By Special Contributor Jon Reed
ASUG chapter meetings are not typically the subject of extensive media coverage. Understandably so, given ASUG’s desire to promote an open dialogue among its members. But as an ASUG member and a purveyor of media—albeit in an outlier sort of way—I have always wanted to crash a local ASUG event. I got my chance while on the road in Atlanta. ASUG gave me clearance to attend the chapter meeting that took place at Newell Rubbermaid on Feb. 24, 2012.
A total of 450 members attended the meeting, which was more than enough to afford multiple topic tracks. There seemed to be momentum around the BI/BusinessObjects track, so I spent much of my time in those sessions, listening to customers share challenges with BI 4.0 integration and Flash-on-Dashboard concerns. I also looked in on the HANA track to see how SAP was marketing—err, I mean presenting—HANA to SAP customers.
Here are my top three takeaways from the event:
1. SAP presents HANA differently in smaller customer settings. Being a veteran of splashy HANA keynotes, I was astonished to see SAP share a slide indicating there were 19 HANA customers live in production (18 not counting SAP IT). You won’t see that slide on the Sapphire Now stage in Orlando this coming May. I was also surprised (and pleased) to see a slide that indicated the scenarios HANA was NOT a good fit for (mostly cautioning about using HANA as part of complex data transformation projects). To get a grip on what HANA is, it’s essential to know what it isn’t. I didn’t hear the same buzzwordy “game changing” rhetoric either. Instead, the HANA presentations centered on practical use cases such as agile data marts.
Instead of dreamy talk about HANA on OLTP, there was a focus on the OLAP apps that can run on HANA now, in particular BI 4.0, Analysis for Office and Excel. Aside: Wondering if I’m off base thinking SAP should try out this more practical HANA tone with larger audiences. Granted, it would ruin buzzword bingo ***. I should add that the HANA track took place in the largest venue, the Newell Rubbermaid auditorium, and the HANA sessions I looked in on were well attended by SAP customers.
SAP has previously announced plans to run ECC (the ERP core) on HANA by the end of 2012. At this event, SAP did state that the ultimate goal is to run the entire Business Suite on HANA. SAP also stated that BPC on HANA, one of the most hotly anticipated HANA-powered apps, is targeted for Q2 2012. One BPC expert I spoke with since then questioned whether that timeframe is doable, so that could be a big topic at ASUG Annual Conference-Sapphire Now Orlando. (Note: As I publish this, I’m working to get confirmation on the timeframes of the Business Suite on HANA and permission to share the slide listing HANA live production customers.)
2. The Flash-on-Dashboards dilemma is not just a creation of drama-seeking analysts. It’s also a major issue for SAP and BusinessObjects customers. During a packed “Ask the Experts” BI customer lunch, the BI experts in the room—including Ryan Goodman, Mico Yuk and Don Loden—were peppered with questions about Dashboard options for iPads. The discussion was productive, with the answer being that there is no “one size fits all” answer at this time. Depending on the use case, current options could include BusinessObjects Explorer Views (coming soon with BI 4.0 Feature Pack 3), Roambi, Webi or Flash-on-Dashboard simulators like Antivia.
In the not-too-distant future, HTML5 and Android tablets may present other Dashboard alternatives for customers (Oliver Bussmann, aka @sapcio, recently shared his views on Androids making enterprise tablet inroads). Finally, SAP’s Right Hemisphere acquisition (3-D visualization software acquired in September 2011) may bear watching here. I shot an 18-minute video wrap with Mico Yuk and Ryan Goodman that covered the Flash issue as well as several other hot topics:
2:25 What are the customer challenges around BI?
6:35 Hashing the Flash-mobility issue
11:50 Examples of real-world BI innovations
15:10 Real-time analytics—more than HANA marketing hype?
As I said in the video, while SAP does not have any easy answers to the Flash on iPads conundrum, these dilemmas show how quickly demand is shifting towards mobile BI. Just about everyone is playing catch-up.
3. If we’re assuming customers are happily chugging away on BI 4.0, we’re wrong. Plenty of customers are still kicking tires on 4.0 or otherwise preoccupied. During the BI lunch, one customer shared his Deski frustrations and how he’s seeking the best solution to SAP’s “Deski sunset” roadmap. On the other end of the spectrum, a major BI 4.0 customer warned of the ongoing challenges integrating BEx queries with BI 4.0 via BICS. (After the session, ASUG Volunteer and SAP Mentor Tammy Powlas tweeted that there is an ASUG Influence Council working to address BICS-BI 4.0 integration issues.)
Some other quick-hit thoughts:
HANA trivia of the day: SAP mentioned during a presso that HANA wasn’t programmed in ABAP. That made me curious about the origins of HANA from a development language standpoint. The Enterprise Geeks’ Thomas Jung (who now works with SAP’s internal HANA product management team) had coincidentally just posted a blog post on HANA development, so I hijacked the comment thread to ask him. He had a great answer, and here’s a brief excerpt:
“Short Answer: mostly C/C++. Long Answer: When you get deep down, even ABAP isn’t written in ABAP. The virtual machine, memory management, database interaction layer – all the really deep stuff is implemented as platform specific binaries, which we call the Kernel. This layer is all implemented using C/C++. Likewise, most of the core code in HANA is also implemented in C/C++…”
Laugh of the day: During his afternoon BI keynote, to underscore the impact of intuitive UIs, Goodman referred to a four-year-old boy who was wreaking havoc during a recent social gathering. Goodman put him in front of an iPad; within minutes, he was Angry Birding away. Several hours later, he was still Angry Birding. His parents bought him an iPad the next day.Ugh of the day: SAP referring offhandedly to the easy availability of presentation slides that have now proven difficult to obtain after the event. At least for members’ own review, obtaining presentation slides should not be an epic quest.
Biggest takeway: There is a reason why social media gurus gush over the wonders of “peer-to-peer conversations.” Customers openly sharing business problems (and solutions) justified the day’s attendance, helping me to see why so many take time away from the corporate steering wheel for these sessions. These candid moments are much easier to foster in person than in an online forum. We can all see (and dread) that story’s lesson: No end to frequent flyer miles anytime soon.
Jon Reed is an independent analyst, Enterprise Irregular and SAP Mentor. He is the driving force behind JonERP.com and the co-founder of the video commentary site JD-OD.com.