​SAP revamps Business Suite with new UI, HANA analytics

SAP says its Business Suite 4 on HANA has been "reinvented for the digital age." Adoption of the suite, which includes a new UI, is likely to be critical to SAP's 2020 outlook.

NEW YORK---SAP on Tuesday rolled out its flagship Business Suite, which received an overhaul that included a new user interface, mobile hooks and HANA in-memory analytics.

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For SAP, Business Suite 4 SAP HANA, is designed to position the enterprise software vendor as an innovation partner and one that can deliver a modern experience. The name of the product, SAP S/4HANA for short, is a mouthful, but SAP's bet is that it can keep existing customers and move them to the cloud with next-gen apps with connections to core back-end systems.

At an event at the New York Stock Exchange, CEO Bill McDermott said SAP S/4HANA is an enterprise platform "reinvented for the digital age." McDermott, a master salesman, dubbed the latest Business Suite as "an innovation platform" designed to drive customer growth. McDermott's other message is that SAP S/4HANA ushers in a more simple deployment model.

"This is the biggest product launch in the last 23 years and perhaps the company's history," said McDermott.

SAP's bet is that it can dangle enough unique features to convince customers to move to a Business Suite/HANA stack. Such a move requires a heavy dose of lock-in, but SAP's argument is that the innovation will be worth it. Business Suite will continue to run on Oracle databases, but SAP argues that a HANA architecture brings more to the table. Business Suite will have two code bases---one following HANA's architecture and another for other databases (primarily Oracle).

Previously: SAP cuts 2017 outlook, sees cloud profit power in 2020 | Enterprise vendors: Can they scale and keep it simple? | Danger zone: Enterprise maintenance and support

Simple Finance is the first S/4 HANA effort and other industries and modules will follow. Not every industry is available at launch. For McDermott, the product launch is a warm up act for SAP's analyst meeting. The biggest hurdle for McDermott and SAP will be convincing analysts and Wall Street that an outlook into 2020 is believable.

A big part of SAP's 2020 pitch will revolve around HANA adoption. SAP S/4HANA will only run on HANA to leverage in-memory databases and real-time analytics. The goal: "Break all limitations of the past."

The SAP S/4HANA launch hit all the key buzzwords in technology today---cloud, mobile, Internet of things and big data. SAP said that its simplified data model will be able to connect its Business Suite to new business models and partners such as Accenture, Capgemini, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and PwC will be able to deploy quickly.

Targeting the next-gen boardroom

Dr. Hasso Plattner, SAP founder and chairman, introduced S/4HANA. Plattner, who cooked up HANA as a way to reimagine enterprise software without database response time. "We defined the database as in-memory and has to be columnar store for transactions and analytics," said Plattner, who noted that rivals are trying to follow HANA.

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Hasso Plattner

Plattner said that convincing SAP to build the database that became HANA was relatively easy. The challenge was convincing SAP to build applications for a new database architecture.

Now SAP is sold on HANA, it has to sell its customers on dropping their databases that have been in place for decades.

Simply put, SAP is hoping that S/4HANA will power the boardroom of the future with its data, perspective and analytics. "These people can now (run business) in concert," said Plattner.

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The catch is that SAP is telling customers that they need an all-SAP optimized stack. Everything from the UI to the underlying architecture has changed.

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Plattner promised a "soft transition" for customers that move to the HANA-powered Business Suite. Customers that move to HANA will get improved transactional data, but can use their old interfaces and reporting for a time period. At some point, SAP will flip the switch to the new user interface. Plattner said SAP and its customer base will have "a non-disruptive release."

Plattner argued that SAP has the best UI with its update and that 100s of customers are in co-innovation projects with the company to hone industry applications.

Bernd Leukert, a member of SAP's executive board and development lead, walked through a demo of S4/HANA.

In a demo, Leukert highlighted HANA's response time on queries and drilldowns on millions of line items for a Chinese subsidiary.

The short version of the demo was that SAP was highlighting the transition from being a system of record to one that revolves around intelligence. What was worth noting is that the analytics revolved around a person asking the right question. Startups are aiming to upend that process and argue that relying on asking the right question isn't the best way to get business insight.

Overall, the UI looked stronger on a mobile interface. Here are the screens.

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