Users are warming to the idea of using SAP's HANA in-memory database technology for speeding up business processes rather than just for analytics.
SAP's January launch of its ERP Business Suite on HANA is changing perceptions about the technology, according to experts at a London SAP roundtable.
Not every organisation has large volumes of data that they want to crunch very, very fast
"When people first heard about HANA, they'd automatically see big volumes and data," said Philip Adams, chairman of the UK and Ireland SAP User Group.
"Not every organisation has large volumes of data that they want to crunch very, very fast. Some organisations just want the right data to the right people at the right time."
Underlying in-memory processing technology
Scot Clark, SAP practice lead UK and Ireland at consulting and services firm Accenture, said the launch of Suite on HANA is opening up a much bigger set of business applications to the benefits of the underlying in-memory processing technology.
"It could be things like much more real-time customer-segmentation analysis, a much faster ability to respond to real-time events in the marketplace," Clark said. "Or even more traditional things like understanding inventory in different locations in real time."
Ignacio Garcia, head of global ERP at Vodafone, described how the company's country CFOs should soon be creating instantaneous simulations of month-end figures using real-time data and SAP's Business Suite on HANA.
Garcia, who is responsible for a SAP ERP system serving 80,000 users, said the month-end accounts simulation tool goes live this quarter and Vodafone is looking at using HANA in other areas, such as fixed assets.
"We are testing on the logistics side how to introduce HANA to help us to optimise our supply chain. Obviously, operations is another challenge. If you're going to go to real logistics, you need to make sure this is really industrialised and that's what we're testing," he said.
Business Suite on HANA
Garcia described how he has already used Suite on HANA to speed up month-end accounting. The aim was to close the company's books worldwide earlier, he said.
"Before [Suite on HANA] during the month end every market had to make some adjustments before they actually locked the numbers in the computer," Garcia said.
"You make your adjustments, wait three hours to see what happens and maybe you need to make more adjustments. Three hours between adjustments — you're talking about 23 countries and you're talking about three to four iterations before you actually close [the books]."
Garcia said HANA has successfully shortened the process by a day. After six months of testing the new system went live successfully in November.
SAP HANA customer numbers
Tim Noble, SAP UK and Ireland managing director, said 918 customers around the world are using HANA, which launched in 2010 and became generally available in mid-2011, and 18 customers are at the proof-of-concept phase with Suite on HANA.
At least three customers "are running their entire estate on HANA", according to Noble, including agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere and chocolate maker Ferrero.
SAP User Group's Philip Adams said smaller organisations have done little with the analytics capability of SAP because it's another piece of investment. But now with HANA they can do that within the ERP transactional system, as opposed to exporting the data into a separate business warehouse and worrying about putting a load of analytics around that.
That change allows you to consolidate your IT, Adams said.
"Larger organisations probably had all the analytics and they're probably consolidating that on HANA. When you're small you don't necessarily have the option or the budget to do that," he added.