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SAP HANA's long road to near-real-time analysis of ERP data

SAP HANA's path to faster ERP analysis includes new in-memory apps, accelerators, standalone apps and service packs through 2012 and beyond.

Enterprise customers eager for the fast in-memory technology of SAP HANA for ERP data analysis will have to be patient, according to one SAP official. That particular milestone isn’t planned until 2014.

“We’re trying to manage disruption,” said Mike Eacrett, vice president of product management for SAP HANA at SAP Labs in Palo Alto, Calif. “It’s the innovator’s dilemma,” Eacrett said, “figuring out how to take advantage of new opportunities while managing change.”

Yet Eacrett predicted that SAP will deliver on customer demand for in-memory analysis of the full ERP within 24 months. “At the end of next year, we’ll have ERP running on HANA,” he said. “We’re already doing it in-house.”

First described in the spring last year, SAP HANA 1.0 is based on long-held SAP technology such as the MaxDB database and TREX search engine, according to Eacrett. SAP delivers the SAP HANA computational engine on hardware from partners, with pricing based on the amount of data being loaded into memory, he said.

While currently optimized for querying data in SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0, the SAP HANA platform has become a magnetic pole to which fragments of SAP applications are attracted. The roadmap features numerous signposts, from new in-memory applications designed to run on SAP HANA, to accelerators for existing applications, to standalone applications that also run on SAP HANA.

SAP released the first in-memory application to run on SAP HANA, SAP BusinessObjects Strategic Workforce Planning, in March. The program allows personnel managers to view existing workforce demographics and distribution and skills, and model potential changes in real time to simulate costs.

New SAP HANA solutions to manage big data
Two new technologies, SAP Smart Meter Analytics and SAP CO-PA Accelerator, allow enterprises to leverage big data for analysis, forecasting and planning, according to SAP.

Utility companies, inundated by data collected from smart grid systems, can use the Smart Analytics program to load forecasts, tailor offerings and improve fraud detection, SAP suggested, while their customers can adopt more sustainable energy-use practices. “They can bring in weather data to plan power consumption,” Eacrett said, “and look at not having to buy on-the-spot market. It’s all about yield management.”

The CO-PA Accelerator (for costing-based profitability analysis) is designed to improve the speed and depth of working with large volumes of financial data, especially in profitability cycles and month-end closing processes, according to SAP.

In trying to manage disruption to enterprise customers who typically tweak their ERP systems to optimize performance, SAP plans to release numerous similar accelerators over the next year to 18 months, according to Eacrett. He said accelerators are coming for financial and pricing applications that are very data intensive but provide more real-time insights.

“You can think of the accelerators as sidecars to the ERP,” running specific queries alongside the larger database, Eacrett said. “We haven’t announced them all.”

Industry observers expect a standalone application due out soon, Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP), to be a killer app for SAP HANA.

“A consumer package company may look at data for the last few months and forecast for the next 10 months, making pricing decisions for the whole company,” said David Simchi-Levi, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., who is familiar with SAP HANA and teaches graduate level courses on supply chains.

By performing S&OP on SAP HANA, businesses can instantly evaluate the production level at a plant, and decide, for example, whether to move production closer to the customer to cut freight costs, Simchi-Levi said.

The next milestone in the roadmap is a service pack that will enable SAP NetWeaver BW to run on SAP HANA, Eacrett said. At that point, customers who are using the SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator to improve performance can use SAP HANA instead, he said.

That said, SAP will continue to develop SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator, according to Eacrett. “The plan is that next year we’ll offer a new version of SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator, enhanced with some of the HANA technology, such as simplified administration.”

The goal for SAP is not just to deliver full ERP data analysis with HANA, but to provide access to users of mobile devices.

With a mobile device connected to an SAP HANA engine, for example, a salesperson could sit with a customer and offer a discount on a product based on whether a certain truck, according to the latest SAP HANA analysis, has left the warehouse, Eacrett said.


Correction: This article has been changed since it was first published to reflect the correct period when in-memory analysis of ERP data will be available for SAP customers. That will occur sometime within the next 24 months, in 2014.    


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