December 9, 2012 6:20 pm

SAP eyes Hana for big data breakthrough

Hasso Plattner, co-founder and chairman of SAP, the world’s biggest business software maker by sales, believes complex business analysis that today takes up to 12 hours will soon run in an instant.

“That sounds ridiculous, but it’s technically possible,” the 68-year-old tells the Financial Times in a rare interview. “Basically, for a human eye, or for a human reaction, this is real time.”

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Mr Plattner’s insight – that the next big breakthrough will come when companies could process data in real time – led him on a path to reinvent the 40-year-old German software company.

The database tool that resulted is called Hana – “Hasso’s New Architecture”, built partly by a team of student recruits.

Vishal Sikka, SAP board member for technology and innovations now in charge of Hana, recalls how, on a winter’s night in early 2009, he and Mr Plattner discussed their fears that innovation ability at the company, which employs more than 55,000 people, was stalling.

“It was an unforgettable night,” says Mr Sikka. “He was pounding his hands on the table. He challenged me to lead the intellectual renewal of SAP.

“It became clear that this had to be done through a product that was so awesome in its market success and technical capability and the value it delivers to customers that not only becomes a force for new growth but it galvanises everything.”

Critics initially dismissed Hana as hype and Larry Ellison, chief executive of rival Oracle, called the database technology “wacko”.

But SAP is answering its critics and surpassed Siemens and Volkswagen this year as Germany’s largest company by market capitalisation amid excitement about the technology and following 11 consecutive quarters of double-digit software revenue growth.

Hana was only made generally available in June 2011 and it remains a fraction of SAP’s total 2011 revenues of €14.2bn. Still, sales of Hana are on track to reach a target of at least €320m in 2012, the fastest product growth in SAP’s history.

SAP claims its customers are finding a range of uses for the technology from real-time analysis of the human genome in cancer treatment, to the mapping of stars in the sky and the monitoring of changing customer sentiment on social media.

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