SAP’s Bigger Picture: The AppDev Play

Although I attended some sessions related to BPM and operational process intelligence, last week’s trip to SAP TechEd && d-code 2014 gave me a bit more breathing room to look at the bigger picture — and aspirations — of SAP and their business technology offerings.

I started coming to SAPPHIRE and TechEd when SAP released a BPM product, which means that my area of interest was a tiny part of their primary focus on ERP, financials and related software solutions; most of the attendees (including the analysts and bloggers) at that time were more concerned with licensing models for their Business Suite software than new technology platforms. Fast forwarding, SAP is retooling their core software applications using HANA as an in-memory platform (cloud or on-premise) and SAP UI5/Fiori for user experience, but there’s something much bigger than that afoot: SAP is making a significant development platform play using those same technologies that are working so well for their own application refactoring. In other words, you can consider SAP’s software applications groups to be software developers who use SAP platforms and tools, but those tools are also available to external developers who are building applications completely unrelated to SAP applications.

They have some strong components: in-memory database, analytics, cloud, UI frameworks; they are also starting to push down more functionality into HANA such as some rudimentary rules and process functionality that can be leveraged by a development team that doesn’t want to add a full-fledged BRM or BPM system.

This is definitely a shift for SAP over the past few years, and one that likely most of their customers are unaware; the question becomes whether their application development tools are sufficiently compelling for independent software development shops to take a look.

Disclaimer: SAP paid my travel expenses to be at TechEd last week. I was not compensated for my time in any way, including writing, and the opinions here are my own.

What’s New With SAP Operational Process Intelligence

Just finishing up some notes from my trip to SAP TechEd && d-code last week with the latest on their Operational Process Intelligence product, which can pull events and data from multiple systems – including SAP’s ERP and other core enterprise systems as well as SAP BPM – and provides real-time analytics via their HANA in-memory database. I attended a session on this, then had an individual briefing later to round things out.

Big processes are becoming a thing, and if you have big processes (that is, processes that span multiple systems, and consume/emit big data and high volume from a variety of sources), you need to have operational intelligence integrated into those processes. SAP is addressing this with their SAP Operational Process Intelligence, or what they see as a GPS for your business: a holistic view of where you are relative to your goals, the obstacles in your path, and the best way to reach your goals. It’s not just about what has happened already (traditional business intelligence), but what is happening right now (real-time analytics), what is going to happen (predictive analytics) and the ability to adjust the business process to accommodate the changing environment (sense and respond). Furthermore, it includes data and events from multiple systems, hence needs to provide scope beyond any one system’s analytics; narrow scope has been a major shortcoming of BPMS-based analytics in the past.

In a breakout session, Thomas Volmering and Harsh Jegadeesan gave an update and demo on the latest in their OPInt product. There are some new visualization features since I last saw it, plus the ability to do more with guided tasks including kicking off other processes, and trigger alerts based on KPIs. Their demo is based on a real logistics hub operation, which combines a wide variety of people, processes and systems, with the added complexity of physical goods movement.

Although rules have always been a part of their product suite, BRM is being highlighted as a more active participant in detecting conditions, then making predictions and recommendations, leveraging the ability to run rules directly in HANA: putting real-time guardrails around a business process or scenario. They also use rules to instantiate processes in BPM, such as for exception handling. This closer integration of rules is new since I last saw OPInt back at SAPPHIRE, and clearly elevates this from an analytics application to an operational intelligence platform that can sense and respond to events. Since SAP BPM has been able to use HANA as a database platform for at least a year, I assume that we will eventually see some BPM functionality (besides simple queuing) pushed down into HANA, as they have done with BRM, allowing for more predictive behavior and analytics-dependent functions such as work management to be built into BPM processes. As it is, hosting BPM on HANA allows the real-time data to be integrated directly into any other analytics, including OPInt.

OPInt provides ad hoc task management using a modern collaborative UI to define actions, tasks and participants; this is providing the primary “case management” capability now, although it’s really a somewhat simpler collaborative task management. With HANA behind the scenes, however, there is the opportunity for SAP to take this further down the road towards full case management, although the separation of this from their BPM platform may not prove to be a good thing for all of the hybrid structured/unstructured processes out there.

The creation of the underlying models looks similar to what I’ve been seeing from them for a while: the business scenario is defined as a graphical flow model (or imported from a process in Business Suite), organized into phases and milestones that will frame the visualization, and connected to the data sources; but now the rules can be identified directly on the process elements. The dashboard is automatically created, although it can be customized. In a new view (currently still in the lab), you will also be able to see the underlying process model with overlaid analytics, e.g., cost data; this seems like a perfect opportunity for a process mining/discovery visualization, although that’s more of a tool for an analyst than whoever might be monitoring a process in real-time.

SAP TechEd Keynote with @_bgoerke

I spent yesterday getting to Las Vegas for SAP TechEd && d-code and missed last night’s keynote with Steve Lucas, but up this morning to watch Björn Goerke — head of SAP Product & Innovation Technology — give the morning keynote on putting new technology into action. With the increasing rate of digital disruption, it’s imperative to embrace new ways of doing business, or risk becoming obsolete; this requires taking advantage of big data and real-time analytics as well as modern platforms. SAP’s current catch phrase is “Run Simple”, based in part on the idea of “one truth”, that is, one place for all your data so that you have a real-time view of your business rather than relying on separate sources for operations and analytics. You can’t run — and respond — at the speed that business requires if your analytics are based on yesterday’s transactions.

SAP HANA — their in-memory data store — allows for real-time analytics directly on operational transaction data, events, IoT machine data, social media data and more, all in a single data store. With the release of SAP HANA SPS09, they are adding support for dynamic tiering, streaming, enterprise information management, graphing, Hadoop user-defined functions, and multi-tenancy; these improve the management capabilities as well as the functionality. SAP deploys all of their business software solutions on HANA (although some more traditional databases are still supported in some products) with the goal to providing the basis for the “one truth” within business data.

Goerke was joined on stage by a representative from Alliander, an energy distribution company based in the Netherlands, and he demonstrated a HANA-based analytical dashboard based on geographic data that reduces the time required for geospatial queries — such as filtering by pipelines that are within a certain distance from buildings — from hours using more traditional database technology, to seconds with HANA. Geospatial data is one of the areas where in-memory data and analytics can really make a difference in terms of performance; I did a lot of my early-career software development on geospatial data, and there are some tough problems here that are not easily addressed by more traditional tools.

Another part of the simplicity message is “one experience” via the SAPUI5-based Fiori, providing for a more unified experienced between desktop and mobile, including management and distribution of mobile apps. They’ve added offline capabilities for their mobile apps – a capability widely ignored or dismissed as “unimportant” by developers who live and work only in areas blanketed in 4G and WiFi coverage, but critical in many real-world applications. Goerke demonstrated using some of the application development services — with some “help” from Ian Kimbell — to define an API, use it to create a mobile app, deploy it to a company app store, then install and run it: not something that most executives do live on stage at a keynote.

SAP now has a number of partnerships with hardware and infrastructure vendors to optimize their gear for SAP and especially for HANA: last week we saw an announcement about SAP running on the IBM cloud, and today we heard about how sgi is taking their well-known computational hardware capabilities and applying them to running transactional platforms such as SAP. SAP has also partnered with small software development shops to deliver the innovations in HANA-based applications needed to drive this forward. Applications developed on HANA can run on premise or in SAP’s managed cloud (and now IBM’s managed cloud), where they manage HANA and the SAP applications including Business Suite and Business Warehouse. Through a number of strategic acquisitions, SAP has much more than just your ERP and financials, however: they offer solutions for HR management, procurement, e-commerce, customer engagement and more. They also offer a rich set of development tools and application services for software development unrelated to SAP applications, allowing for applications built and deployed on HANA with modern mobile user interfaces and collaboration. In keeping with Goerke’s Star Trek theme in the keynote, very Borg-like. 🙂

Lots more here than I could possibly capture; you can watch the keynotes and other presentations online at SAP TechEd online.