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Live from SAPinsider Studio: Panel Discussion on SAP HANA as a Foundation for Analytics (Part I)

November 17, 2014

This is Part 1 of a two-part panel discussion recorded live at SAPinsider's Reporting & Analytics event in Atlanta. Dan Kearnan of SAP moderates the discussion with Gopal Krishnamurthy of Visual BI Solutions, Nic Smith of SAP, and Steve Freeman of Decision First Technologies. Topics of this lively discussion include:

  • An exploration of the challenges companies are facing that are steering them toward exploring SAP HANA as a foundation for analytics
  • How SAP HANA helps to reduce complexity while providing greater agility across a BI landscape
  • SAP Business Warehouse (SAP BW) 7.4 powered by SAP HANA and SAP HANA Smart Data Access
  • How organizations are building a business case and uncovering a return on investment with various SAP HANA use cases

View the video, and read the edited transcript of the panel discussion here:

Dan Kearnan, SAP: Hello, I’m Dan Kearnan from SAP. I’m part of the SAP HANA marketing department, and I’m here with guests today to talk about and uncover the reasons why so many companies are turning to SAP HANA as a foundation for analytics for a lot of their business intelligence (BI) needs.

So, I’d first like to introduce the guests today. I’m here with Gopal Krishnamurthy from Visual BI, Nic Smith from marketing with BI at SAP, and Steve Freeman from Decision First Technologies. Each one of our guests has expertise in working with customers directly in both the BI and the SAP HANA worlds. So hopefully by the end of this discussion, you’ll find out why a lot of companies today are turning to SAP HANA in BI and why the marriage of the two makes sense. I’m going to start by asking a few questions to really get the conversation rolling. So, Nic, I’d like to start with you. Why do you think, or what are some of the key challenges companies who’ve implemented BI face that lead them to turn to SAP HANA as a new high-performance data foundation underneath their BI infrastructure?

Nic Smith, SAP: It’s a great question and I think it really starts with the volume of data; large data sources and a huge variety of that data. To be able to look back in time and report, analyze, and even do advanced analysis, some predictive capabilities – customers really need that engine to be able to look to the future and build out new visualizations, new ways of thinking about their business, and have that strength in a platform to do that. SAP HANA really provides that. A lot of it, from a BI perspective, is the marriage of the two – of those amazing visualization capabilities, and the strength of a platform that can scale and meet the needs not only now but in the future.

Dan: So, five years ago do you think those same market forces or challenges were facing companies, or is this a fairly recent phenomena that has led a lot of companies who’ve implemented BI to look to a high-performance data foundation?

Nic: Five years ago, I wouldn’t say it was unheard of, but it’s definitely now accelerated dramatically and a lot of that has to do with the volume of information that is out there, the different ways we consume information on different devices and just in our lives how we need to get accessed information. But it’s also about new things, and when I say things I kind of mean “things” like the Internet-of-Things, censors, machine data, transactional data, social data; there’s just so much more volume of information that’s out there that businesses need to tap into and make sense of and make sense of instantly.

Dan: Do you want to add-on to that from your observations in the field, Steve?

Steve Freeman, Decision First: Certainly the volume of data is a big part of it, and we’ve all been in this industry a long time and there’s more data today than there was yesterday and there’ll be more tomorrow. So there’s no doubt we’ll always have more information and people want to look at more information. The thing is, there are lots of databases that can handle lots of information. And so, you get the argument, “Well, you can tune any database for any query.” Where we see the big value – besides the performance, which is certainly there  - it’s the ability to respond to the change in business, i.e. I have more data, I have new data that I want to look at and I want to bring that information sort of into my world – and how am I going to do that when it’s so unanticipated, right? We don’t know what that data is going to be. Most other types of solutions that are not in-memory, you really need to anticipate how people are going to query that data. And you need to structure it that way.  There is some amount of structure certainly in SAP HANA, but the ability to deal with that change and to do these things in-memory and to deliver that solution so quickly, it’s a business. That’s really been the big change, or the fundamental change that we’ve seen with our customers.

Dan: So what I hear you saying is that before SAP HANA, there was a latency in the ability for end-users, business users, to make decisions based on maybe the lack of IT infrastructure or something not in place that allowed IT to serve up the information in the time needed for business users to make the decision.

Steve:  Absolutely. The ability to very quickly take that information and put it in a structure where an end-user can consume it very quickly and cost-effectively; quickly equals cost-effectively. The big change we’ve seen is things that we’re really – you can always do anything with time and money, the problem is that we didn’t have enough money or we needed to compress the time – with SAP HANA what we’ve found is we can deliver these solutions irrespective of the data sources much more quickly and thus make the customer, the end-user, the business user, happy again. Which has been exciting for us because that’s all we do is business analytics and it’s those end-users that always haven’t been as happy, I guess, as they are now.

Dan: Right. So Gopal, we’ve hinted at some of the value that customers have seen, and you’ve worked with a lot of customers who’ve married BI and SAP HANA together. So, one is speed to insight and decision-making. Do you have any other feedback in terms of what customers are seeing in terms of the value when they marry SAP HANA and BI?

Gopal Krishnamurthy, Visual BI: It’s a very common questions that we hear from executives, and I want to talk about the SAP HANA platform, and what has changed, and I want to piggy-back to both of your answers to the value. If I look at all the common questions, it’s “I want my BI to be agile,” “I want my BI to be in real-time (which was not the case five years back)” “I want my BI to be accessible in mobile devices” and then “I want to do a lot of self-service, because things have changed so dynamically in the last five years.” So if you look at it, agile, mobile, real-time, and self-service, SAP HANA as a platform is remarkable from an enterprise data warehouse (EDW). There are a lot of BI tools, but if I look at the competition there is no competition that can do all four; the SAP HANA platform is the best in terms of the performance, the time-to-market, the composite provider that came with SAP Business Warehouse 7.4 (SAP BW), and SAP HANA Live and SAP HANA Enterprise – I don’t think any BI or EDW platform can deliver. So when we tell as an SAP HANA evangelist, we do a proof of concept to demonstrate these four business imperatives that one platform as an EDW can deliver all four scenarios for you.

Dan: So a simplification of their landscape. Anything more you want to add to that, Nic?

Nic: I would add to that, I think it’s pretty strong value for customers where they’re seeing a dramatic reduction – it’s collapsing the stack, and if you look back over the history of software, it is software on top of software, and SAP HANA really provides the multiple layers to be collapsed into one. So there’s a tremendous total cost of ownership (TCO) from a business value perspective that customers are taking advantage of.

Dan: So have you – maybe Steve I’ll push this over to you – have you seen anything surprising in terms of how customers are actually using SAP HANA and BI together that may be they didn’t think of ahead of time or maybe that they’re now uncovering for the first time?

Steve: The real-time aspect has been interesting, because so often we pushed real-time early on sort of in the development of SAP HANA and it was very difficult to come up with use cases where at least the perception that real-time was a necessity. Over time, people starting investing in SAP HANA for a variety of reasons, and we got the opportunity to just build solutions in real-time maybe with no perceived value; I don’t think there’s going to value, and then the value sort of exposes itself as you get access to it. So the things we’ve been able to do with SAP HANA that were somewhat surprising were, No. 1 the real-time, the other is having document-level detail, being able to inspect information all the way down to the detailed level and make sort of operational decisions. We’ve all been making analytical, strategic decisions in BI for a long time, and most of these data warehouses are about big picture items. The ability to go after operational analytics and put that sort of visibility into all aspects of the business and then make little decisions that dramatically impact your organization, that’s been the – I mean, we always sort of knew it was there, but to see it unfold after the fact and get your return on investment after the fact has been really interesting and a great seller, I guess, a reason to do it.

Dan: I think the nature of SAP HANA being so ubiquitous and kind of a platform for all industries, all line of businesses, I’m always surprised to see how companies are using SAP HANA to really uncover new opportunities that we really didn’t perceive or predict customers would be using. And Gopal, you’ve worked with a lot of customers, do you have any other examples in terms of surprises you’ve seen?

Gopal: There are a lot of surprises. As a longtime BW evangelist, suddenly BW is a shining star because of SAP BW 7.4 powered by SAP HANA. Just from every single thing that people hated about the data loads, to the query performance, to agility in BW – when people think of SAP, they don’t think of the robustness, how rock-solid the platform is. Now they are bringing agility into the BW platform which was probably missing before the SAP HANA days. And people are actually surprised, and the number of use cases that we are seeing, from the ability to store a lot more data, and the Smart Data Access is a big surprise we have seen; with the ability to combine the hot data, the warm data, the cold data, all the possibilities, the Smart Data Access even to bring from non-SAP data into SAP HANA; I would say that you can pretty much do any use case, the geo-spatial information, it’s all included in SAP HANA, including data services so we are almost able to turn around and do a proof of concept for any scenario that you may have. So I would say there are too many to describe.

Dan: Thanks for that insight. I’d like to turn our attention to another question. And this is a question I get from a lot of companies who are sitting on the fence. They might have seen a lot about the value that SAP HANA provides, they might have heard from other companies that it actually does provide value, and they’re looking to see how they could justify the ROI and the cost needed to move forward with that kind of transformation in their company. Any insights in terms of the guidance you would provide? I will start with you Steve, and then move over to you Gopal – about how you would guide a company to do the ROI and business case needed to move forward with SAP HANA to make that decision?

Steve: There’s a lot of different ways to do that. From a BW perspective, I couldn’t agree more with BW and the fact that with SAP BW powered by SAP HANA, being a longtime SAP BusinessObjects person – it’s just been really exciting to finally have true explorative access to that rich dataset that everyone seems to have within the ECC community, so it’s given new life to BusinessObjects, especially within a BW environment as my personal opinion. So from a cost justification standpoint, honestly SAP BW powered by SAP HANA not only is it going to load faster which in many cases that’s enough to justify it – the queries are going to perform better, but the toolsets are going to be richer, your time to market and time to development is going to be quicker and your business is going to be happier with the end result. Now, those aren’t necessarily true ROIs and you can get into the man-hour kind of analysis which we’ve done, but those are sometimes difficult. I would say that SAP BW powered by SAP HANA is relatively easy to justify. In some cases, the real-time access with an SAP Business Suite powered by SAP HANA approach, or a SAP Business Suite on SAP HANA sidecar approach, can be very valuable just in terms of providing information that was never before available. Sales data, where you can have access to the order-level detail in a mobile fashion – that’s another case study where we delivered a solution that was enabling salespeople in the field to get access to orders where they never had it before. I guess it’s a case-by-case basis in those scenarios, but they always revolve around the same things I would say. Which is in BW’s case, time to load, query performance, enriching your BusinessObjects experience. But in all cases sort of the agility with which we can deliver these solutions and quite frankly cutting down the cost for building a new BW cube, or building a new data warehouse, those timeframes are going to be compressed and that in and of itself is a cost-savings.

Dan: Those are good insights, and I know Gopal you’ve helped customers with this very questions, and I think you’ve built a few tools to help uncover the ROI of SAP HANA? Can you describe those?

Gopal: We started this when SAP HANA came out about three years back. Everybody loved it and wanted to try it out, but people saw it to be expensive. The cost of it scared a lot of initial customers. So as an early adopter and evangelist, we came up with an ROI calculator with SAP to figure out, what is the real ROI? It’s expensive, but let’s forget about the cost and look at the benefits. Let’s start from the IT benefits that are very easy to justify, like Steve alluded to, they were very easy but we put a value (on that). And we let the customer put a value (on that). We created an interactive calculator where we said to the customer, “You assign a value, you state the benefits that you perceive, and let’s put a value to it.” Now let’s go to the business side of it, and let’s interview the business, let’s document the use cases, because we were surprised to find out that even on an SAP BW powered by SAP HANA scenario, there were far more business benefits than IT benefits. In every scenario, whether it is a small customer or a big customer or a medium customer, the ROI was well over 100% - and 100% ROI, where do you get that return on investment? And primarily because of the landscape simplification, which gave a lot of IT benefits, the agility in terms of the development productivity that came from an IT perspective. But if you look at the business, you can do real-time inventory planning, you can do very dynamic sales planning because you have to understand your business BPC sits on top of SAP HANA and you can actually do a lot of real-time planning and have a workflow and trigger an action in a transactional system; I want to see the price more dynamically, I can accelerate by ABAP programs using the sidecar approach, which I have some critical operational reports running, but then they run slow. Now I can just replicate the tables into an enterprise SAP HANA and accelerate them, so we see a big business benefit there. And from an MRP planning standpoint, you take any of your core ECC functions that businesses rely on, and you can accelerate and create a much better user experience. The other thing is SAP Fiori and the mobile aspects; now SAP HANA is simply a platform that is going to make the user experience to an unbelievable level that I don’t see other products, which are more departmental, not enterprise-grade offerings.

Dan: Those are all good insights. Just to sum up, I think it’s always challenging to make the ROI and business case for anything you want to bring into your organization. And I think talking to experts like both of you, Steve and Gopal, will help start the ball rolling. Another recommendation might be we have a big SAP HANA community out there, so in talking to other SAP HANA customers to see how they built a business case will also be useful as well.

Here is Part II of the panel discussion.

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