SAP isn't taking anything for granted.
Forget that more than $39 trillion dollars flows through SAP-powered applications year. In a world where open source databases and technologies are quickly becoming the rule and line of business applications are becoming commoditized, SAP knows that it has to convince the C-Suite that it is the right bet for the future ... that it can power business in the digital world and deliver experiences that can't be matched.
That’s precisely what SAP’s executive board and corporate officers set out to do at SAPPHIRE NOW, its three-day user conference last week. Nearly every keynote and every panel centered around its nearly six-year-old super-fast (it holds a Guinness World record), in-memory, columnar database SAP HANA and/or HCP (the HANA Cloud platform).
And no one is prouder of it than 72-year-old SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner.
The multi-billionaire, who still goes to work every day, addressed the crowd to explain why HANA is unique in its capability to power business and analytics live, in real-time (paired with an Intel processor it boasts a .7 second average response time).
"That's not marketing, that's math by design," said Plattner.
Run Live, Right Now
Plattner believes enterprises will be best served through "one database, one platform, one system". And given that HANA can handle both line of business applications with its OLTP capabilities and analytics with its powerful OLAP tools in near-real time, it makes doing business LIVE and intelligently possible.
But SAP HANA is not the database on top of which most enterprise applications (even SAP owned applications) live. Most of them, as Oracle founder and CTO Larry Ellison likes to point out, still sit on Oracle. If SAP can't make a compelling enough of an argument for enterprises to make a switch, then SAP will eventually lose their business and its leadership in the market.
Speaking of HANA, Plattner himself has said, "If this doesn't work, we're dead. Flat-out dead. It's that simple."
Of course, Plattner doesn't see that happening. HANA is not only SAP's fastest growing product in its 44 year history, but it is also primed to run SAP's many business applications like SAP Jam (Collaboration), ERP, Success Factors, hybris (eCommerce), Concur (Travel and Expense Management) among many, many others. In an SAP HANA-based world these applications can be mixed and matched, Plattner told his audience.
Will the Developers Come?
Since HANA is "mostly done" being developed, Plattner expects "a flurry of applications" to be built on top of it. "This, of course, is dependent on developers. And developers like three things: open source, powerful, enabling technology, and an ability to monetize what they build.
The first of these may be an issue.
SAP HANA is proprietary, but "HANA is an open platform," Steve Lucas, president for SAP's digital enterprise platform went out of his way to highlight during his keynote. He seldom fails to mention that SAP was an early Cloud Foundry sponsor. Ken Tsai, vice president, head of cloud platform and data management at SAP, is always eager to point out that SAP takes advantage of the latest open source innovations like Hadoop and Spark.
At SAPPHIRE NOW Lucas said that developers have already built more than 1,000 ready-to-deploy HCP (HANA Cloud Platform) apps and extensions. It seems like a lot, but SAP executives made it sound as if it is not nearly enough. Time will tell whether an"open platform vs. open source" play can win over developers.
It could be that as analyst Robin Bloor of Bloor Research has told CMSWire "the open source versus proprietary conversation is overrated, that the people who write the checks for technology simply choose the technology that gets the job done." If he is right and SAP HANA's growth trajectory continues or accelerates, developers might be thrilled to build on a popular, widely used platform.
What's in a Name?
Remember SAP Cloud for Analytics? Forget it, or at least its name.
Lucas, said he didn't like the branding , so he changed it. To what? SAP BusinessObjects Cloud.
Constellation Research analyst Holger Mueller told CMSWire that he isn't sure that that branding is any better. The name (not the technology, in its present state, in particular) falls short of suggesting leading edge, which is where companies who want to win their markets need to be.
But Lucas doesn't seem too worried. In fact, SAP is reverting to the Business Objects branding for all of its analytics offerings.
"SAP BusinessObjects continues to be the world's most recognized brand related to analytics," said Lucas. " Maybe not modern analytics in all cases, but we will change that!" he said.
SAP's on-premise analytics offerings are now consolidated under the name of SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise and are available in standard, pro and premium editions. SAP vice president Byron Banks told CMSWire, "We think you should buy premium," his reasoning being that companies need all of the tools they can get to empower their digital journeys.
Control the World from a Digital Dashboard
There's probably nothing that turns CEO's on more than the idea of controlling their worlds via the touch of a finger or the click of a mouse (unless it’s seeing their company stats via virtual reality, which is what SAP showed-off at SXSW) and that is precisely what SAP’s Digital Boardroom was built to enable. It is reminiscent of the control deck (aka "bridge") of the USS Starship Enterprise and provides managers with the ability to get a 360-view of their business in the real time.
If you're not a Trekkie or too young to remember the show, picture a corporate boardroom with digital walls which can show you exactly what is happening at any level. An apparel wholesaler could, for example, ask a series of questions like "How are my short-shorts selling this week? What color is the most popular? What zip codes are they selling in? Where am I likely to run out? How close is the nearest warehouse? How long will it take for the manufacturer to replenish? Where are my delivery trucks now?" and see all of the answers in pictures.
The Digital Boardroom promises to crunch current information and deliver visual answers in real time. And not just that, it will soon offer collaborative opportunities as well.
This is no doubt a cool concept as anyone who has been tortured with Excel spreadsheets and decision trees will attest. The question around it though, according to Mueller is whether "it's too much about visualization and too little about insights and what ifs that are triggered by software, not the humans".
That's something that not only SAP will need to answer but also every company as we embark on our digital journeys in real time.