SAP’s Three-Pronged Approach: Cloud Computing, In-Memory Analytics and Mobility

At SAPPHIRE, SAP has declared it wants to deliver simplicity to the enterprise via cloud computing, in-memory analytics, and mobility. Here’s my quick take on what they need to do to achieve this:

Mobility: SAP is in a strong position thanks to its Sybase acquisition. Today, SAP unveiled the latest generation of the Sybase Unwired Platform, which the company says makes creating and managing mobile SAP applications significantly easier. This is an important step for SAP, as it needs to complete its transition off the NetWeaver mobile platform and offer customers one, streamlined platform – Sybase Unwired – for brining apps to mobile devices.

In-memory analytics: SAP has solid business intelligence and performance management offerings via its BusinessObjects portfolio. But SAP is really banking on HANA, its new in-memory analytics appliance, to help customers run more advanced analytics on large data volumes in near real-time. HANA could be a major success for SAP if it can develop compelling analytic applications to sit on top of the appliance. It’s first go-round, as I wrote last week, left much to be desired. We’re expecting new HANA applications to make their debut here this week and the success or failure of HANA could hang in the balance.

But a potential problem for SAP is Big Data. HANA is supposedly capable of processing unstructured data like social media data, but I’ve seen no customer examples of that yet. And while HANA can process big data, can it handle Big Data? According to SAP and hardware partner Dell, HANA can be optimized to process up to 4.5 TB of data. In the Big Data era, that’s a drop in the bucket. With competitors like EMC embracing Hadoop and other developing Big Data processing technologies, it remains to be seen if HANA will enable SAP to keep pace.

Cloud computing: SAP wants to deliver its applications however customers wants them – on-premise, in the cloud, or a combination of the two. The company has finally seemed to right the Business ByDesign ship, with 500 current customers and a goal of reaching the 1,000 customer mark by year-end. The larger issue for SAP in the cloud is partnerships. SAP is reliant on partnerships with hardware and cloud service providers like Dell and HP to deliver its on-demand offerings. These partnerships look solid, so I wouldn’t anticipate any major issues for SAP. But any time a vendor relies on partners for a key technology component, its potentially leaving revenue on the table and is vulnerable to the changing market landscape. A partner gets acquired by an SAP competitor – or a partner acquires an SAP competitor — and ‘poof’, goodbye partnership.

To top it all off, while these three technology initiatives are key to SAP’s long-term success, many SAPPHIRE attendees are longtime SAP ERP customers looking to get the most out of their existing deployments and are not necessarily looking to plunk down a lot of cash for new technology. If SAP can get customers to connect the dots – i.e. investing in mobile, in-memory analytics and cloud computing will help get the most from legacy SAP investments – then it has a good shot at a successful year.

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