Big IT vendors often have a hard time telling us what they do.
Take a look at IBM's 'About Us' pages with all its Smarter Planet messages, it you had just landed from Mars you would be hard pressed to know that this is a firm that used to sell PCs and now makes a buck or two out of the software industry.
SAP is similarly challenged. The firm variously describes itself as a "technology leader in business management software and solutions" etc.
But what the firm really does is sell "systems of record" i.e. information-centric software systems with analytics and data processing/management capabilities.
Or in other words, software that runs businesses.
SAP is logically focused on its customers' IT departments, as this will be the primary target for the implementation of its software. But if systems of record are used right across the business, then surely SAP should be talking about the impact of data (much of it Petabytes of big data) across all "disciplines" inside the business.
If the firm can do this, then hopefully its data processing intelligence message can be brought to bear directly across all business streams. The IT department will then be able to see deployments of SAP HANA and other technologies in departments such as (for example) sales, research and development (R&D) and human resources (HR).
As luck would have it
Fortunately then, SAP has just completed a new survey which suggests that big data has outgrown its traditional roots in IT (and finance too), as it now plays an increasingly important role in sales, research and development (R&D) and human resources (HR).
SAP says that these business streams now account for 42 per cent of big data usage in business.
Although IT and finance remain the primary users of big data (46 per cent), the other business areas across different industries are increasingly adopting big data tools to drive revenues and internal organisational change. Together they account for nearly half of all big data usage, including marketing (13 per cent), sales (11 per cent), and R&D and HR (nine per cent each).
SAP now suggests that big data has penetrated companies' senior management, with 81 per cent saying big data is being integrated into projects.
The vast majority of businesses (61 per cent) have confirmed that they have made budget provisions for big data projects to help drive productivity, efficiencies and growth opportunities.
The firm says it is calling on business leaders to start thinking about how their companies are using big data and whether employees are being provided with enough training to get the most out of these powerful tools.
"Business are waking up to the power of big data and it is great to see its benefits being realised across UK businesses," said Adrian Simpson, chief innovation officer, SAP UK.
"We need to ensure that staff using these services understand how they can extract and analyse the information they need quickly in one shot. With real-time data, users have access to information to make quick decisions that have a real business impact. It is vital that businesses invest in training staff to be fluent in these services and processes to add value back into the business."
Why big data? = efficiency and performance
The survey found that efficiency and performance stand out as the single most common driver for big data analysis (37 per cent) -- over twice as important as the next biggest driver around reporting and analytics. This is followed by fairly equal ratings for the remaining four areas, although there are significant variations among the five market sectors, which saw a variety of concerns and priorities around how big data is being used.
Of course SAP's survey is not merely contrived with loaded questions to help position its commentary across a broader range of corporate disciplines. The company is successful enough at what it does without it needing to do this. Putting just a little extra thought into the way the firm is communicating may well be valuable though.
NOTE: SAP is this week holding the US leg of its TechEd 2012 customer and developer conference and exhibition in Las Vegas. More analysis will follow...