Companies have talked about being close to the customer for a long, long time. But they probably never imagined being as proximate as in your shirt or shoes. But that’s exactly where Under Armour is today, at least if you choose to wear the company's data-enabled garments.

And while that might seem creepy to some, others are stoked because the data gathered can be analyzed and insights can be used to help athletes improve performance, build community and connect with the company. Of course it’s the consumer who opts in on allowing his data to be used in that way.

And, similarly, it’s the customer who is in control of his relationship with the companies (and not the other way around, as it has been for years). That’s why delivering exceptional, highly personalized customer experiences is not only a game changer in the data driven world, but it’s also key to survival, so said SAP CEO Bill McDermott in his keynote address at Sapphire Now, the company’s annual user conference in Orlando this week. And to do this, companies must be able to access and leverage all of their data seamlessly.

Getting Personal

While McDermott’s statement is somewhat self-serving given that SAP is one of the few vendors that can process analytical and business process data together at the same time by leveraging SAP Hana S4, there’s no denying the benefits the capability brings to customers.

Consider how Under Armour gets intimate with consumers. The company goes beyond the Internet of Things (IoT), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and analytics to create real relationships via community.

There’s a digital health and fitness network, UA Record, which it created after buying earlier this year. UA Record is available as an app and it not only tracks your athletic activity but also your sleep. It helps guide weight loss and so on. Members of the network engage by sharing results, events they compete in and so on.

There’s also UA Power in Pink, which celebrates women who use fitness and exercise in their fight against breast cancer; UA WIN which hopes to empower the next generation of kids to exercise and UA Freedom geared toward helping members of the military.

And while Under Armour’s commitment toward helping to create a healthier world is admirable, at the end of the day it’s about selling shoes and shirts. CEO Kevin Plank makes no bones about it. He even has a sign in his office that says “Don’t forget to sell shoes and shirts.”

Actionable Insights

The data gathered from IoT and Social can feed ERP and CRM systems as well to remind customers that the tread on their shoes is about to wear out (because it knows your mileage) and that shirts for their favorite teams are available and so on

Under Armour is a company that has crossed the data divide according to Bill McDermott. And this is because Plank wanted his company to run in real time-which means that data from ERP talks to data in CRM, HR, Analytics, mobile, social, IoT, you name it . It’s something most companies aspire to but have yet to get to.

McDermott said that SAP is in a unique position to help companies become data-driven. “No one else has what we have,” he said, adding that SAP had no real competition in this area. He also said that though it has been rumored, his company has no interest in acquiring Salesforce.

Learning Opportunities

It’s obvious that he’s sick of the subject. His reasoning? Salesforce has nothing to offer SAP. Salesforce’s technology isbecoming a commodity, he argued, as compared to SAP’s platform that provides best of breed end to end solutions. Salesforce is CRM focused and lacks the predictive analytics capacity that Gartner MQ Leader SAP has.

Not only that, but SAP’s sales, marketing and analytics solutions feed business application systems like ERP. There’s also SAP Hana S4 to consider which can be as much as 1800 times faster (that’s not a typo) than any other database.

The general consensus at Sapphire Now seems to be that by leveraging SAP Hana S4 customers have a competitive advantage in delivering experiences that delight customers. Sri Lankan hospitality provider SGIT, for example, built a solution for its hotels that combines data from SAP ERP, HANA, Mobile Apps, Social, Predictive Analytics and Wearables such as Google Glass together with components of Internet of Things – iBeacons, which in-turn, offer each guest a tailor-made and personalized experience based on their preferences, location within the hotel and their consumption habits.

As a result, hotel guests can do things like check-in via their mobile devices before they arrive and get an app that serves as key to their rooms. Based on data gleaned from their social profiles, hotel guests can be handed coupons for their favorite foods in the coffee shop, drinks at the bar and so on.

And when it comes to bringing brands and social media together to help create personalized experiences, yesterday SAP announced a deepened partnership with Facebook. Though Sheryl Sandberg couldn’t be there to announce it, the companies will be working more closely to integrate data from SAP with Facebook social profiles.

Now what can be closer to the customer than leveraging big data, genetic sequencing and human tissue and genome data to create a personalized treatment for cancer patients? It’s something that couldn’t have been done the way Mollecular Health does it, as recently as one year ago. The win from crunching all of the data together? Reports that indicate which therapies are likely to be successful and or harmful (chemotherapy is toxic). Given that 70 percent of cancer treatments could do more harm than good, there’s a lot of progress to be made.

So whether it’s data and/or solutions built on Hana, there are big wins to be had .

But we’re only at the beginning of a journey, said McDermott. There are great things to come.