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Speed that matters

Dear readers,

Speed is very much at the center of my professional life. Not just because the demands of my role as global responsible for the SAP HANA program inside SAP Custom Development require to think and act fast, and to react even faster to the evolving opportunities coming from the market, but even more importantly because speed is at the very heart of what SAP HANA is and can do.

And speed is a fascinating, and yet somehow elusive concept. For this reason, I decided to start to write this blog to investigate and discuss with you what speed really means under different perspectives, focusing specifically on the transformational power of speed.

Let’s get to business now. If you ask a physicist about speed, she would probably define it as something like the rate of motion, or the distance traveled divided by the time of travel. For us in the IT world, where movement is mostly represented by invisible bits of data being read, processed, transformed and eventually stored back somewhere (and in the good old days, probably printed on paper), speed is very much associated with the amount of time required by a computer to perform a given task. And we all know how important speed is for the successful adoption of a computer program. Ever heard the expression “performance problems”?

We all lived our professional lives under the dazzling exponential power of Moore’s Law (the number of transistors on integrated circuits – and, as a proxy, their computational power – doubles approximately every two years), and we all experienced the almost unbelievable ability of the IT industry to expand the reach of computers so that speed is simply never enough, no matter what. In facts, my laptop is probably 100 times faster than the one I used when I first joined SAP, 13 years ago, but it doesn’t really feel like it is. Why is that? Simply because all the operating systems and applications we use daily are also becoming more powerful and complex with a very similar pace and the end result is that from a user perspective the perception of speed hasn’t changed much.

So brings me to an additional dimension of speed: beyond the speed that we measure, and experience, to the speed that makes a real difference… the speed that matters.

We all know that SAP HANA is fast, right? Thousands of times faster than the mainstream technologies previously available, that SAP HANA, and in general in-memory computing, will rapidly make obsolete.

I already wrote about how we can measure speed, we do it all the time while benchmarking SAP HANA against relational databases. I also wrote about the speed that one can directly experience, for example using SAP BW powered by SAP HANA, and comparing the user experience with the one we were used to before.

But there is a third dimension of speed that I really want to tackle in this blog… the transformational power of speed. Getting a report in less than a second when previously a user had to wait twenty minutes is definitely great, and can save lots of coffee breaks and increase employee productivity. But imagine being able to provide in real time the critical answer to a customer immediately while he’s on the phone inquiring about the availability and pricing of a complex, custom-made industrial machine. This can be the difference between winning and losing the business. This can of speed can eventually become a true competitive advantage, a transformational factor for the business.

We have the technology today to make it happen. The critical next step is to leave behind our old notions of what can and can’t be done. There are out there business needs and opportunities that are not even considered as such because we tend way too often to assess situations using the perspective of things as they used to be, instead of how they could become.

I believe we are on the verge of a revolution. We know that things are going to change dramatically, but exactly how and when is for us to find out.

It is kind of like in 1876, when Nikolaus August Otto invented the first internal-combustion engine. Not many people realized how much this novelty was about to dramatically change the entire dynamic of the world in which we live. Indeed, the invention of automobiles is the quintessential example of speed that matters.

So, here’s a little shameless plug. SAP Custom Development, the organization I work for, offers application development services on the SAP HANA platform. We help companies to use this new exciting technology in highly innovative scenarios, getting rid of many of the compromises and limitations that have plagued and artificially constrained the positive impact that IT has been able to provide up to now.

To better understand what we do, and where just some of the possibilities are hiding, perhaps a concrete example could help. If you work in a large organization, look at what your computers do at night, and over the weekends. Take a look at the huge number of batch jobs that still inhabit our data centers. Ask yourself what the business impact would be if you could manage these batch processes in real time. The “end of batch” is indeed one of the paradigms that SAP HANA is creating. Its incarnations are the new Business Suite powered by SAP HANA for all the standard processes, and the ability to build custom solutions based on SAP HANA to convert the existing custom batch programs, and eliminate the need of creating new ones in the future.

I think it is enough to think about for my first installment! I hope you have a sense of where we want to go with discussing the value of custom applications developed on SAP HANA in this blog series. We will push the existing boundaries, and change the IT world – which basically means the world – with the power and the innovation of speed that matters.

It is a unique, exciting journey. Do you want to join? Stay tuned!

You can contact me at, or post your comments here.

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