The Unbearable Lightness of Understanding SAP HANA

It’s been an interesting autumn regarding SAP HANA and the looming real-time business in the aftermath of SAPPHIRE 2014. Hasso Plattner delivered a great keynote about sustainable and disruptive innovation and explained, once again, the essential features and advantages provided by HANA in SAPPHIRE. These advantages are mainly possible by removing Batch (as a loose term, through simplification, data size redundancy and the in-memory speed in general) and most importantly, removing Aggregates. Bilot TV also covered this keynote at its freshest! The summer went on nicely and Hasso published a blog along the keynote about ‘Impact of Aggregates’.

Then there was the PC World article about a Survey for American SAP customers (ASUG) about the low adoption rate of HANA. Ray Wang of Constellation Research explains in the article: “Many folks are trying to make sense of their SAP Hana [proof-of-concepts],” and that “one of the challenges is that SAP marketed the technology very well but not the use cases.” I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Wang in person in Orlando during the SAPPHIRE. I’ve been following Ray in social media since, and he constantly shares his points-of-view about IT in general. I did not catch any shared views about this case, so I take it that those views were exchanged between Constellation Research and SAP AG?

SAP, and especially Hasso Plattner countered the PC World article by several blogs and articles describing the benefits and features of SAP HANA, both on the business and technical side. The first one of them was quite a straightforward reply by Hasso: “It is amazing to me how little the benefits of the Suite on HANA are understood or even known in general and by the members of the Americas’ SAP Users’ Group specifically.” I just love it when someone with Hasso-like status replies like this and not by some politically-correct-it-is-challenging nonsense!

One of the most used recent analogies in explaining HANA is the “sports car vs. truck” analogy, in which HANA is the “speedier” version of the other alternative. That is, however, not the most relevant analogy as it only takes Batch, not Aggregates, into consideration and even the scale of the “speed” is not quite there. The “sports car vs. truck” analogy is also not nonlinear enough! Here’s my analogy of SAP HANA in terms of a vehicle:

Talking about Batch&Aggregates with HANA makes a lot of sense to me. It’s almost like recipe or a formula: dig around your company, find out the processes and functions that slowest and most aggregated, usually including also manual work and bureaucracy, and make new business outcomes (business cases for the traditional organizations) out of them! It’s that simple! Had HANA been around in the old projects during the years, no forced compromises between data selection and application side logic had not been made.

We at Bilot have been already figuring out new ways to trash Batch&Aggregates for some our customers with SAP HANA. Heck, we even made a product out of one specific case, it’s called the SmartPricing. One  of our customers running this particular solution calculated that the payback of this solution is not even in months but in weeks! And, this calculation was not done by IT, but one of the business executives of that company. However, this is not counting in the soft benefits such as saving working time, getting better quality and working with a unified tool. One specific item worth of mentioning about this engagement: the projects (new ones are already one the way!) are mostly done with business people and the good folks at IT have been involved in just a few phases.

Why is understanding HANA so hard? Is it so that the good people in companies and corporations expect the evolvement of Business IT linear? The IT vendors deliver just bit better versions of their solutions year after year? No paradigm shift in sight? Wrong! I can see two main reasons for this:

I’m certain that your company understands what kind of a disruption HANA represents before your competitor can disrupt you out of your business by it!

P.S. Clayton Christensen, who was on stage with Hasso in the keynote, predicted the future success of iPhone wrong in 2007 because he thought that the iPhone would be competing just with Nokia. This time he also made some predictive comments about HANA and aggregates: “This concept of aggregates is a much bigger deal than Hasso had thought about before because the concept of aggregates underlies how we run our companies.”  He continued that this concept “could lead to one of the most important concepts of management that I have seen in my professional life.” Based on C.Christensen, companies could just run models and algorithms on an atomic, non-aggregated data. I’m betting this prediction will be much more precise than the iPhone one!

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Janne Vihervuori