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6/6/2014
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SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner: Exclusive Q&A

Hasso Plattner, SAP's Hana visionary, discusses customer ERP adoption, cloud deployment, and Oracle's alternative.

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SAP's Hana in-memory platform is gaining steam, but is there a big-company, small-company split? In this exclusive interview, Hasso Plattner, SAP's Hana visionary, discusses customer adoption and cloud deployment.

Everyone agrees that in-memory systems are faster and represent the future. The crux of SAP's promise of "radical simplification" is that its Hana in-memory platform can handle both analytical and transactional workloads, thereby eliminating "redundant" infrastructure and separate copies of data.

SAP introduced Business Suite on Hana (transactional support) last year, and at Sapphire 2014 SAP highlighted first-wave adopters. But are we seeing a split, with smaller customers leading on ERP deployments while larger customers are sticking with analytics?

[Want more on real-world deployments? Read 6 SAP Hana Customers Share Early Lessons.]

In this exclusive interview with InformationWeek, conducted back stage after his SapphireNow keynote, SAP co-founder and Chairman Plattner discusses the embrace of Hana, the in-memory platform he dreamed up seven-and-a-half years ago. He also discusses SAP's cloud strategy and a wave of "Simple" offerings being introduced to streamline applications and make the most of Hana's performance.

InformationWeek: We've seen quite a few customer references here at Sapphire -- Burberry, ConAgra, Colgate-Polmolive, John Deere, Mercedes AMG. Is there one that would be the best poster child for putting the SAP Business Suite on Hana? ConAgra, for example, seems like an analytical application.

Hasso Plattner: ConAgra built their modeling and simulation on the lowest level of granular data without changing the ERP system first. They thought that if they changed the ERP system first, they wouldn't get to the benefit of real-time modeling [soon enough]. They're going to work on the ERP system later, but other companies are doing it differently. Which company is the best example? It's tough to say because they're all in different stages of deployment.

IW: It seems like larger firms are starting with analytical deployments.

Plattner: That's because we were wimps and thought we'd go the easy way and do the read-only [analytical] applications first. My radical approach, if I may say so, scares people, but they're starting to see that they don't have to be scared.

John Deere asked me three years ago, "should we go big bang." I said, "I would start with the most rewarding application." They said, "that's predictive maintenance." They can save so much money with predictive maintenance. If we also revolutionize their financial system, it will do something for them, but it will not give them the financial impact they'll have with predictive maintenance, so they're doing that first and they start now to change their first manufacturing system.

SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner delivering the keynote address at SapphireNow 2014
SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner delivering the keynote address at SapphireNow 2014

IW: Meanwhile, all the Business Suite-on-Hana examples here seem to be smaller companies, like Bangkok Airlines, Mercedes AMG, and Kaeser. Is it harder to get large companies to put ERP on Hana?

Plattner: Actually, the large companies are very close. They're not only monitoring this opportunity, they are preparing for it. All of the large customers I'm familiar with are going to [move to Hana]. If there is any hesitation or lack of urgency, it's at the smaller companies. The larger companies are excited, and they're strategically working with us and moving. Even the super-large companies are all doing something [on Hana], and they're all talking strategically.

IW: Do you think many companies are holding back to see what they can do with in-memory table capabilities coming in Oracle 12c or already available from Microsoft [in SQL Server 2014]?

Plattner: I assume that their massive salesforce is having an impact. If I put myself in the shoes of Oracle, I would try to tell a story to delay these decisions. That's not slowing us down. We are close to the maximum speed [of Hana adoption] we can support with our services and partners. Our biggest limitation is how many [technical] people can be educated on Hana. That's why we're moving to free Massive Open Online Courses, because thousands of people have to learn and understand what is different about Hana. I've been working on this for seven and a half years, so I underestimate how much you have to reset your brain to understand the possibilities.

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Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of ... View Full Bio

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D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
6/9/2014 | 5:30:28 PM
Re: I don't get Hasso's point on "standardized systems" and "economies of scale"
It so happens analytical apps ARE the lowest-risk way to deploy Hana. It's read-only, and you're not mucking about with mission-critical applications. The largest Business Suite (ERP) on Hana customer I've seen (other than SAP itself) is Kaeser Kompressoren, a global compressor manufacturer based in Germany. This company has 5,000 employees -- so midsizish. The thing is, they've done the business warehouse and CRM deployment, but the ERP side of the suite has yet to come. Those deployments were delayed by the availability of preconfigured hardware from HP, but the supplier's Converged System 900 for Hana was just released at Sapphire.

The bottom line here is that big ERP deployments are rare -- I'm speculating they're limited to SAP itself. But Plattner insists in this interview that the big companies are preparing.

 
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
6/9/2014 | 4:44:39 PM
Re: I don't get Hasso's point on "standardized systems" and "economies of scale"
The Deere example is interesting -- and Plattner's advice to go for the use case with the biggest payday, not the simplest or lowest risk option. With cloud infrastructure, for example, the conventional wisdom is to try it with something low risk, like a sofware testing effort. But with Hana the battle is over whether this new platform is worth it, so the search is for some use case where the speed justifies added risk, effort, expense. 
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/6/2014 | 7:48:08 PM
Hana, a 'dedicated cloud' or hosted service?
One way to interpret Plattner's remarks is that a big user of Hanna can get economies of scale on a dedicated system by using most or all of the server or server cluster. I would hastily add, in Hasso's opinion. Hana on hardware dedicated to a single customer would still be operating in a "cloud-like" fashion if Hanna services could be accessed through an API by the customer from the outside, be started and stopped by the customer and possibly modified or customized by the customer. This would be operating in a private cloud-like fashion, with the cloud hardware and software off premises -- in a SAP data center. But it remains unclear to me also that that's what he's actually saying. It sounds more like a hosted service that SAP starts for you, manages and levies a predictable bill on a regular basis. That is, it's not a bill strictly based on the amount of use, and the system isn't under the customer's programmatic control. In that case, the use of the term "cloud" is either shaky or depending on your level of passion about such things, wrong.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
6/6/2014 | 11:45:05 AM
I don't get Hasso's point on "standardized systems" and "economies of scale"
Reporters get only so much time with top execs, so I couldn't follow up on Plattner's point on "standardized systems" and "economies of scale." This sounds like an arguement for multi-tenant applications, but he was talking about the need for "dedicated" (a.k.a., hosted systems) for each customer. How do you get economies of scale creating individual deployments for each customer? I'll try to get SAP to comment here.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
6/6/2014 | 11:40:24 AM
Re: MOOCs
I think a lot of veteran SAP customers greeted the "simplification" message with skepticism, but many are hopeful it will bring simplified pricing, simplified contracts and simplified answers and policies from SAP. As for simplified technology? I think few believe that's something that can happen overnight.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
6/6/2014 | 11:03:03 AM
MOOCs
Interesting that he brings up MOOCs as way to train people up on the new skills. That certainly could speed up the training of the talent pool. What was the overall customer mood at the conference, Doug?
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