SAP looks to in-memory, mobile, cloud for business analytics strategy

SAP’s executive vice president for business user technologies outlines a three-pronged business analytics strategy: in-memory, mobile, cloud.

At SAP’s “BI 2011” event in Amsterdam earlier this month, Sanjay Poonen, executive vice president and general manager, in SAP’s business user and line-of-business sales division, gave a keynote speech titled “Analytics for Finance, HR and Compliance.” He spoke to afterwards. What follows below is an edited version of that conversation.

Poonen has full go-to-market responsibility for the entire portfolio of business user products and services, including BusinessObjects.

Before Poonen came to SAP, he was vice president of line-of-business operations at Symantec. He holds an master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School, where he graduated as a Baker Scholar; a master's degree in management science and engineering from Stanford University; and a bachelor's degree in computer science and math and engineering from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where he graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.

Your keynote speech was on business analytics. Do you see a value in distinguishing between business analytics and business intelligence (BI)?

Poonen: We tend to be less focused on the terminology. There has been more of a democratisation of analytics. There is a view of BI being the tools and the platform, while business analytics is the overarching category. Analytics is easier to understand; it is more strategic, too. A headmaster would know what analytics is in running a school better with better information. But we’re not religious about the terms.

In general, our view of this market is that it is hot. We saw this three to five years ago, and made acquisitions – Business Objects, Versa Systems, OutlookSoft – and investments in organic growth that have made us No. 1 in business analytics.

So we can say we don’t only have the business process platform to run your business on with ERP [enterprise resource planning], we also have the business analytics platform to manage your business.  We’ve also added to that coupling by investing in our business analytics offering. Currently, we see [in the market] a sprawl of antiquated data warehouses. Our investment in in-memory analytics will be a game changer.

What’s the vision for this part of SAP’s business? Where do you see it in three years’ time?

Poonen: We’re making three strategic bets. One is revolutionising the analytical infrastructure with in-memory computing with HANA, which has been built organically; it hasn’t come with an acquisition. The customer interest we are seeing in that I have not seen in my career in enterprise software. The difference between in-memory computing versus a disk-based data warehouse is like flying in a plane compared with riding a tricycle. Two is mobility. There are more users with smartphones in the world than there are people with toothbrushes. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad statistic, but there you have it! In the next 12 months there will be more people accessing the Internet with mobile devices than through desktop computers. We’ll see enterprise applications built on mobile. This is a whole new SAP. Third is cloud, whether private or public.

Isn’t it early days for all three of those?

Poonen: Mobility is here to stay. If you go to Africa or Asia you see that. The in-memory computing infrastructure is less something customers will seek for its own sake. But they will be able to solve problems they wouldn’t have been able to solve before [easily or cost-effectively] – for example, gaining much better supply chain visibility – as with a retailer reaching back to their manufacturer in response to a hot fashion trend. That can be done at less cost with in-memory than with a disk-based data warehouse. The cloud will take some time because people are concerned about privacy of data. But in areas like CRM [customer relationship management], talent management, Sales OnDemand customers are moving quickly to the cloud.

Did business intelligence have a good recession?

Poonen: The good news is that whether there is an upturn or a downturn, businesses need to make their decisions based on data, not gut feel. In a down economy businesses look at their costs, rationalise suppliers and so on. The analytical tools get used that way, but as the economy opens up they get used in a different way, around the front office, for growth. As for SAP, in 2009 we were flattish, but in 2008 and 2010 we grew faster than the market – high double digit.

To what extent is this a market-driven market and to what extent a technologically driven market?

Poonen: It is a combination. The way we discuss things is always through an industry lens. But beneath that you can now do things with in-memory that could not be done before. I have not seen a package of innovation such as ours in the last 12 months anywhere else. 

HANA combines the power and punch of an elephant with the speed of a cheetah.

Sanjay Poonen, EVP, SAP

How do you see the UK business analytics and BI markets in comparison with the US and the rest of Europe?

There are similarities in the ways that UK and US customers are looking to be innovative with mobile and the cloud. It’s not just a question of the same language, but an affinity to buying technology. The UK is also leading the way in sustainability and energy management. Centrica is a good example of that in utilities. The banks are leading, too. Look, many of the large companies in the world that are brands start up in the UK.

Read more on Data warehousing