SAP HANA – it’s like an episode of Gold Rush

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Last week, SAP made their big announcement that their business applications – SAP Business Suite – now support running on HANA (High-performance ANalytical Appliance.. I guess naming it “haa!” wouldn’t have been appropriate).  From my perspective, the goal is twofold:

  1. Entice clients to upgrade to new versions of ERP.  Offering the ability to inject more intelligence into business processes embedded in SAP by enabling BI-like analytics to happen in-line and in-context using an in-memory database architecture (I know, lots of “in’s”).  This might allow things like improved fraud detection, more flexible and targeted pricing, and generally more agile business processes.
  2. Consolidate the stack.  Today, most SAP ERP shops are running IBM (where I work), Oracle, or Microsoft databases underneath their SAP apps.  With HANA, and the recently announced free Sybase add-on, customers can consolidate on one vendor instead of having to manage two.

From a customer perspective, the benefits are potentially new, more agile business processes, and (maybe) lower costs.  But in order to get this benefit, I have to replace the underlying infrastructure on a massive, complex set of applications that I have heavily customized over the past 15 years.  Granted, I don’t have to do this all at once, but if I have a large deployment, it’ll cost me between 10-50% of the initial implementation cost, assuming HANA is like a normal technical upgrade – and HANA is a pretty major shift – so this won’t be cheap.  And what business processes are we talking about?  Is there payback in making them more agile?  Not every process needs a ton of intelligence.  Taking a step back from all the hype (which is considerable), I have to ask the question – isn’t there a simpler, more effective, and less costly way to do make processes more intelligent and agile?

In-memory technology has been available in a lot of BPM solutions for some time – it’s called operational decision management, BRMS, CEP, etc.  And this is just one of a couple ways you can inject intelligence into a business process managed by a BPMS.  I know the technology guts of HANA are fundamentally different from BPM, but if the goal is to make business processes smarter, BPM presents a less costly, and less risky way to achieve this than many of the use cases for HANA that I’ve seen.

It kind of reminds me of an episode of Gold Rush I saw a while back.  A mining team did some tests on a new tract of land they wanted to mine.  They found gold!  But in order to get to the gold, they had to remove 50 feet of mud.  The cost to remove the dirt exceeded the value of the gold that was down there.

And like the gold miners who chose to look for another place to mine, I’d be willing to bet that there are more fertile grounds for businesses to be investing than replacing the database under their ERP system.