The Art of the Possible
Art of the Possible – Sydney, Australia, August 10th
One day event: Practical Examples of HANA Use in Australia
I have not written a blog on SCN for over six months, as I have been busy writing the second edition of my good old ABAP Programming book for SAP Press. That’s finished now, in time for TECHED 2015, so I can get back into blog world, and what better way to start than by reviewing an SAP event I went to last Wednesday here in Sydney, Australia.
The advertising puff had all the words you might expect like “HANA” and “Big Data” and “IOT” and so on, but the idea was that instead of SAP types talking marketing to you and making you reach for the sick bag, actual real life “customers” (i.e. companies that use SAP) would talk about what they had been doing with these technologies/concepts.
Where I work senior management have started using words like “innovation: and “machine learning” so I am starting to wonder if all these buzz words are actually going to transform into some sort of reality in the very near future, and indeed, are some organisations already there? You do not know how good it feels to spell “organisation” with an “S” after having to spend six months having to use the USA spelling.
So what follows is a recap of what I can remember from the presentations and demonstrations given at the event. I will try to avoid my pet hate in blogs about SAP events, which is giving food reviews, and talking about the dustbins, and instead I will try and concentrate on the content in the presentations.
As we arrived at Sydney Town Hall, to fill out stomachs before the event got started in earnest we were all given “Buddha Jumps over the Wall” soup. Apparently while this dish once contained shark’s fin, an SAP employee tells me that particular (and controversial) ingredient has been replaced with Javan Rhinoceros in order to better go along with the abalone, Japanese flower mushroom, sea cucumber, dried scallops, chicken, huan ham, pork and ginseng.
How GHD are Solving Digital Problems with HANA
Many people think that in Australia we all live in caves and use shells for money, but in fact this is actually quite a high technology country, with a willingness to break all the rules, hence the enormous amount of technological innovation to be found in all areas of society, even the government.
GHD is an engineering company, and so deals with the real world, and has managed to utilise the power of HANA to solve real world problems for its clients, like turning a truly massive amount of data into an easy to visualise graph showing how much a big building is likely to wobble about in the wind.
In addition in the 1950’s the USA built a scale model of the entire Mississippi Delta and for decades used that to simulate water flows and make predictions about possible flood situations. This has been retired now, and has grass growing all over it, as now such predictions can be made using advanced computer systems such as HANA.
Australian Digital Adoption Survey
SAP has a massive market share in Australia. The entire government, all the mining companies, the oil companies naturally, the main telephone company, the big retailers, the utilities, some of the big banks, the Australian Wine Society (very important) basically everybody. So, if someone is dealing with a company online in Australia it is very likely there is an SAP back end system involved somehow.
The idea is that everyone wants to interact digitally these days, so how are all these Australian companies adapting to this model? Not very well according to the 2014 survey. The results are better in 2015 but there are still a lot of unhappy consumers who think the online applications they use to deal with these organisation suck. This is, of course, an opportunity waiting to be claimed, with massive rewards for the ones who get there first.
Hang on, before moving on to the next talk I need to get rid of my rubbish. I wonder where the nearest dustbin is. Oh, look there’s one:-
This was a corker of a talk. A gentleman called Tim Reid is a solution architect at a company called lion in Australia. I know them because they make the beer that I drink, but they also make orange juice and milk.
With a mixture of videos and demonstrations he showed how they solve business problemsusing high technology. No doubt you have heard the buzzword “design thinking” and this was a really good example of how this works in real life. The business comes to IT asking for a circle, and often they get a circle, but what they really wanted was a square.
To me the essence of design thinking is to walk a thousand miles in the shoes of your business person until you understand the problem just as well as they do. In the video the business guy admitted that, with 20/20 hindsight, what he asked for in the first place was totally not what was needed to fix the problem. Even worse before going to his internal IT department he had asked third party people for quotes to build him what he thought he wanted. Luckily the quotes were too high.
I also liked in the video that the process flow diagram for the milk related application being designed started with a picture of a cow going “moo”. I also notice that in the Lion building the staff kitchen had a bar, which is what I would hope for in a brewery.
Next, from the same company comes the “Tap King”. They even had a working prototype of this set up at the back of the room which you could see working between talks.
To explain what a “Tap King” is I will describe the advert, but before I begin the general idea is to get the same sort of beer poured out of a tap in the pub in your own home.
In the advert a man goes to his fridge to get a beer. When he opens the fridge not only is there the usual shelves with cheese and what have you, there is also Lionel Richie with a full size grand piano with a “Tap King” attached to the top of the piano.
Lionel plays the piano and sings his song “hello, is it me you’re looking for?” and then pours the beer and hands it to the householder.
I have checked my fridge many times, but have yet to encounter a pop star within. Anyway, the Tap King had two problems. As it is a sealed unit you cannot see how much is inside it, and you cannot be sure the temperature is low enough to make the beer drinkable.
As a word of warning, you have to beware of using technology to solve what a call “zero gravity pen” problems. This is a reference to NASA spending billions of dollars and years of research to create a pen for use by astronauts in zero gravity, whereas the Russians spent sixpence and used a pencil to solve the same problem.
Anyway, the Tap King solution involved sensors inside the barrel, and you asked “Alexa” the AWS digital assistant that looks like a black cylinder either what the beer temperature was or how much beer was left. If there was not much beer left she would ask if you wanted to order another barrel, and place such an order for you.
All wonderful stuff. The only problem was, nobody bought the product and so poor old Tap King has been consigned to the history books. Still, it shows the sort of problems technology can address.
To celebrate the German origins of SAP for morning tea delegates were served a foot-long bratwurst infused with hundred-year-old Louis XIII cognac and topped with fresh Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, picante sauce and Kobe beef seared in olive and truffle oil.
Unstructured Data Mining
SAP Mentor Clint Vosloo gave the “technical” talk of the day, which of course was just the sort of thing I was looking for. He had enormous technical problems to overcome to get his live demonstration working – as did all the presenters – but he got there in the end.
During the talk he sent out a “tweet” about the event and then before our eyes used the HANA platform to build an application to call the Twitter API and store the resulting tabular information inside a HANA database whereby you could then run queries upon it.
This made it crystal clear to me who you can turn totally unstructured information into the sort of database tables I am used to querying. Even smiley faces came back as “strong positive emotion”.
A lot of companies have fields in their customer master to try and categorise the customers as loyal or whatever, and this has been done in the past by asking them questions. If, instead, you can just run queries on social media and find the customer has written a post about you saying they hate your company and are going to come round next week with an axe and brutally murder every single employee, together with a picture of the axe they just bought and a sad face smiley, then you can automatically read that data and populate the “customer satisfaction percentage” field in your ERP system with a low value.
Then it was lunch time and out came the waiters, wearing Hasso Plattner masks. There was a choice of three dishes served on silver platters, or you could have all three at once if you wanted, put through a blender and served in an inverted traffic cone.
· Philadelphia classic cheesesteak made with real Amur Leopard meat, cut down with foie gras and topped with truffled homemade fontina cheese on a sesame roll, with a glass of Dom Perignon 2000.
· White truffle and gold pizza topped with organic water buffalo mozzarella, with meat from a “Saola” (Asian unicorn) and the famous “little dodo bird” and 24K gold leaf
· Leatherback Sea Turtle burger which comes topped with seared foie gras and truffles on a brioche truffle bun and a bottle of 1995 Chateau Petrus wine and two crystal stemware glasses.
After lunch I looked around for a dustbin in which to put my empty plates, and did not have far to look:-
Cloud Based Start Up on HANA
No SAP event would be complete without a start-up saying what a brilliant product they had built using the HANA platform, and how they could not have done it on any other platform as it would not have been fast enough/flexible enough etc..
What was unusual here was not that the company did not use any sort of SAP ERP system, just the HANA platform on its own, but rather that the lady who ran the start-up and gave the speech was 70. It is so easy to have pre-conceived ideas and think of start-ups as being created by teenagers who aim to sell the resulting successful company to a larger organisation and become a billionaire by age 25.
This was a payroll/HR/rostering system, and it looked really good to me, so maybe she will become a billionaire by age 75. I also liked the fact the example data was all to do with pubs, in particular the Marstons Brewing company in the UK, with which I am very familiar indeed.
The non-technology point that she was making was that every new module she added was in effect designed by a customer, so she was not building the solution and looking for companies with that problem, but looking for companies with problems, getting them to design the solution themselves, she builds it, they are happy, and then she can sell it to someone else. I have seen this before.
Time goes by so fast, it is afternoon tea time already, and we are served a cupcake created from chocolate made from Venezuela’s rare Porcelana Criollo bean, topped with Tahitian Gold Vanilla Caviar, and edible gold flakes. It also includes Louis XIII de “in Mem-ORemy” Martin Cognac and comes in a hand blown sugar Fleur-de-Lis, wrapped in the hide of a freshly slaughtered Northern Sportive Lemur.
ESRI Location Data
My company uses ESRI for geo-coding customers and working out travel times, so I am always interested in anything they have to say about their road map (if you forgive the pun).
ESRI clearly have a strong partnership with SAP and sell many joint products along the lines of plant maintenance applications where you can see the actual location of the machine that has broken down.
They also showed a real-time map of the world showing the areas you were likely to be attacked by pirates, and how this changes with the weather.
I have seen the ESRI product (ArcGIS) change from living on the user’s PC to becoming a server accessed by multiple clients. Clearly the next stage is a cloudy sort of thing accessed by web services, presumably using a real time HANA database or some such, that constantly updates as new roads get built, or get closed, or if there is a flood, or if a madman takes a bus hostage and thus blocks the main bridge across the river in Melbourne, just at the time I am in a taxi trying to get to the airport.
That was just like the time I was in Adelaide trying to get to the airport, and it was so hot the tram tracks had melted, so no public transport, so you could not get a taxi for love nor money. That is also the sort of information you need updated in real time to your geographic information system when planning travel. Who would have thought the melting point of the metal used in tram tracks would be relevant to the calculation of how long it takes to get to the airport? This is what all this “machine learning” is about, trying to go through vast swathes of seemingly unrelated data looking for connections. The human brain does this all the time as in “that cloud looks like a banana”.
At that point my pen broke, so I had to look around for a dustbin so I could throw it away. Luckily I found one almost at once.
SAP Innovation Department
As might be imagined SAP has specialised departments evaluating new technology, in several countries. There are such departments in Waldorf in Germany, Paolo Alto in the USA, Bangalore in India and Brisbane in Australia.
A gentleman from SAP tried to show some live demonstrations of such technology, but in an ironic twist the on-venue technology failed totally so he had to rely on good old PowerPoint.
Anyway he talked about various new technologies under investigation – at one point he said the word “blockchain” and then wished he had not, as then the questions started coming thick and fast.
Anyway the main application being discussed was for a large bank, and it was looking at all the transactions a customer did in graphical format and trying to make a prediction of at what point the customer was likely to close their account and switch to another bank.
The numbers were that this bank was losing 100,000 customers a year, and it cost on average $250 to get a new customer to replace one that left, and so they were spending $250 x 100,000 each year to maintain their customer base. So if they could spot the customers before they left and do something about it, potential big savings.
This comes back to the point I mentioned earlier about tying together seemingly unrelated data. It turned out a give-away was when the customer started using another banks ATM all the time. Maybe they had moved house or jobs or something.
In the UK (at least when I lived there 20 years ago) that would not matter as there was no charge for using another banks ATM, but there certainly is in Australia, you have to pay through the nose. Last week it went up from $2 to $3 for such a transaction, not a minor increase. It’s a wonderful business model for the banks, working in IT I know it costs them nothing at all to process such a transaction, so 100% of that money is profit.
At the moment the marketing people at the big four banks in Australia are working on a way to justify increasing their mortgage rates at the same time the Federal reserve bank has lowered the base rate. Those two rates are not as related as people think, but in the past an increase in the base rate has always been used as an excuse to hike up the mortgage rate by the same amount or more, and now some sort of Orweliian double-speak is needed to explain that the mortgage rate needs to go up when the base rate goes up, and go up when the base rate goes down, and indeed go up when it stays the same. Try building a predicative computer algorithm around that logic.
So, I bought shares in all the big four banks in Australia. They all use SAP as well, so who knows I might even end up working for one of them. You go into a bank branch of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and chained to the benches are tablets with UI5 applications running on them tied to an SAP back-end.
To end the event it is dessert time, choice of two, or if you can’t decide you can have them both mixed together in a bucket.
· Three scoops of Tahitian vanilla ice cream infused with Madagascar vanilla beans, topped in 23K edible gold leaf, sprinkled with a couple of expensive and rare chocolates plus candied fruits, gold dragets, chocolate truffles and bowl of caviar. It comes served in the skull of a recently killed Western Lowland Gorilla with an 18K gold spoon.
· Fortress Stilt Fisherman Indulgence is made with gold leaf Italian cassata, flavored with fruit-infused Irish cream filled with chunks of real tiger flesh and Chinese Giant Salamander chunks. There’s a fruit compote, a Dom Perignon champagne sabayon at the base and a handmade chocolate carving in the shape of an HPE Converged System 500 for SAP HANA server. It’s adorned with an 80 carat Aquamarine gemstone whose diameter “spans the head of a soup spoon.”
When you think of hotbeds of new technology then Silicon Valley in the USA springs to mind, or maybe Tel Aviv with its start-up culture.
It is a little known fact that Australia is bulging with innovation, and an amazing amount of new inventions come out of the country every year, which is even more surprising given the small population. This point was mentioned by the American Ambassador to Australia when he was appointed, though that could just have been him sucking up.
SAP is used in the vast majority of large organisations in Australia, and many are leading the word with the sort of innovative solutions they are building. My company falls bang square in the middle of that category, though ironically I cannot say what it is I have been building this last four years, I have to disguise it, which is why I use Monsters all the time as examples in my book.
Many companies in Australia were amongst the first to embrace HANA – utility company AGL with its application to monitor energy use, and NSW Fire and Rescue being just two examples. SAP likes to tell us that the HANA platform is designed to help foster innovation and to “digitise” your business and lots of other buzz words.
However, it’s difficult to trust marketing people, as they speak utter nonsense 100% of the time as in “the companies with the best e-applications run SAP” or other meaningless phrases like “run simple” one minute, and then drop the word “simple” from all the product names the next.
Events like this one aim to get around this by actually having “real” people speak about how they have used SAP technology – specifically HANA in this case – to solve real problems, and to say why this was a better choice than the alternatives. The good thingabout actual customer presentations is that they can say negative things if they so desire. I would quote the CIO of Nestle at SAPPHIRE in May 2016 who had just moved onto S/4 HANA and said “Using SAP is like peeling an Onion. It has many layers, and it makes you cry”.
In conclusion this event gets a “thumbs up”. I am also glad I managed to get through describing the event in detail without once mentioning food or dustbins.