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Transactional data and analytics can now interact in near-real time, opening up a wealth of new possibilities.
The vehicles for this digital business transformation are called translytical data platforms, according to a recent Forrester report, "The Forrester Wave: Translytical Data Platforms, Q4 2017." The report defines translytical data platforms as emerging technologies that can "deliver faster access to business data to support various workloads and use cases," which can then enable new business initiatives. These initiatives are driven by the availability of real-time data from transactional systems, like ERP, and analytical systems in the same platform.
The report assessed 12 vendors -- Aerospike, DataStax, GigaSpaces, IBM, MemSQL, Microsoft, NuoDB, Oracle, Redis Labs, SAP, Splice Machine and VoltDB -- that currently have translytical data platforms available, with SAP and Oracle identified as tops in the Leaders category. This was based on assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of the vendors' current offerings, their overall strategy and their market presence.
SAP HANA, which is the core of SAP's translytical platform, according to the report, "crushes translytical workloads" and supports a variety of use cases, including real-time applications, analytics, translytical apps, systems of insight and advanced analytics. Available translytical applications include SAP S/4HANA and SAP Business Suite. However, the report cautioned that SAP might be "overkill for organizations that don't have large translytical requirements" and that some enterprise customers may perceive it as being more expensive than offerings that have fewer capabilities.
Making translytical data more accessible and useful
SAP as a translytical data platform opens up new business possibilities, according to Shaun Syvertsen, managing partner at Covergent IS, a firm based in Calgary, Alta., that provides consulting services for SAP systems, including SAP Fiori and S/4HANA. Convergent IS not only provides these SAP-related services but also runs its business on S/4HANA.
Shaun SyvertsenConvergent IS
"We moved our business onto S/4HANA about two years ago, and what really appealed to me was that you have a database that you could ask a more difficult question to and you get the answer much more quickly," Syvertsen said. "This effectively opens the door to asking questions that you could not previously ask and having access to that information more timely than previously possible."
The most important thing about S/4HANA is not just the speed of the underlying SAP HANA in-memory processing capability but the way it makes the translytical data accessible and actionable. Syvertsen explained that the key to this is the SAP Fiori user experience (UX).
"The idea that HANA can get you yesterday's data today but faster didn't excite me that much, but if you can get tomorrow's forecast faster, if you can get access to more in-depth questions more flexibly, then those are the sorts of things that get more interesting," he said. "The most important part that makes it more genuinely translytical is when you overlay the [SAP Fiori UX] on top of it because then you make it actually easy to use. You might have access to information, but if it's hard to get at, it's not terribly useful."
Change business mindset to accept translytical data
However, Syvertsen said it's still very early in the game for most companies and translytical platforms, and adoption will only increase when users can actually see the benefits.
"[Many people won't] genuinely appreciate the value that it brings until they can touch it, feel it, see it," he said. "We work with a large consumer products company that just went live with S/4HANA, and they went from several systems where they had overnight reporting so that they could see yesterday's data, but they can now see the real-time data live. When you're dealing with the volumes that they're dealing with, that's a material difference, and they can see a problem as it's happening instead of finding out about it in the morning."
The promise of translytical data platforms is that they provide access to data in new ways, but organizations will need to change their thinking to take advantage of this. If an executive has access to live data, for example, what do they do about it, Syvertsen asked.
"The translytical piece gives you the insight, and it gives you the option for action, but the organization still needs to action it," he said.
Organizations that are eager for the information because they already know what they plan to do with it are far more likely to embrace translytical data platforms, he continued, while it will take longer for organizations that question why they need the data.
This change in business mindset to want to accept translytical data and fulfill the insight-to-action promise can only happen if the data is accessible and the applications easy to use. If an organization wants to change but can't find a way to use the tools to give it better insights, it's very easy to fall back on old tools and methods, Syvertsen said.
"Insights from the ability to transact and analyze on the same system is good if it works," he said. "But if it's not easy to use, then you're stuck out of the gate."
SAP's cornerstone strategy for S/4HANA
The integration of transactional data and analytics is the cornerstone of SAP's strategy with S/4HANA, according to Ken Tsai, SAP global vice president and head of cloud platform and data management product marketing.
"The whole genesis of why we refactor our ERP applications, why we want to rewrite on HANA, is to address this whole translytical data attributes -- the ability to do real-time analytics, real-time planning, real-time predictions within certain transaction windows," Tsai said. "You'll see that realized in S/4HANA -- how we do pricing calculation, how we do material resource planning, how we do predictions on what transaction comes in. This is fundamental, and we believe the application going forward, and any business application not just within ERP, this will become critical."