Analyst Take on SAPPHIRE 2013

With a very interesting book presentation on "The Human Face of Big Data," announcements on cloud-based solutions, and extensive and intensive discussions regarding the readiness (or not) of HANA for prime-time deployments in the enterprise, the recent SAPPHIRE 2013 conference was full of exciting and interesting developments—though, I must admit, I was disinterested at times by the repetitive messaging about HANA’s power. The following is a personal take and summary of what I found to be the most relevant aspects of SAP’s main conference.

The keynotes

Each day of the conference saw an interesting keynote presentation by both SAP co-CEOs and technology gurus and brains behind SAP’s new technology direction: Vishal Sikka, member of the executive board and responsible for innovation, technology, and global research at SAP, and Hasso Plattner, SAP’s co-founder and former CEO. Each keynote had a special flavor and zest, the essence of which I’ll attempt to provide you below.

Bill McDermott on the commercial and business power of SAP
Bill McDermott, SAP’s co-CEO, gave the opening keynote, presenting SAP’s marketing and business perspectives, and emphasizing the vendor’s mighty delivery power. Mr. McDermott also hosted an interesting panel discussion with customers from the sports industry—Adam Silver, deputy commissioner on COO of the NBA, Jed York, CEO of the San Francisco 49ers, and Kevin Plank, CEO of sportswear manufacturer Under Armour—that was moderated by the well-known sports anchorman James Brown (not the ‘I Got You (I feel Good)’ James Brown).


Besides the strong marketing message attached to the presentation, there was much interesting discussion on how organizations are using SAP’s technology and software offerings to improve their businesses, and the potential of computing to improve customer experience, accelerate service, and of course increase revenue.

Jim H. Snabe on SAP’s strategy and future
On the other hand, the keynote from SAP’s co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe had a particular focus on adaptability and improvement, and presented some of SAP’s key technology interests. Of course, HANA played a key role in all of them. Mr. Snabe touched upon SAP’s vision for providing better and more adaptable software to support business changes. He presented HANA’s potential and focus in areas that he referred to as digital retail to predict future demands. And he also discussed how supply chains have become demand chains, where supply is actually driven by consumer demand in real time.


He also gave a brief talk on what HANA is doing and can do for several industries, from enabling personalized banking and customized services in the finance industry to enabling the prediction and consumption and real-time consumption analysis in utilities. Jim also pointed out SAP’s three major steps into the future—what he called SAP’s quantum leaps:

  1. Innovation—all data is in-memory and HANA is SAP’s innovation platform

  2. The cloud—SAP is committed to bringing all its applications to the cloud

  3. Mobile—SAP focuses on the end user and customer experience, and is redesigning and widening all of its mobile application portfolio

In addition to outlining SAP’s business and technology vision, he interviewed on stage major customers such as Ron Dennis, executive chairman of McLaren Group, and others.

Hasso Plattner and Vishal Sikka—the girl (HANA) is ready for the enterprise world

The last and final keynote, which I have to admit I was looking forward to attending, reverberated with passionate arguments given by Hasso Plattner in discussing the readiness of HANA to address and engage with corporate mission-critical projects—especially HANA’s backup and disaster recovery capabilities, HANA’s ability to take advantage of each aspect of the hardware for better performance, as well as HANA’s support for multitenant environments. In addition, Mr. Plattner showed a demo conducted by a group of students from the institute under his name, the Hasso Plattner Institute, demonstrating HANA’s processing power with a very interesting customer segmentation example. Passionate and keen, Plattner tried to demystify some of the myths surrounding HANA.

  • Myth: It is not possible to do virtualization with HANA.

"HANA runs totally virtualized," Plattner said. "Do we want to run a $50 billion company virtualized? Certainly not. Why should we do this? Virtualization is good when we have a large computer and we want to chop it up into many small ones."

  • Myth: HANA needs proprietary software.

"HANA uses standard x86 hardware," Plattner said, listing IBM, Dell, HP, Fujtisu, Hitachi, and other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) as proof. "This is all based on Intel reference architecture."

  • Myth: HANA doesn't support multitenancy.

"Guess what Business ByDesign runs in?" Plattner asked. SuccessFactors? Ariba? His answer: "Multitenancy. I know what I'm talking about because we bought one or two of these companies!"

  • Myth: Adopting HANA is disruptive to business.

"We do not change the data definitions. We change the way we store them."

  • Myth: HANA is "not ready for prime time.”

For which Plattner displayed a screen with enterprise users of HANA such as Pfizer, ConAgra, and others, as well as a vast number of start-ups developing enterprise applications.

Finally, to the argument that HANA uses an old concept of columnar store, Plattner responded:

"It's true! Twenty years old," Plattner said with exasperation. "Guess why we bought Sybase? They have a whole package of columnar store. Probably will be useful."

Following Plattner’s presentation, Dr. Vishal Sikka took the stage and gave more shape and form to SAP’s underlying strategies such as its new collection of apps named SAP Fiori with new intuitive features aimed at improving user experience, officializing the name change from its former Visual Intelligence product to SAP Lumira, which I personally really don’t like—maybe it is a more elegant term, but in my view, it’s nothing close to the straightforward and identifiable name Visual Intelligence. Dr. Sikka also announced the release of version 4.1 of SAP BusinessObjects BI solutions to increase the interoperability of BO across the BI platform and increase integration and visualization capabilities of BO for big-data sources and platforms.

One comment is deserving of the release—a joint project with HP called ‘Project Kraken,’ a new powerful appliance which combines HP’s server technologies with SAP HANA as its platform. The server runs on the Xeon E7 processor family of products, and supports up to 12 terabytes of memory on a single server unit. The project has been designed to facilitate the process of handling big-data workloads, specifically to be able to process large volumes of unstructured and structured data with high performance.

SAP’s new platform, new face?

This conference brought to light SAP’s ongoing strategy, highlighting not only the continuity of SAP HANA as the vendor’s new platform of choice, but also the special efforts undertaken to make this technology increasingly available in the cloud, and hence a viable option for an increasing number of customers, particularly small to medium-size organizations. SAP customers attending the sessions and talks certainly showed fervent interest in the availability of cloud-based solutions to help them run their businesses.

Another couple of topics worth mentioning—besides HANA, mobile, and the cloud—are some of the collateral, but no less important aspects, for reinforcing SAP’s enterprise ecosystem:

  • SAP’s design strategy and approach to not only bringing solutions, but also promoting innovation among its customers and partners appears to be gaining momentum, particularly within start-ups and medium-size customers, which is always gratifying to see.

  • SAP’s rapid development solutions (RDS), an extremely interesting offering that encapsulates sets of specific SAP solutions for solving specific types of business needs within an organization, from business intelligence solutions for midsize companies to solution sets for industries such as banking and automotive industries. These types of vertical and specialized solutions are, in my view, the future—not only SAP, but also many other organizations will develop such software in future years to be consumed by users.

Last but not least, the release of SAP HANA SP 6 received much attention at the conference, with improvements to existing features, new sets of features, as well as enhancements to SAP’s current mobile portfolio. I’ll touch upon these topics in a follow-up blog post.

A final word . . .

The SAPPHIRE 2013 conference certainly confirmed the notion that SAP is on the road to making HANA its software platform and that SAP is playing an instrumental role in transforming the information technology (IT) and software industries. But SAP is not alone in this regard. This a new era heralded by new and traditional players who have begun incorporating innovative technologies into their software offerings such as in-memory, introducing sophisticated approaches for mobile, working heavily on reducing their footprint, and adding native vertical business functionality for fast deployment.

In this platform era, the race is on for software vendors to be able to provide businesses with not only software that leads to better process performance, but also more consumables, a faster return of investment, a reduced technical footprint, and faster results, all while providing an improved user experience.
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