The old canard that SAP is not an innovator took another hit this week with the partial unveiling of a new set of applications built to run on top of SAP's Hana in-memory database system.
The new apps, due out in a set of rolling releases thus year, fill an important gap in SAP's Hana strategy to date: actual applications that appeal to a line-of-business user, as opposed to Hana's nerdy technology appeal. Not that there's anything wrong with that, who doesn't get all excited about a column-based, in-memory database appliance that can crunch a few hundred million records in a split second or two.
Well, actually, there was one small thing wrong with the last two year's worth of Hana demos: after the first couple of amazing demos, a certain amount of buzz-fatigue started setting in. After all, once you've see the button pressed and the Explorer rows fill instantly with data from a humungous database, the gee-whiz factor starts to lose some gee.
So, while SAP didn't do any comprehensive demos of the new Hana-ready apps, just the prospect of a few good reasons for the line-of-business buyer to get excited was a refreshing sign of the potential that Hana has to rewrite the good book of data analysis in the very near term.
The Hana apps due to come out this year provide an impressive-looking range of functionality. Below is a list of the applications SAP has slated for release this year, mostly in Q3 and Q4:
Strategic workforce planning (out now)
Sales and operations planning (due Q3)
Cash and liquidity management (due Q3)
Trade promo management (due Q4)
Intelligent Payment Broker (due Q4)
Smart meter analysis (due Q4)
Profitability engine (due Q4)
Customer revenue performance management (due Q4)
Merchandising and assortment management (due Q4)
Energy management for utility customers (due Q4)
Customer-specific pricing (due Q4)
Intelligent Payment Broker (Q4)
Analysts at an event in Boston yesterday only saw snippets of a couple of these apps, it's an impressive list, and adds to SAP's potential cred as an analytics vendor with some highly competitive functionality. This list clearly comprises eleven in-memory applications that SAP will have by 2012, as compared to all those in-memory apps the competition has -- as in none.
How broadly any of these apps will attack their specific functional domains in release 1.0 requires an understanding of the back story to these apps: They have been developed using an agile methodology that would have been heretical at SAP only a few years ago. When I asked about the 90 days that Vishal Sikka, SAP's CTO, said it took to develop Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP), the answer I got was that SWP and the rest of the Hana apps were being developed without trying to exhaustively deal with the exceptions and special cases that sop up early development resources. Rather, the Hana apps are being developed first to cover the more general-purpose use cases, with the outliers to be dealt with in subsequent releases.
So, will SWP 1.0 arrive in the market as the be-all and end-all of workforce planning? Probably not. But it will be the only one in the market that can totally kill the big-data problem behind workforce planning.