I recently co-hosted an SAP HANA executive dinner with the SAP industry team, which was attended by a number of major global CPG and Pharmaceutical companies, and where Paul McGarry from Colgate Palmolive kindly agreed to present his company's journey so far. Some of the organisations were already on their SAP HANA journey, whilst others were still trying to work it out. These, to me, were the key points that came out of the evening.
Confusion around what SAP HANA is
There is still some confusion, even amongst a very senior group of experienced hands, as to what SAP HANA is. So let me put the executive summary down. SAP HANA is a very fast relational database, and because it is so fast, it changes the way that we think about what we can do with our business applications; it also collapses the application into the database. No other software vendor has developed anything which comes even close. This excellent blog by John Appleby is well worth a read and goes into some of the technical detail - The SAP HANA FAQ - answering key SAP In-Memory questions.
SAP HANA is transformational
Everyone present seemed to be clear that they knew their organisation needed to do something with SAP HANA, and the debate was around what they should do, and when they should do it, not if.
Who is going to prove it first?
Whilst acknowledging the future importance of SAP HANA, the main question here was around when SAP would be able to convince its audience that SAP HANA is industrialised. Disaster Recovery, for example, was identified as critical for every organisation present however, until they have full confidence in SAP HANA's abilities in this space, it won't be considered as a strategic replacement for Oracle.
There were three stages in the take up of SAP HANA within an organisation
Stage 1 - A point solution: Paul McGarry discussed how Colgate Palmolive re-platformed its Profitability Analysis (COPA) solution onto SAP HANA; the result was queries that were hundreds of times faster. Pretty compelling in terms of getting a better handle on profitability, and so the business case was simple. The implementation was very quick (a few weeks) and very straightforward - "innovation without disruption". Anyone who knows the technical solution of COPA will not be surprised at this - it is technically about as simple as it gets - but the impact on their business is that different types of analysis can now be done, leading to better decision making capabilities. It was noted though that for those that had already implemented SAP BI Accelerator to solve this pain-point, it wasn't clear if there was a compelling need to move to SAP HANA.
Stage 2 - A current business process limited by technology performance: Most of the attendees could identify areas where they have had to adjust the business process because of technological (performance) constraints. For example one CPG organisation highlighted commercial planning: whilst the organisation would like to have planned down to the SKU/customer/market level, with the numbers involved it was simply not technologically feasible and they had had to plan at a higher level. This is something Colgate Palmolive did in Mexico.
Commercial planning, including trade promotions management, is a complex business area (see who is steering the ship? An integrated approach to business planning
by Dave Williams) and as any implementation here is going to change the underlying current business process touching various parts of the organisation (commercial finance, marketing, sales for example) then this is a substantial undertaking - but the potential benefits are huge. The Pharmaceutical organisations were more interested in what they could do on compliance (in particularly mentioning GRC) with substantially improved performance.
Stage 3 - What we don't know: There was a strong feeling that SAP HANA can bring business transformation to the organisations there, but no clarity yet on how. The solution that Bluefin Solutions has pulled together for presenting real-time offers to high rollers in a casino based on up to the second information is a great example of this and is presented in an amusing video. This was demoed at the SAP UK Technology Forum & Insight BI Forum in March this year.
What the customers want to see are more ideas like this.
The overwhelming belief across all attendees was that SAP HANA is a game changer and the real question is this: when does it move from being a niche solution to become an essential competitive tool? It is clear from SAP's sales figures that many organisations are trying to figure out what to do with SAP HANA, and that as soon as they work this out, SAP's desire to become the number 2 database vendor in the world could come sooner than even they think.