but you don’t know or don’t want to know,” Plattner said about the technology. “Be better informed, or don’t do it.”