A couple of things became clear during SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner's keynote at the Sapphire conference today: SAP remains committed to the HANA in-memory computing platform, as well as its push into SaaS (software as a service).
Neither of those conclusions came as a great surprise, but the event gave Plattner an occasion to reassert SAP's direction at its biggest annual conference, shortly after a management shakeup and the anointment of sole CEO Bill McDermott.
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Plattner also laid out what sort of experience SAP customers can expect from their software in the future. In short, SAP will deliver applications based on a simplified architecture, but which give customers much more flexibility than before, according to Plattner.
Plattner described how SAP had radically slimmed down the data model for its Simple Finance application, announced this week at Sapphire. Over time, the same treatment will be given to other modules in the Business Suite on HANA, a version of SAP's flagship ERP suite that uses HANA as an underlying data store.
Older application architectures don't deal well with matters such as structural changes in a company, Plattner said. The future will provide applications with dynamic, on-the-fly reporting as well as analysis and simulation of such changes, he added.
The human brain already does just that, Plattner said. He gave the example of a person firing an arrow at a moving bird, with their brain automatically generating a model that helps them predict where to point the bow based on the bird's speed in order to hit it.
Simple Finance runs on the HANA Enterprise Cloud hosting service. It and the upcoming Simple modules represent the "natural evolution" of the Business Suite on HANA, Plattner said.
While SAP will continue supporting the use of other databases for the Suite and will not recode any applications so they are solely dependent on HANA, "the breakthrough in terms of technology and the value will only be possible on HANA," Plattner said. Some 1,000 SAP customers have adopted Suite on HANA so far. It became generally available about a year ago.
Plattner's keynote also provided an opportunity to showcase Bernd Leukert, who is now heading up all product development following the recent departure of Vishal Sikka, an executive who oversaw the launch of HANA.
SAP customers are dealing with tangled IT landscapes with multiple application instances and scattered data, Leukert said. I promise you we will change this," Leukert said. "HANA is the enabler for that simplification.
Expect compressed, but much improved SAP environments, according to Leukert.
The large bearing and steel manufacturer Timken is one company making significant investments in SAP cloud software. It's moved a series of human resources functions to SAP SuccessFactors. Timken had used the same HR system for 30 years, running it on a mainframe inside the corporate firewall, said Rob Arbogast, director of OA program deployment, in an interview. Every time you wanted to do something to it you had to put a request together to get it changed, have IT then work on it, test it and put in place, and some where along the way, find the money to pay for it," he said.
HR is a complex area of software, given the frequent changes to legislation and regulations around the world. But with SuccessFactors, Timken simply pays its subscription fees and awaits the regular updates to the software, Arbogast said. "I don't need as heavy of an IT structure around this thing. It's being taken care of by somebody else. However, it's key for Timken to work closely with SuccessFactors, sitting on advisory boards and pushing for new features it wants, he said.
Meanwhile, during the keynote Leukert emphasized that SAP's user interface strategy going forward will lean heavily on design principles of Fiori, a collection of lightweight, mobile-friendly applications that tap hundreds of the most-used processes in its Business Suite ERP system. SAP launched Fiori last year as a paid product, but following pressure from user groups this week at Sapphire the company said it would now be included with SAP software licenses.
The negotiations that went on in recent months with SAP over Fiori pricing was only a first step, said Geoff Scott, CEO of the Americas' SAP Users' Group. "We now have to do our part as a user community," he said in an interview. "Lets start by downloading the software and putting it to work." ASUG has formed a new UI community in order to help spur adoption of Fiori.
Although the Fiori applications will be available at no charge, SAP is planning to sell integration services for them. Fiori also has dependencies on HANA, which has only been purchased by a small percentage of SAP customers so far.
One analyst had a mixed reaction to SAP's simplification theme. "It has got to be more than simplifying the product," said analyst Frank Scavo, managing partner of IT consulting firm Strativa. "SAP has to simplify its customers experience across every way they deal with SAP. For example, SAP pricing is complex, as is negotiating through SAPs organization, Scavo added. SAP has already taken one step to change this, by rolling out a revamped, easier-to-use price list in April.
SAP also today announced updates related to HANA. Before customers can take advantage of HANA's data-crunching prowess, they need to get information into the system. To that end, new versions of SAP Data Services and Information Steward were announced today. Other updates include support for Hadoop 2.0 and running SAP's Lumira data-visualization software on HANA.
Over time, a broader integration framework for HANA will enable partners such as SAS Institute to embed their own advanced analytics capabilities within HANA, according to a statement. Native high availability and disaster recovery for HANA is also on the road map, SAP said.
"We can safely say that SAP has reached a genuine level of maturity on the database side with HANA," said Holger Mueller, principal analyst at Constellation Research. "The Suite on HANA is getting there. For both products, customers and prospects should look into the specific business case and benefits for the potential upgrade. On the product side, it is now time for SAP to look into more technology stack capabilities beyond the database."
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for the IDG News Service. Chris's email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com.