This morning, our opening keynote was from SAP’s other co-CEO, Jim Snabe. He started with a bit about competitive advantage and adaptation to changing conditions, illustrated with the fact that Sumatran tigers have evolved webbed feet so that they can chase their prey into water: evolution and even extinction in business is not much different from that in the natural world, it just happens at a much faster pace. In business, we have both gradual evolution through continuous improvement, and quantum leaps caused primarily by the introduction of disruptive technology. Snabe positions HANA as being one of those disruptive technologies.

McLaren racing dashboardRon Dennis, chairman of McLaren Group, joined Snabe to talk about how they’re using HANA to gather, analyze and visualize data from their cars during Formula 1 races: 6.5 billion data points per car per race. We saw a prototype dashboard for visualizing that data, and heard how the data is used to make predictions and optimize performance during the race. Your processes probably don’t generate 6.5B events per instance, but in-flight optimization is something that’s beyond the capabilities of many organizations unless they use big data and predictive analytics. Integrating this functionality into process management may well be what allows the large vendors such as SAP and IBM to regain the BPM innovation advantage over some of the smaller and more nimble vendors. Survival of the fittest, indeed.

Snabe talked about other applications for HANA, such as in healthcare, where big data allows for comprehensive individual DNA analysis and disease prevention, before returning to the idea of using it for realtime business optimization that allows organizations to adapt and thrive. SAP is pushing all of their products onto HANA as the database platform, first providing data warehousing capabilities, SuccessFactors and now their Business Suite on HANA for greatly improved performance due to in-memory processing. They’ve opened up the platform so that other companies can develop applications on HANA, which will help to drive it into vertical industries. Interestingly, Snabe made the point that having realtime in-memory processing not only makes things faster, it also makes applications less complex, since some of the complexity in code is due to disk and processing latency. They have 1,500 customers on HANA now, and that number is growing fast.

HANA and in-memory processing was just one of the three “quantum leaps” that SAP has been effecting during the last three years; the second is having everything available in the cloud. Just as in-memory processing is about increasing speed and reducing complexity, so is cloud, except that it is about increasing speed and reducing complexity of IT implementations. In the three years that they’ve been at it, and including their SuccessFactors and Ariba acquisitions, they’ve gained 29 million users in the cloud. He was joined by executives from PepsiCo, Timken and Nespresso to talk about their transition to cloud, which included SuccessFactors for cloud-based performance management and HR across their global operations, and CRM in the cloud.

Combining their HANA and cloud initiatives, SAP launched HANA Enterprise Cloud last week, with HANA running on SAP’s infrastructure, which will allow organizations to run all of their SAP applications in the cloud, with the resulting benefits of elasticity and availability. I have a more detailed briefing on HANA Enterprise Cloud this afternoon

Their third quantum leap in the past three years is user experience, culminating in today’s launch of Fiori, a new user interface that brings the aesthetic of consumer UI — including mobile interfaces — to enterprise software. We’ll be hearing more about this in tomorrow’s keynote with Vishal Sikka.

By the way, you can watch the keynotes live and replays of many sessions here; I confess to have watched this morning’s keynote online from my hotel room in order to have reliable wifi to research while I watched and wrote this post.

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