Enterprise software giant SAP has embraced the iPad as a business tool, dumped an entire CRM database in-memory and tracked carbon emissions down to the molecule to explore cutting-edge technologies to make its organization more effective. I had the chance recently to speak with SAP CIO Oliver Bussman about how the German software giant boosts productivity and plays guinea pig for its product-development teams. It was fascinating to hear how a company that deals in analytics and mobile-device management software approaches these issues within its own walls.
On the iPad
Bussman says SAP has really embraced the iPad, based in large part on the realization that employees are increasingly expecting their work-IT experiences to resemble their consumer-IT experiences. In a nutshell, “lifestyle is becoming workstyle.” SAP was ready to begin integrating iPads into the corporate IT environment by May, and presently has deployed more than a thousand iPads company-wide; it continues to add between 300 and 500 of the devices per month. From what Bussman has seen, that puts SAP behind only Medtronics, with 4,500 devices, in terms of internal iPad deployment.
How the iPad is being used is more important than the number. On a personal level, Bussman said, “[The iPad] has changed the way I operate on a day-to-day basis.” He can access statistics, news, social media and more from a single platform, and can share and interact with the information just as easily. Furthermore, he noted, he can walk between buildings and into meetings without worrying whether he has the information he needs, because it’s all at his fingertips. This is the kind of work people don’t want to do on their laptops because it’s just too cumbersome, both physically and in terms of process. This ease-of-use makes it “perfect” for executives, but Bussman says iPads are popular across the company.
SAP’s Sybase acquisition has only helped facilitate the mobile revolution within SAP. Sybase software connects backend systems and mobile devices and has centralized information so it can be accessed by any supported device. That’s not just iPads. Bussman specifically noted efforts to integrate the Samsung Galaxy smartphone, and he expects BlackBerry Playbook support by January.
“Being part of a high-tech company,” he explained, “the expectations are always ‘try to figure out the best way to integrate and make it secure and do it fast,’ and that’s what we did in the last few months.”
In October, SAP announced its High-Performance Analytics Appliance (HANA), which stores data in-memory to enable real-time analytics. As of July, Bussman’s team was already incorporating it in-house. In about two months, it had moved SAP’s entire global CRM database –- composed of 650,000 opportunities, 12 million records and 700 million change logs –- into a compressed 2TB in-memory data store. Thanks to HANA’s high-speed processing capabilities, as well as the capability of Sybase software to report data changes as they happen, employees can see how the business is moving as it’s moving, and run an analysis on the spot. In the past, processing changes to data might have taken a few hours.
The iPad comes into play here, too. Thanks to BI apps for the iPad, Bussman explained, employees can “slice and dice” the latest information wherever they are. This is especially critical around the end of the quarter, when salespeople need to figure out the best prospects at any given time and focus their attention accordingly.
On Green IT
A lot of companies want to be green, Bussman said, but they lack a “clear, objective direction.” SAP, it appears, doesn’t share that problem. According to Bussman, the corporate goal is to be at the same emission level in 2020 that it was at in 2000, and SAP has incorporated a process to make that happen. The mandate came from above, a vast monitoring system was put in place, and the company acts on the data. SAP uses its own Carbon Impact software to measure everything, Bussman said –- data centers, facilities, company cars, you name it –- and presents it all internally via dashboards and reports.
At the data center level, SAP is heavy into virtualization and data center design. Bussman said it has undertaken a vast virtualization effort on its existing server farm, and virtualizes 85 percent of new servers. Its data centers are certified as energy-efficient, as well. The company also utilizes cloud computing to further cut emissions from IT processes, as well as for flexibility.
What It All Means
In the end, the most important result of this internal experimentation is its materialization in product form. Transitions from internal tools to product aren’t uncommon in the IT space; some cases, like the creation of Amazon EC2, these transitions have taken on legendary status. If SAP can turn its internal fusion of analytics and iPads into something for masses, Bussman’s efforts will really be worth it.
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