"HANA could replace relational databases": Q&A with Steve Winter, SAP UK&I MD

Business Intelligence

by Steve Evans| 21 November 2011

CBR sits down with SAP UK & Ireland's new MD to talk about the three big trends - in-memory computing, cloud and mobility, as well as the company's plans for growth here in the UK

You took over your role in September this year. How have the first couple of months gone?
It's going very well. I came in at a great time; there's a huge amount of momentum here at the moment. We ended up finishing with our best third quarter ever in the history of the UK and our eighth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth.

We've been working on guidance for what we think we need to look like for 2012.

So what does 2012 look like?
A lot like 2011 - just more of it! UK&I has started to move through a multi-year transformation, much like I led in the US over the last two or three years. It's a transformation around more specialisation, more focus on business intelligence, in-memory, on-demand and line of business - selling to a different type of executive, not just the CIO. I think that's key to our success.

That's interesting about selling to a different sort of exec - who are you selling to now?
A little bit of everybody, but a lot of the focus is on line of business, specifically the offices of the CFO, CMO, HR, procurement, sustainability, just about anyone in the business that is taking control of solving their own problems and being part of the technology selection process.

We've found some pretty competitive environments and a lot of niche providers so we need to get out beyond the office of the CIO, where we've traditionally had a strong relationship, and build relationships across the business.

What have you noticed is the main difference between here and the US? [Winter's previous role was COO for SAP North America].
The main difference has been the investment model, and the transformation project I mentioned earlier. The US started this transformation earlier and took the risk a little sooner. At a time when the economy was still in a recession we decided we were going to invest because we felt our buyers' buying pattern had changed forever. People really were looking for projects that would be easier to consume, shorter time to value, more benefit and totally focused on total cost of ownership.

Aren't you worried about the ability to invest, with the economy in Europe in that state that it is?
I would say we're cautiously optimistic, even though there is concern over the economy, particularly in the Eurozone. In the recession back in 2008, it came to a halt, companies just stopped doing everything. Companies cut back on things like expenses but perhaps didn't realise they could drive growth and shareholder value by investing in innovation.

We've made some big bets in some areas of innovation that will help companies grow, areas like HANA, which we think is a game changer, and mobility.

So even though the economy is concerning right now because we don't really know what's going to happen, I think we're in a good position because companies still have to invest in technology.

But even something like HANA? It's not exactly a cheap investment. If spending slows that's the sort of thing companies will not invest in.
It depends on the ROI. If you look at what they're spending today on their data warehouse strategies... if you can take ten or 15 instances and consolidate that down to two or three via HANA that'll pay for itself. More important is being able to crunch data in seconds and make business decisions that could have an immediate impact at the company.

So how has adoption of HANA been in the UK?
We're running several pilot projects right now and all the success stories you've heard [at the SAP TechEd/Sapphire Now conference in Madrid] are being echoed in the UK. Again, we started slow on HANA but a couple of the bigger pilots are Centrica and a large oil and gas company and a couple of very large public sector companies we cannot mention.

It's starting to catch fire and we're seeing pretty good pipeline build and volume. We're excited about it.

Mobility is the same thing - a little slow at getting to market but in the last six months we've started to accelerate and you'll see some good stuff during the fourth quarter.

So in terms of those pilots you mentioned, are any actually full customers?
A couple have purchased HANA, yes.

Can you describe some use-cases for those HANA pilots?
Centrica's use is all around smart metering. They're aggregating about one billion different reads of data from 30,000 customers and are getting nano-second response time for things that help them better direct product and marketing.

The oil and gas company is using it to aggregate some of the very large data warehouses they have and putting them into a HANA environment so they can get results in seconds rather than hours.

So why is in-memory computing kicking off now?
I think the technology is ready; it's mature and it's brand new, disruptive technology. It's so exciting to think about the power of what you can do to disrupt the bottom half of the stack. If you think about it, HANA could replace relational databases in their normal state today. If you think about the TCO of that - licenses, disks, other hardware - the savings are significant.

My challenge is having enough resources to get out there and talk to enough people.

When you say resources, do you mean simply getting people out there to sell it?
Yep. We're looking for a 10-15% increase in employees in the UK, which I think will be really good for the economy here.

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