SAP Run Better Tour: Business Analytics Overview

Dan Kearnan, senior director of marketing for business analytics, provided a overview of SAP’s business analytics in the short breakout sessions following the keynote. Their “run smarter” strategy is based on three pillars of knowing your business, deciding with confidence and acting boldly; his discussion of the “act boldly” part seemed to indicate that the round-tripping from data to events back to processes is more prevalent than I would have thought based on my previous observations.

We covered a lot of this material in the bloggers briefing a couple of weeks ago with Steve Lucas; he delved into the strategy for specific customers, that is, whether you’re starting with SAP ERP, SAP NetWeaver BW or non-SAP applications as input into your analytics.

He briefly addressed the events/process side of things – I think that they finally realized that when they bought Sybase, they picked up Aleri CEP with it – and their Event Insight solution is how they’re starting to deliver on this. They could do such a kick-ass demo using all of their own products here: data generated from SAP ERP, analyzed with BusinessObjects, events generated with Event Insight, and exception processes instantiated in NetWeaver BPM. NW BPM, however, seems to be completely absent from any of the discussions today.

He went through a number of the improvements in the new BI releases, including a common (and easier to use) user interface across all of the analytics products, and deep integration with the ERP and BW environments; there is a more detailed session this afternoon to drill into some of these.

I’m going to stick around to chat with a few people, but won’t be staying for the afternoon, so my coverage of the SAP Run Better Tour ends here. Watch the Twitter stream for information from others onsite today and at the RBT events in other cities in the days to come, although expect Twitter to crash spectacularly today at 1pm ET/10am PT when the iPad announcement starts.

Blogger/Analyst Session with Mark Aboud at SAP Run Better Tour

We had the chance for a small group of bloggers and analysts (okay, I was probably the only one with “blogger” on my name tag) with Mark Aboud, Managing Director of SAP Canada, and Margaret Stuart, VP for the Canadian BusinessObjects division. Since this was a roundtable Q&A, I’ll just list some of the discussion points.

  • 50% of SAP Canadian customers are small and medium businesses, sold through their partner network. ERP sales tend to be made through larger partners, whereas analytics are handled by a larger number of smaller partners as well.
  • Business ByDesign has only been launched in Canada within the past 60 days, making it difficult to tell much about the uptake here. There is one live production customer in Canada now, although they were not able to name names. Pricing and minimum number of users is similar to the US offering.
  • It sounds like HANA is a focus in Canada, but nothing concrete to talk about yet – seems like the analytics sales team is being focused on it and has built a good pipeline. Maple Leaf Foods, who spoke at the keynote, is considering it. The use cases exist, but the customer may not realize that the solutions to big data analytics are within their reach.
  • StreamWork is pretty much a big zero in Canada right now: they’re starting to talk to customers, but it sounds like very early days here. I was promised a follow-up on this question.
  • They’re putting a lot of weight on mobile apps for the future, particularly in industries that have remote users. I’m envisioning an underground miner with an iPad. Winking smile
  • The use of analytics such as BusinessObjects has become much more agile: it’s not taking 6 months to create an analytical view any more, the end users have the expectation that this can be done in a much shorter time.
  • I posed the question about how (or whether) all these great analytics are being used to generate events that feed back automatically into business processes; although there was recognition that there’s some interesting potential, it was a bit of a blank. This is the same question that I posed at last year’s SAPPHIRE about creating a link between their sustainability initiatives and BPM – I’m seeing this as a critical missing link from analytics through events back to processes.

A good opportunity for Q&A with Aboud and Stuart about what’s happening with SAP in Canada. Since most of my focus with SAP has been through the US conferences, it was nice to see what’s happening closer to home.

SAP Run Better Tour Toronto

SAP is holding a Run Better Tour to highlight some of their new releases and customer success stories, and today it’s in Toronto which allows me to check it out without having to get on an airplane. I attended the Women’s Leadership Forum breakfast this morning, featuring Amanda Lang of CBC News, and she’s speaking again in the general keynote, along with Mark Aboud, Managing Director of SAP Canada.

To go off on a tangent for a moment, Lang had an interesting anecdote at breakfast from an interview that she did with the ambassador from Norway. Apparently, Norway mandated that there be equal representation of women in senior government and corporate board positions; all of the cries of “but there are no women to take these roles” turned out to be completely untrue once they were actually required to look for them. Very reminiscent of the brouhaha around women speakers at tech conferences that inevitably arises several times per year.

In her general keynote, Lang focused on the economy and market forces (after making a quick joke about economists getting laid), and the factors that could impact a return to prosperity: world instability, a repeat of the financial crisis due to mismanagement, and a decrease in productivity. In the relatively small Canadian market, we have no control over the first two of these – a financial crisis that impacts us is unlikely to come from our conservatively-run banks, but from US or European financial institutions – but we can be more productive. However, our productivity has declined in the past 20-30 years, and we are at risk of leaving our children worse off than we are. This started when our currency was so cheap, and our exports were selling at $0.60 on the dollar: no need to increase productivity when you can keep doing the same old thing and still make money at it. However, the past 8 years or so have seen an exchange increase such that our dollar sits near par with the US, which makes our exports much less competitive. Since we haven’t increased productivity, we don’t have better widgets to sell for less in spite of the exchange leveling. Productivity and innovation, although not identical, are highly correlated: we need to have more people inside organizations who challenge the status quo and bring forward better ideas for how to do things.

Mark Aboud started his presentation with the idea that you can’t just get better, you have to get better faster than your competition. Some of this is based on taming the explosion of data that is resulting from the digitalization of human culture: all that needs to be gathering and analyzed, then made available to a variety of constituents via a number of different channels. Another contributor is social media, both in terms of the power that it has a platform, but also in raising the expectations for user experience: the consumer experience is very powerful, but the typical employee experience is pretty lame. He moved on to talk about SAP, and particularly SAP Canada, where only 40% of their business is based on ERP: much of the rest is business analytics. This stress on analytics became obvious as he talked about one of their customers, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and how they’re using a graphical real-time dashboard as their key interface in the emergency department to indicate how well they’re operating, and highlighting problem areas: a great analytics-in-action example, although it’s not clear where the underlying data is coming from. He also talked about CN Railways, and how they’re using Business Objects analytics to reduce their fuel costs.

Last up in the keynote was someone from Maple Leaf Foods (missed the name) talking about their ERP implementation, and how they use it to manage a company that has grown by acquisition and has very different types of operations in different regions, with 200 different systems and islands of data. They are trying to standardize their business processes across these units at some level, and started rolling out SAP in all of the business units early in 2011, with a planned completion date of early 2013. They’ve done 35 go-lives already, which necessitates a minimum of customization and, sometimes, changing their business processes to match out-of-the-box SAP rather than spending the time to customize SAP.

Good balance of keynotes; I’m now off to a bloggers’ briefing with Mark Aboud.