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Let’s face it. Most of the line of business applications that managers use to run today’s enterprises are pretty clunky.

Kind of like your grandfather’s rusted out, gas-guzzling Cadillac that was his pride and joy more than 20 years ago. Sure, it will still get you from here to there as it putters along, but try to get somewhere quick, to drive in the snow, on ice or off-road, and forget about it.

It can’t compete with today’s automobiles that automatically adjust for weather conditions and the terrain, help you hug curves like a racecar driver, and warn you before you back into something.

It’s prime time for something to change where line of business applications are concerned. And that’s precisely the vision that SAP unveiled for the world of business yesterday before a crowd at the New York Stock Exchange.

“It’s maybe the biggest innovation in enterprise IT in history, not only for SAP, but for the industry,” said Steve Lucas, president of SAP global solutions, during an interview following the presentation. “We’re ushering in a new wave of productivity unlike anything the world has seen before.”

Speed Counts

Was Lucas a bit over the top? Time will tell, but there’s a rationale behind his belief. Consider that the new suite of business applications, S/4HANA, will run atop HANA, the database that keeps breaking the Guinness World records for speed. And speed matters because without it it’s impossible to close the gap between business events as they are happening and our ability to understand and react to them.

In the past SAP business applications ran on Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and IBM databases which aren’t anywhere nearly as fast as HANA.” Bill McDermott, Lucas’ boss told the crowd at the NYSE, “We believe it (S/4 HANA) marks the beginning of the end for the 20th century IT stack and all the complexity that came with it.”

What will the change involve? Equipping the modern enterprise with the technology it needs to transition from systems of record to one that revolves around intelligence. In the new model if a CEO wants to produce a quarterly report, right on the spot, he could, said Lucas.

Ditto for a managers who want to determine what impact a price change would have across different areas of the company, say sales, manufacturing, logistics sales and so on. With S/4 HANA results can be presented instantly and visually so that differences are easy to see. Consider too that there’s 0.0 percent latency with HANA, according to Lucas. It’s why S/4 HANA holds the potential to be so transformative for the business.

It’s not just that the new suite of business apps and analytics that promises to be revolutionary. You will also be able to run the entire S/4 HANA business suite on any device, say a tablet or even an iPhone.

Such a Pretty Face

The user experience on SAP’s business suite, which some companies are still using today, leaves a lot to be desired, by Lucas’s own admission. The UI has now changed dramatically, and for the better. “We’re going from the worst in the industry,” said Lucas, noting that he may have his hat handed to him for saying so, “to one that wins accolades.” The difference? SAP Fiori, which brings a pallet of color and a modern, consumer-like experience to SAP’s business suite. The previous look and feel? “Ugly,” he admits, “a pallet of grays."

There are the costs of running business applications to consider as well and the savings on S/4HANA could be huge. The data footprint is smaller, the storage seems to be easier and the process improvements are, reportedly, substantial. Add the cloud to the mix and the benefits of moving to S/4 HANA might be worth weighing.

“Every great platform needs a killer app, and that’s precisely what SAP brought to market today,” said Lucas.

Now we should note that the only S/4 HANA application on the market thus far is Simple Finance, which provides instant insight into a company’s fiscal affairs.

There’s one other feature, Guided Configuration, which we especially like. It helps users set up views according to their particular roles. A sales manager, logistics manager, and CFO can all look at the same set of data in a way that’s most relevant for them

Analytics, it’s also worth noting, are 1800 times faster on HANA, according to Lucas.

So what’s not to love? That much of Business Suite S/4 HANA has yet to be delivered. But given that, a public cloud version of S/4HANA is expected to be delivered in the second quarter and should include ten simple end to end core processes in the areas of finance, logistics, procurement, customer engagement and professional services, there seems to be reason to believe. Not only that, but Quentin Clark who was the corporate vice president of program management for Microsoft SQL Server is now the CTO of SAP, has a pretty good track record when it comes to delivery.

More Work Ahead

Yesterday Constellation Research analyst Holger Mueller tweeted kudos to SAP for embracing the future yet advised that the company will need to work harder to grab and productize 21st century best practices. He also showed concern over its SAP RAM versus SSD focus. “#BigData is bigger than RAM / HANA,” he warned via Twitter.

Yet, all of that being said, Mueller called yesterday’s SAP event “an important day for Enterprise software” in a blog post. It’s almost exactly what Lucas told me.

And what will tomorrow look like?

 A world where companies have the information they need to make decisions on-the-fly and in real time, where there’s almost no separation between business events and the ability to understand and react to those events.

SAP says that HANA is the only innovation that can make this happen — and that the database world that separates OLTP, DW and OLAP will soon be a thing of the past. And if you believe that the companies who leverage information best will win the future then SAP may have something important going on. 

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by That Hartford Guy.