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Innovation with SAP HANA: A "Job to be Done"

Plattner Focus on Disruptive Innovation at SAPPHIRE NOW Keynote

by Ken Murphy, Senior Features Editor

June 4, 2014

SAP Chairman of the Supervisory Board Dr. Hasso Plattner’s simplification theme during Wednesday morning’s SAPHHIRE NOW keynote picked up where SAP CEO Bill McDermott’s left off during Tuesday’s opening keynote, with another dimension tacked on. Plattner – who interestingly made it a point to announce that he was speaking as a Hasso Plattner Institute professor and not as an official SAP representative – focused on achieving simplicity through technology disruption made possible by SAP HANA.

Plattner didn’t pull any punches in his opening remarks. Stressing the point that simplicity is a necessity rather than a catchphrase or a marketing slogan, he immediately provided a business case in point: running enterprise software in the cloud, he said, is superior than on-premise.

Before inviting some interesting guests and panelists to share the stage with him, Plattner set the stage for where he expects SAP HANA to go by first sharing a little history. More than seven years ago, he said, he ditched the assumption that aggregates and latency were a necessary part of building an application. Instead, he moved forward with the assumption of a database with a zero response time. Despite everyone thinking he was crazy, he said, SAP arrived at that point a few years later with SAP HANA, which he described as being the “biggest step forward in the history of enterprise systems,” by completely freeing organizations from the rigidity inherent in enterprise systems necessitated by the limitations of technology.  

To buttress this point, Plattner invited executives from John Deere and ConAgra Foods on stage to share their innovation stories with SAP HANA, and ConAgra VP of IT Mindy Simon scored the best line of the keynote when, after discussing ConAgra’s reinvention of its business processes, told the audience that constraints preventing business transformation are all “in your head.” By this, she meant that with SAP HANA organizations can radically re-think their business processes in ways they never thought possible.

Newly appointed SAP CIO Helen Arnold showed the power of SAP HANA first-hand when she demoed SAP Smart Finance, which SAP has been using since late April. With the SAP Fiori dashboard and using SAP's own (scrambled) data, Arnold showed an income statement based on line items, something she pointed out that neither SAP nor any other organization has ever been able to do before.

The most interesting discussion of business process reinvention and “what-if” modeling, however, belonged to a one-on-one seemingly unscripted chat between Plattner and Clayton Christensen, Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and the author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. It was a front-row seat to watching two brilliant minds at work as they theorized on what organizations could do without suffocating aggregates. Christensen applied the topic to our understanding of why consumers buy products; to really understand the motivation behind a purchase we have to understand the “job to be done,” which in turn is the key to innovation.

Watching Christensen organize his thoughts live on stage – such as when he questioned whether it was possible to measure non-data in analyzing potential business school candidates – was like watching the point Simon made earlier about imagination constraints play out live.  While Christensen didn’t specifically mention SAP HANA, the underlying message had already been made: business processes no longer have to bump up against technology limitations, so businesses can think outside the box even when it comes to something as fundamental as measuring profitability.

Earlier, Christensen had highlighted the difference between sustaining innovation vs. disruptive innovation, which he defined as the engine that creates new growth.  Plattner used his keynote presentation to show the 2014 SAPPHIRE NOW attendees that, as far as SAP is concerned, that engine is undisputedly SAP HANA.

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