Q&A: Big Data needs to be fast enough for users, says SAP

May 6th, 2014 | by Alfred Siew

photo : vicens giménez info@vicensgimenez.com www.vicensgimenez.com +34 609273270 Barcelona

As more data begins to feed the computer systems of organisations big and small in the coming years, one headache that IT managers everywhere face is how to make sense of all the raw information.

Enterprise software vendor SAP believes its in-memory HANA technology will be key to making sense of the data as fast as business users can take advantage of it.

As SAP Singapore managing director Kelly Tan tells it, the information should give frontline staff – not just C-level executives pondering long-term strategy – instant knowledge at their fingertips.

Here are some of her responses to such challenges, as well as the use of Big Data in new scenarios like city planning and SAP’s R&D work in Singapore.

(NOTE: The responses have been edited for brevity and house style)

It has been more than a year since the SAP Business and Technology Research Centre opened in Singapore to focus on R&D. Can you update us on some of the innovations that have come out from the lab?

We have developed a range of innovation efforts that cuts across different fields, including an indoor location intelligence solution for a retail client in Singapore, a harbour management solution named Maritime Intelligence and a CityApp application which enhances city-living experience, transforms city administration and empowers local enterprises.

For the retail solution, we used real-time analytics to enhance shoppers’ experience, store operations and inventory planning and management. By tracking customers’ indoor location data, retailers can easily connect to customers nearby by pushing out targeted services to them, enhancing the retail experience, increasing customer loyalty and improving sales.

The solution is a hybrid of indoor location, image recognition and social data analytics technologies which empower the retailer’s on-site sales and service employees by providing indoor behaviour analytics to facilitate consumer content generation and social demand awareness.

Maritime Intelligence uses real-time analytics to detect anomalies in ship movement at the ports and on the sea to ensure safety and legal compliance, and to improve productivity of port ecosystems. The prototype uses the Automatic Identification System, SAP HANA and Complex Event Processing engines to detect anomalies such as ambiguous broadcast identification and failure to abide with zonal restrictions.

We are also developing a next-generation contextual-based citizen engagement prototype that will transform the way residents interact, commute and use public services through a single access point for an entire city’s services. CityApp will help people navigate through the city, stay informed and engaged with their city’s developments, access city news and keep abreast with the latest services for residents. For businesses, CityApp will serve as a platform to help market their services.

There’s been a focus on intelligent city technologies of late, with trials in Singapore and various cities to take advantage of the Internet of Things and Big Data to give planners a better view of what’s going on in an urban environment. What are the missing pieces of the puzzle so far?

Governments will need to address the growing spectrum congestion, help simplify technology standards and consider streamlining regulations in some sectors to foster innovation. If we look at the healthcare sector, we see that many doctors are reimbursed by the patients they see, not the ones they don’t.

This hardly helps to prioritise machine-to-machine deployments that solve patient problems without a hospital visit. Regarding technology standards, for the sake of the industry, this should ideally be done in parallel with other countries, to ensure consistency across borders.

Singapore is already thinking ahead. One of the ideas presented in the recently released Infocomm Media Masterplan is to create smart healthcare solutions which will help doctors monitor patients’ health conditions remotely. The Smart Health-Assist concept uses sensors in a patient’s living environment to monitor his or her health.

SAP has also made some significant steps in developing smart healthcare solutions. SAP Electronic Medical Record provides healthcare professionals with access to the electronic medical records of their patients from iPads and tablets.

With this information available on mobile devices, healthcare professionals can get real-time access to patient history, track information at the point-of-care, and collaborate better with other healthcare professionals and patients.

These types of services are particularly important for countries with an aging population. This is because they can help prevent urgent hospitalisation and improve the citizen’s health through early diagnosis and prevention.

What’s the biggest challenge for a CIO when you got all that data coming at you?

Handling information overload and deciding what data is relevant is usually the biggest challenge that CIOs face. “What is my data telling me?” is often the first question for CIOs.

Having data is one thing, but being able to understand it and gain insight from it, is another thing. This is the reason why in recent years, some new professions such as data scientists and business intelligence analysts have emerged.

My advice is to first look at your business priorities, then search for solutions which can support them. Your company’s big data strategy should lead your decision. Also, have a big data stakeholder in place – one person or a team who is responsible for managing and improving the company’s big data strategy.

Your company’s big data strategy should also be well integrated with business processes. The organizations that achieve the greatest results tie Big Data insights directly into their business processes and their people, allowing them to easily act upon insights in day-to-day operations. Businesses should look at how “Big Data enables” their business processes and enterprise applications, and how to equip their frontline workers with the insights they need.

Finally, organisations need to be able to easily acquire, analyse and act on Big Data insights at the speed of business. With the ever expanding footprint of unstructured data, the conventional RDBMS (relational database management systems) cannot keep up at all.

To keep pace with business, Big Data architectures need to deliver instant results from infinite storage that requires a truly in-memory platform like SAP HANA connected to massively scalable data storage like Hadoop.

How is enterprise software – and the accompanying hardware – being changed to handle that volume of data that you are going to get?

Today, it’s easy to have storage and reporting capabilities. The challenge many businesses face today is that their applications don’t have built in predictive analytics capabilities.

So it’s important that these predictive analytics capabilities are part of applications at the platform level, in order to identify patterns and let companies capitalise on opportunities. Without it, they will keep playing catch up, trying to unlock the insights in their data.

This is why SAP is offering our market-leading ERP applications on SAP HANA, our in-memory computing platform. SAP Business Suite powered by SAP HANA is a comprehensive suite of real-time applications on a single in-memory platform, designed for real-time business.

The merging of transactional (OLTP) and analytical (OLAP) processes on one platform offers a new dimension to run core business processes in real-time and to enrich those with innovations. Organizations gain real-time insight and analysis of their business operations based on large volumes of transactional data coming from any source across the organisation – and they get it in a single platform on which their other apps run. Our customers see this as a key differentiator.

On the hardware front, businesses will face the space challenge – innovative storage solutions with low maintenance costs and high performance capabilities will be key in solving this.

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