ORLANDO – Early adopters of the SAP HANA in-memory database technology paraded in front of attendees at the SAPPHIRE conference to explain their use cases, opportunities gained and some issues to watch out for as the technology matures and their comfort with it grows.
Communicating about HANA, which promises faster performance for organizations using tools to analyze growing and diverse data sets, is a key theme of the customer-facing SAPPHIRE event, and an attendee could have spent the entire first day of the three-day conference listening to SAP executives and customers discuss its benefits and potential use cases.
One of them, Christian Ritter, a global IT executive at Hilti, a Lichtenstein-based manufacturer of construction equipment, summed up for many when explained five factors that challenged his company to seek better performance from his analytics systems: the ubiquity of data, the democratization of participation in business intelligence systems, the mobility of workers, the big data trend toward larger and multiple data sources and the consumerization of information technology.
The company has more data, more sources of data and more people who want insights faster than ever before—and it is too much for his Business Warehouse system, said Ritter, who is head of Hilti’s process competency center for finance, human resources, reporting and central services. By implementing HANA, Hilti is hoping to analyze some old questions and add layers of analytics to fashion entirely new insights. In one important case so far, it has succeeded in analyzing data in new ways, Ritter said: the company can detect historically, and simulate future actions, for changes in pricing and product mix on customer behavior and sales. Analysts can drill down by product group and geographical market and deliver findings in seconds. The application “revealed that our sales force in one country dropped its price to make sales” rise—a promotional action previously undetected at headquarters, Ritter said.
This is the kind of valuable insight, delivered close to real-time, that will make Hilti run more profitably, Ritter said. The “watch outs” for early adopters of HANA, he added, were technical. First, migrating a Business Warehouse system to HANA likely means remodeling your system architecture (“This will take time, but it’s worth it,” he said.) Second, data compression factors for Hilti’s HANA implementation were not as good as SAP projected, which affects the company’s cost/benefit calculations. And third, Ritter said he expects the stability of the system to improve. Right now, the company is in discussions with both SAP and hardware vendor HP about fixing unexpected server reboots; Hilti will continue to add more users to the system as that situation improves, Ritter said.
Other customers citing their experiences included:
• Lenovo Group, the Chinese computer maker. Xiaoyu Liu, vice president and general manager for global application development, said her company worked closely with SAP consultants and developers to learn about implementing HANA last year to improve visibility into the company’s global customer relationship management (CRM) system. Implementation of HANA, using a subset of data that caused performance issues on an existing Business Warehouse system, took only two and a half months, instead of the six or more months she expected. Lenovo’s HANA application generates reports in less than one second, she said.
• Luxury goods retailer Burberry, which implemented an SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system six years ago to support its increased focus on individualized customer experiences in its stores. CEO Angela Ahrendts said she expects HANA will give her sales associates historical data about customers when they walk into the store, to identify opportunities to serve them based on recent purchases and demonstrated tastes. She said her company relocated a team from London to San Francisco so they could work closely with SAP’s HANA team so Burberry can maximize its benefits.
• At pharmaceutical company McKesson Corp., HANA represents a chance to build analytics capabilities onto a scalable technology platform, said Cynthia Strickland, director of architecture standards and metrics. HANA is expected to accelerate back end processing so the pharmaceutical company can create analytical reports on quality of health care delivery, among other things. The company also plans to implement a Hadoop database to hold unstructured data such as clinical reports, she added.
• The University of Kentucky just implemented HANA as part of an IT-driven effort to retain students, said CIO Vincent Kellen. He said the university needed more precise data in a timely fashion to find out which students were not engaged enough in their education; the goal is to identify these students—and help them see ways to get more involved in the university community, through advisors, staff and other students.
• Chris Dinkel, an IT leader at consulting firm Deloitte Services LLP, said his company’s HANA implementation supports its sales and marketing efforts by identifying business-to-business connections at prospective clients. The fast response times frees up efforts its consultants can spend on engaging clients.
Michael Goldberg is editor of Data Informed. Follow him on Twitter at @MGoldbergatDI.