As you read this post the the SAP Big Data Express Bus will be on its way touring North America and showcasing some of SAP’s latest and greatest innovations around the much hyped topic of Big Data. Today the bust is at a Utility confernece in Huntington Beach California. Next stop is scheduled at SAP’s Retail Confernece in Dallas Texas. SAP has been a leader in this space ever since we announced the General Availability of HANA back in June of 2011 and the following migration of SAP’s Business Warehouse and    Business Suite solutions to run on HANA. The ability to integrate with Hadoop is not something novel to HANA. That capability was introduced with the release of Service Pack 6 back in May. At that time SAP introduced the concept of Smart Data Access allowing applications to access and execute SQL statements on data that sits outside of HANA (including Hadoop) through virtualized data tables without requiring the data to reside in HANA.

So from a product perspective was there anything new in SAP’s Big Data announcement?

The answer is yes. SAP announced the General Availability of its first Big Data enabled application SAP Demand Signal Management (DSiM), which is a HANA powered application that offers manufactures a real time window of visibility into their downstream demand and other external data like market research data and sentiment intelligence. The application was first announced in November of last year at SAP’s Sapphire event in Madrid. At that time it was only made available to a select few Consumer Product customers in what we refer to internally as “ramp-up” mode. During ramp-up SAP does extensive monitoring and testing of its new applications in real world customer scenarios ironing out bugs and putting in the final touches to make sure its applications are ready for mass consumption by its global customer base.  Very strict criteria need to be met in order for the application to exit ramp-up and move into General Availability. So the announcement marks a major milestone.

What’s so special about SAP Demand Signal Management?

It’s no secret that the term Big Data has been loosely used in the industry to describe new applications simply to make them buzz word compliant. However, Demand Signal Management (sometimes referred to in the industry as Demand Signal Repository or DSR) is perhaps one of the most undisputed Big Data use cases in the market today. It encompasses capturing and analyzing large amounts of external Point-of-Sale (PoS) data generated at retail stores so manufacturers can know exactly what is selling where and when (I won’t add “in Real-Time” here because I think you get the point) and respond to these signals to prevent out of stock, personalize trade promotions and make inventory and warehousing decisions.

This is a far cry from a straight forward task. If you are familiar with this use case you probably know that Point-of-Sale data doesn’t come in a clean and ready to use format that can just be plugged into a Database and boom you are up and running. The data is often missing, corrupt, or inaccurate requiring specialized data adaptors that can cleanse, harmonize and integrate this data so manufactures can reap insights from it. Combine that with the massive amounts of PoS data that is being generated and the speed it’s being generated at and you can start getting an idea of the complexity involved.

After the adaptors comes the actual use case; what do you do with all this of Point of Sale data that you have worked hard to collect and cleanse? This is where the out-of-the box packaged use cases and reports come in. SAP has developed specific scenarios and dashboards for Sales, Marketing and Supply Chain to make this PoS Data relevant to as many lines of business in an organization as possible. In case of Sales it’s around gaining insights on market share, penetration rates and other competitive market research information. In Marketing use cases involve trade promotion effectiveness and pricing insights. And for Supply Chain its around forecasting, out of stock detection and inventory management. SAP is also embedding PoS data insights with backend Business Suite data and processes to put it into context so manufacturers can for example readily compare expected trade promotion uplifts with actual sales as they are happening at their retail stores and take action triggering account visits via SAP’s Retail Execution iPad application.

Why am I boring you with all these details?

Because this where SAP will bring Big Data to a whole new level that the market hasn’t seen so far. Yes, of course, hypothetically speaking if a company has infinite amount of resources, budget and time then they can go build all this adaptors, use cases, integration with backend processes from scratch using any one of today’s competing Big Data platforms. They can also chose to follow some of what I call the “art of the possible” platform vendors that can be very good at thinking up Big Data use cases but expect their customers to babysit them as they build out applications around these use cases, because remember they are platform vendors not application vendors. We can then all sit down and have a lively debate about whether that solution is fast enough, reliable enough, flexible enough, scalable enough …etc.

However, if a customer has an immediate need for downstream insights and is in the market today looking for a Demand Signal Management application that is not only built on a solid Big Data foundation that combines the real-time benefits of in-memory with extreme storage capabilities of Hadoop but also comes with PoS adaptors, best practice use cases and back end integration with business processes then we can start to appreciate why SAP’s Big Data Application announcement is a big deal.

What to expect in the future?

You can expect to start seeing more of SAP’s Big Data enabled applications going into Generally Available in the coming months. The next two on the list are SAP Fraud Management and SAP Customer Engagement Intelligence which went into Ramp Up in March of this year and are now on their way to join SAP DSiM. You can also expect to start hearing from SAP customers as they exit these ramp up programs. For example, this week Beiersdorf, a world leading personal care manufacturer famous for its NIVEA products, will be speaking on stage at DSAG (SAP’s German User Group Conference) taking place in Nuremberg, Germany about their journey with DSiM (I’ll be posting a recording of that session soon). Another leading global Consumer Product manufacturer that has participated in the DSiM ramp program and going live with the solution will be going on stage at TechEd next month. So stay tuned for more HANA and Big Data enabled Applications.

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