Norbert Steinhauser/SAP SE

SAP users identify data skills shortage as importance of analytics spikes

Research from the SAP UK & Ireland User Group has demonstrated a data skills dearth among users and a delay in using the SAP Hana in-memory database until full S/4 Hana ERP implementations

Only a third of SAP user organisations in the UK and Ireland think they have the necessary skills to make effective use of all their data.

The SAP user group that spans the two countries has published some research linked to its annual Analytics Symposium, taking place as an online event on 21 April.

Its survey of 117 SAP user organisations revealed that 32% of them believe they have the necessary skills to make effective use of all their data. Fewer than half (44%) think they have the necessary data and analytics/intelligence technologies.

This discovery is set against a context where their use of data for business intelligence and data analytics has increased. And nearly two-thirds (62%) said data analytics has helped them navigate the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chairman of the user group, Paul Cooper said in a release about the research: “Even prior to the pandemic, the data demands on many organisations had risen significantly. Having the necessary data analytics technology and skills is becoming hugely important, as our research reveals 70% of organisations have executive or senior level sponsorship of their data strategy.”

Cooper is head of information systems at Burton’s Biscuit Company, as well as being the chair of the user group.

The survey said that more than half (58%) are using or planning to use SAP Analytics Cloud. Some 55% of organisations are currently using the Hana in-memory database, and of those organisations not using it, 45% said they were waiting to move to the full SAP S/4Hana ERP system rather than purchasing the in-memory database separately.

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In an interview with Computer Weekly, Cooper said: “The skills thing keeps coming through. And it’s clear that senior people in organisations have become more insight hungry. There is no point in giving a senior manager a whole pile of data. So, dashboards and visualisation become all the more important to help them to ‘step through’ data.” 

He said it will be interesting to see if longer term IT investment projects will get going again over the summer as the pandemic begins to tail off, as opposed to the short-term emergency projects that have characterised the pandemic period.

“I was intrigued that people are waiting for S/4 to use Hana. Every organisation will have different drivers. Some will want the performance of Hana [as a high-speed database], others will want it as part of a road-mapped journey to S/4, given the scale of that, in terms of IT, business, and [systems integration and consultancy] partner input.”

The survey revealed that of those organisations not currently using Hana, 45% said they were waiting to move to SAP S/4Hana rather than purchasing the in-memory database separately.

Asked why customers would not reach for other suppliers, who specialise in data analytics, rather than SAP, he said: “It comes down to integration. There are efficiencies if you can keep things together. And what I’ve seen of the analytics tools that SAP have been working on in recent years do deliver on data visualisation – like their digital boardroom concept.”

The pandemic has increased the need for better data analysis, he said, as some companies have had their business models disrupted. An example would be food outlets seeing more custom out of London with people working from home and so not commuting into the capital. “And, regionally, things have been different in different phases of the lockdowns. So, companies are needing to track that and understand types of localisation that were not there before.”

When the survey respondents were asked about their most pressing business intelligence needs, data accuracy and consistency (22%), dashboards/visualisation (20%) and using data to help reduce costs/wastage across the organisation (17%) were the most commonly cited.

Strategic alignment

The research reveals that more than half (55%) of organisations are currently using Hana. Just over a quarter cited strategic alignment with SAP’s roadmap, most probably in relation to S/4. But processing data for real-time decision making (17%) and a need to process growing data volumes (13%) were also cited, both of which are to do with Hana, as such.

“Hana has never had the level of interest of S/4 among our members,” said Cooper. “That has a broader impact, but some have a need for speed and others see it as a stepping-stone to S/4.”

Michiel Verhoeven, managing director of SAP UK and Ireland, said: “The availability of skilled talent is vital to the success of all organisations and the fundamental growth of the UK and Ireland. Addressing the skills gap is a shared responsibility between industry, education and government.”

In the release, Cooper said: “While the SAP Hana in-memory database has certainly gained traction in recent years, the research shows that some organisations are simply waiting until they move to SAP S/4 Hana before taking advantage of the technology. Our member research last year revealed that the pandemic has impacted the speed at which some organisations are moving to S/4, so the challenge for many will be ensuring they can effectively meet their ever-changing data demands in the meantime.”

This raises the possibility that organisations might be missing out on the high-speed data analytics capability offered by Hana, and other in-memory databases – or other data management approaches that confer a similar speed benefit. “It’s mainly been the technical members as opposed to our applications – ‘what’s the business case?’ – type users who have been interested in it [Hana]. But some organisations might be missing out [by delaying Hana uptake till S/4 implementations].”

He added, of the research’s main discovery: “This research underscores what we found from the white paper on skills we published at the end of last year: that there is a shortage of SAP skills coming. If you look at classic SAP people in organisations, many of them have been working with it since the mad rush of projects at the end of the 1990s. They will soon be looking at their life/work choices.

“Organisations, including my own and SAP, are looking at apprenticeships, but there is an underlying shortage looming,” he said.

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