The power of predictive analytics has been on the big data map for nearly a decade. But until Opera Solutions, one of the leading predictive analytics software vendors, announced its new partnership with SAP’s HANA group on May 15, it was unclear how any but the largest companies could efficiently and affordably find their way to the hidden treasure—actionable intelligence extracted from large troves of data that can impact an organization’s bottom line in real time.
Predictive analytics are of great value to businesses that, for example, have large numbers of customers buying low-priced products with a high turnover rate. Credit card fraud detection divisions, telecoms, and Internet retailers are just a few of the operations that can benefit from forecasting conclusions drawn from a heavy flow of customer data as it passes through their systems. The trick is to process enough of the data at a rapid enough rate to create meaningful predictions and put them to good use before their value expires.
The potential in the Opera Solutions-SAP partnership lies in the speed and throughput with which HANA in-memory database technology will be able to process ever-growing mountains of data being generated by companies. “Putting a predictive analysis on HANA really does open up a new frontier,” says Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting. Greenbaum says that using Opera Solutions’ Signal Hub technologies as an overlay on the HANA platform allows enterprise customers to “iterate through data in a model many times,” harnessing HANA’s expansive processing capability to supercharge its superior analytic tools.
Opera Solutions’ CEO and founder Arnab Gupta says the SAP partnership serves to enhance what his company already does well. “We have been doing this for seven or eight years, and we have more than 220 machine learning scientists,” says Gupta. “We actually tie predictive analytics to results,” and HANA “gives us access to more data feeds to analyze.”
Opera Solutions’ main differentiator is a group of packaged analytics software tools it calls Signal Hubs. The advantage of the Signal Hub technology is that it allows Opera Solutions to customize its predictive models to rapidly changing business environments without starting from scratch for each new application. Because the Signal Hubs are reusable and reprogrammable, they minimize the need for consulting services, a huge enticement to companies that can’t afford to hire pricey consulting firms to parse their data but still require expert guidance to translate predictive analysis into concrete business results. A high-level HANA system can run around $500,000; software such as Opera Solutions’ sells for substantially less.
The Signal Hubs tool addresses a few of the big problems typically associated with predictive analytics, including a gaping signal-to-noise ratio, by baking in a series of connectors and filters along with the applications needed to create the easily digestible results needed by users. The Signal Hubs also identify the modeling technique most appropriate for specific industries. For example, the Credit & Risk Hub includes intelligence related to fraud detection and revenue leakage, among other issues. In this way, Opera Solutions is able to scale its expertise.
“The biggest obstacle to predictive analytics is research skills and training,” says Mark Smith, CEO of Ventana Research. “Opera Solutions’ approach is unique.” Smith cites the company’s sophisticated analytic processing and expert-systems-based methods. “They clearly have a stockpile of smart people.”
According to Opera Solutions’ Gupta, the SAP partnership emanated from a common customer, Morgan Stanley. Rather than going head-to-head in the marketplace, he says, both companies decided a joint approach to creating a wealth-management application for Morgan Stanley would be mutually beneficial.
Opera Solutions’ ultimate goal is to be infrastructure-agnostic by processing data through its Vektor platform to create each signal hub, says Gupta. Existing partnerships with ACI Payment Systems, a software and services provider for electronic payments at financial institutions, and technology consulting firm Capgemini demonstrate the range of the technology’s adaptability.
Ventana’s Smith, who recently assessed first-hand Opera Solutions’s wealth management and supply-chain intelligence applications, thinks the company’s partnership with SAP is ultimately more important to SAP than to Opera Solutions, despite the access the smaller company will gain to SAP’s portfolio of enterprise clients.
Opera’s approach “is very business-solution focused compared to SAP efforts that have been more analytics- and tools-centric so far,” Smith says. Prior to the partnership, SAP simply was re-selling IBM’s SPSS predictive analytics software. Other players in the space include Oracle and SAS. “SAP had to up the ante somehow,” Smith added.
Alec Foege is a writer and independent research professional based in Connecticut. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.