Hello one and all and welcome to this week’s blog.
For those of you unfamiliar with my previous blogs you will be unaware that you are currently digesting the words of a zealot. A man on a mission to strip away the varnish and veneer from all things SAP and delve into its inner workings. Oh and then to shoehorn it all into a weekly blog without saying anything libellous, wildly inaccurate or just plain offensive.
Today’s blog is a bit of a long one, so without further ado let me introduce this week’s topic, a topic which resides in an region of IT not renowned for its glamour, indeed an area that is often labelled as dull and confusing. (Wow, this blog sounds enticing – long and dull!!!) So if anyone is still reading this, let’s journey into the mysterious world of database technologies and discuss SAP HANA.
Now the morning I started to research this blog (no jokes please) had started badly, I’d missed my train, the later train was crowded oh and I had just been caught squarely and forcefully in a particularly tender area by an over friendly Labrador (Or perhaps a Golden Retriever – I struggle with the difference). Yes – I thought that the day couldn’t get much worse… I was wrong.
Now the forceful advances of an overweight canine is one thing but spending 2 hours on a train reading about ‘In-memory’ and ‘column-oriented’ databases while sitting next to a man to who seemingly had a conscientious objection to washing is quite another. To illustrate the point (about SAP HANA not the man with the aversion to showering) here is a typical definition of SAP HANA served up my trusty friend Google.
‘The heart of SAP HANA Enterprise 1.0 is the SAP In-Memory Database 1.0, a massively parallel processing data store that melds row-based, column-based, and object-based storage techniques’.
In the words of a teenage girl …OMG! I was looking for a gentle introduction of what is was and what it could do but hit after hit dished up nothing but varying flavours of this technical bafflement. Now, at this point I should say that I am not knocking SAP HANA or indeed knocking the fact that there are many people out there to whom the technical aspects of SAP HANA are relevant. Indeed, fast forward several days and I am firmly of the opinion SAP HANA is a great product, and one that can have real and tangible benefits to an organisation. However I remain steadfast in my opinion that the marketing around this product is hopelessly complicated, convoluted and misdirected if it is meant to appeal to a general audience.
To see what I mean let’s try and define what SAP HANA actually is. As a concept, (I believe – but I stand to be corrected), it’s simple, it is a set of database technologies that allows the applications that sit on top of it to run very fast, nothing more nothing less. It can either be the database platform that your SAP business suite ‘sits on’ or it can be an additional ‘bolt on’ to your current architecture. Practically speaking it means that many SAP business process problems caused by speed can be resolved by switching the underlying database technology to SAP HANA. It also means that vast amounts of data can be read and, through the use of magic powers, laser powered quantum mechanics and possibly fairies* manipulated and analysed at lightning speed. Although I should also add that if you try and download anything out of HANA (excel being a good example) this will still take a huge amount of time due to the fact that SAP HANA can do nothing about the speed of your network, server or machine.
*Please note that no actual fairies are utilised in SAP HANA – although I cannot 100% rule out pixie involvement.
So when it’s put simply it sounds good (apart from the bit about excel), but as I have previously stated in my humble opinion almost all of the marketing surrounding SAP HANA focuses on the wrong thing. While the technology may well be revolutionary and interesting to a select few, it is beyond the grasp of many people who could very well benefit from the functionality it affords.
To understand what I am getting at lets imagine that SAP HANA is a new type of car engine. If you base your marketing on the fact that it has achieved a maximum thermal efficiency of 45% and a geometric compression ratio of 15:1 then the chances are that you will sell about three, all to men with beards. If however you skip the technical stuff and advertise that it can do 100 miles per gallon and 180 miles an hour then you will see the interest levels shoot up.
Indeed I would go further and suggest that the best way to market your engine is to hardly mention the engine at all, rather make the engine merely a component of a car that looks great, goes fast and has fantastic fuel economy. By doing this the engine becomes almost an irrelevance to the purchaser. It is obviously not irrelevant to the car but to the purchaser its ability to get from A to B quickly, cheaply and stylishly is the motivation, not the fact that a new type of revolutionary engine makes this all possible.
The slightly laboured point I’m attempting to make is that while technological advances take place the real benefit of them will never be fully realised if the context is not adequately understood or explained. SAP HANA is a perfect example of this; the focus should not just be on the technology but also the functionality that is facilitated by this technology. Instead of trying to explain terms such column-oriented’ and ‘In memory’ to people who neither understand nor care about the technology more should be done to highlight what is now possible using SAP HANA.
Now for those of you familiar to the HANA marketing you might be forgiven for thinking ‘hang on a minute, what about all the references to terms such as ‘accelerated analytics’ and ‘running your business in real time’ surely they are a practical applications of the HANA technology? Indeed you would be correct but this kind of benefit, while undoubtedly true is, in my opinion too vague, too intangible to make it compelling for many businesses. Low hanging fruit obviously does exist and for those businesses crippled by having to process millions of records a year then the promise of greater speed alone would be enough to get cheques written. However for a business that does not perceive speed to be the key issue then this benefit alone is unlikely to be enough motivation. To illustrate the point, and as I am fairly unimaginative I’ll use the car analogy again. Imagine that you already own a car, it’s reliable, and while it may not be perfect you have paid it off and it does pretty much everything asked of it. Now imagine that a salesman comes to your house and tries to sell you a much faster car, something that can do 0-60 in 3.1 seconds. While there will undoubtedly be some for whom the promise of speed alone would be enough motivation to dump the family salon (which is already paid for), but for far more, I suspect, it would not be.
Equally if I was the CEO or CFO of a ‘normal’ business operating in the current global economic climate I would not throw out my existing database technology based solely on the business case that SAP HANA would ‘dramatically accelerate analytics, business processes, sentiment data processing, and predictive capabilities.’ Indeed I would reply what the hell does ‘sentiment data processing mean?’ and possible mumble something along the lines of ‘do you think I am made of money?’ as they left the room.
However if I was told that installing SAP HANA would mean that I could dramatically reduce the time it takes to process COPA, run my MRP jobs in a fraction of its current time and also enable me to move my S&OP processes to SAP then this would spark my interest. If I subsequently decided to purchase SAP HANA then I would do so based predominantly on this functionality and regardless of whether the underlying technology was an ‘in-memory, column-oriented, relational database management system’ or based on the principles of alchemy.
So to sum up, the key take away from this week’s blog is therefore as follows, SAP HANA is a fast database ‘thing’, the technology behind it and even the correct way to categorise is, in the vast majority of business cases irrelevant (I know its not irrelevant to those who need to know the technical details!). It is an enabler of functionality and to understand the benefits of SAP HANA a business needs to explore this functionality and think about whether they currently have problems or functionality gaps in your business that are caused by the amount of data being processed. If you have, and if they are significant then SAP HANA might well be for you.
Oh and keep away from Labradors (and/or Golden Retrievers) …