Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Placing the customer at the heart of it, a 360 view, customer centricity, etc. The list of clichés are endless but I wanted to share with you a relatively recent innovation from SAP; Customer Activity Repository (CAR). This also makes the claim of customer orientation but having been acquainted to it, I think there is merit to its claims and in particular, retailers could leverage tremendous value from its capabilities.

 

If you are a retailer that has a multi-channel presence, relatively large transactional throughput and currently use SAP Applications, this is certainly one for you.

 

One of the common challenges experienced by retailers tends to be the isolated view of their sales channels and the inability to view customer sales across the multiple channels that they operate within. CAR has been designed to address this along with unleashing a raft of capability which will substantially improve the effectiveness of retail execution. The solution principally caters for Sales and Inventory data and both are loaded from SAP Retail on a real time basis. CAR is a series of data models and Virtual Data Models (VDM) that can be deployed to SAP HANA. More on the technical elements shortly. Once deployed and configured, the business has access to a series of engaging and valuable outputs. This includes a Dashboard providing access to all pertinent metrics along with a range of SAP BusinessObjects content purposely designed to provide engaging sales and stock information to aid retailers. As an example this includes real time alerts based on Shelf Availability; this is based on advanced algorithms which can track sales frequency along with inventory volumes and alert users of lines that may be in stock but not on the shelf. Similarly, Demand Forecasting is calculated through leveraging the HANA predictive engines and based on the sales and inventory data it is able to harvest.

 

If any of you are familiar with the RDS for Shopper Insight, think of this as the evolved and much-embellished version of that. It consumes POS data but also, eradicates the dependency on NetWeaver BW and is capable of running POSDM as part of the CAR framework.

 

Technically, this is a native SAP HANA application which can be deployed in a number of scenarios: on-premise, side-car, integrated and with Suite on HANA and finally Cloud. I think that covers everything but please get in touch if you are not represented by any of these install choice and we can discuss further.

 

In summary, an exciting solution which ships as an RDS and can be instantly deployed to deliver tremendous value to a retailer in a very short deployment time scale. It’s underpinning by SAP HANA ensures optimal performance and flexibility when it comes to enhancing the content to meet your specific requirements.

 

Day two wasn’t as epic as yesterday in terms of elapsed duration but closely contested the intensity from yesterday. We seem to have lost the sunshine all together which should make for a useful transition back to the UK tomorrow.

Today was structured very differently to yesterday as the keynote was followed by three distinct streams: Innovate, Sell and Implement. With the Real Time Data Platform RTDP featuring in the Implement stream, it was an easy decision to start there and then work my way back to the Sell stream where we covered sales enablement and USP’s. I favoured the analogy from this morning, suggesting that the buffet was laid yesterday and today was a case of working our way through it; In which case I surely opted for the meat and potatoes J

 

To be honest I was slightly underwhelmed by the session on RTDP since I was expecting something more evolved than the usual jigsaw slide as presented on PowerPoint. I was hoping for substance around what this actually means in practice and how customers can realise value through deploying SAP HANA and Sybase IQ as part of the RTDP to satisfy analytical workloads. Whilst the merits of Sybase IQ and SAP HANA are clearly understood when considered in isolation, I wanted additional clarity on how they can cohesively operate as a single unified platform. Perhaps my expectations were somewhat inflated as after all this wasn’t TechEd…

 

If nothing else, the session from this afternoon has prompted me to conduct additional research and start to form clarity over what the complement of SAP HANA and Sybase IQ have to offer a customer seeking an Analytical solution. Broadly, there are two scenarios that I was interested in, BW on HANA and HANA for agile data marts. In both of these situations, I was interested to understand how Sybase IQ can interoperate in the respective system architectures.

 

Let’s address BW on HANA first as this has a simple answer. BW on HANA now supports Sybase IQ as a Near Line Storage NLS platform. This allows effective management of data ageing and the most common scenario we encounter is the need to transfer “old” (warm, cool, etc.) data to IQ and persist current (hot, boiling!) data in SAP HANA where it is certain to provide the most optimal performance. Partitioning the data in such a horizontal fashion is also known as the data temperature gauge. SAP BW as the Enterprise Data Warehouse EDW Application takes care of this and and acts as the central query orchestration layer which seamlessly fetches data from the appropriate cache in response to a BEx query which may ultimately have been instigated by running a SAP BusinessObjects BOBJ report leveraging the BICS interface. So, in summary we could have a single parameterised report which can be run across time and the SAP BW system would intelligently assemble the resultset by coordinating data from across the two caches. Simple.

 

Since NLS is not currently natively supported by HANA, trying to achieve a similar result without SAP BW could prove to be a challenging undertaking and here are some considerations for anyone planning to embark on this journey:

  • Smart Data Access – This functionality can be used to create Virtual Tables which are defined to point to Sybase IQ Tables residing on a remote server. These Virtual Tables do not appear to be supported by the Information Models and therefore prevent their incorporation in a Universe built over an Information Model.
  • Universe – A relational Universe can be built across SAP HANA Tables and my expectations are that this would support the Virtual Tables described above. Alternatively, we can leverage the multi-source Universe capability of BOBJ to converge these. However, his presents a further quandary around how these Tables can/cannot be joined given their typically horizontal partition…
  • Information Model – Further investigation is required into whether it is possible to incorporate the physical HANA Tables and Virtual Tables into custom Calculation Views using SQLScript code.
  • Sybase Replication Server – This can be used to replicate data across the HANA and Sybase IQ databases
  • Data Services – Similar to the above but this would also be required to purge data as the window for “old” and “new” data changes over time

 

A few steps you may be thinking…the good news however, in response to my question earlier today, the friendly SAP rep suggested that NLS with Native HANA is not supported “yet”. This was followed by a wry smile and the suggestion that SPS 7 is due next month. I will leave you to form your own conclusions from this.

 

The inevitable challenge I foresee with either of these approaches (BW on HANA or HANA for agile marts) is the inherent dependency on a Calculation View to serve BOBJ Explorer. This architectural constraint appears to inhibit us from exploiting the true potential of the RTDP unless we can find a way to incorporate Virtual Tables as part of the SQLScript extensions. The same considerations also apply to the other BOBJ clients that do not support the BICS interface.

 

Ultimately, not all data has the same value and therefore the flexibility and economics of being able to determine an appropriate target store can be extremely valuable. The learning from this afternoon followed by a further investigation is starting to lead me to the conclusion that SAP BW should be your default choice when considering Sybase IQ as an NLS platform. SAP BW has been enhanced to seamlessly and intelligently orchestrate queries which span the two data caches and more effectively handle the data ageing challenge I set out to answer.

 

Finally, thanks to SAP for organising a great event and farewell to everyone I met over the last two days. Wishing you all safe onwards travels.

Having weathered the storm on the way out of the UK and everything that came with it (the treacherous journey to Heathrow and a delayed flight), we arrived to glorious sunshine in Barcelona. Ironic hey!

Proceedings got underway nice and early (not so bright and early today as it had clouded over) this morning with several keynote speeches from the SAP team, namely Chano Fernandez and Steve Birdsall. This was followed by a thought provoking session by Donald Feinberg, a Gartner Analyst. Irfan Khan delivered a captivating session immediately after lunch followed by an equally enthralling session by Snehanshu Shah (Will be watching out for those vending machines to hit the UK!). Various panel discussions and a plug from HP then took us to stumps. A satisfying days play and further action to follow tomorrow, to continue with the metaphor.

Now to some of the highlights….

There was a restatement from SAP on the significance of the D&T portfolio and aspirations for its growth; double digit growth was a commonly cited goal although the various speakers were at pains to point out that this did not constitute a financial commitment; I didn’t want to misrepresent this point in any way J. I also noted the noble mission statement to “leave no product behind”. I think that’s a very powerful message and is borne out in the manifestation of the SAP HANA Data Platform aka SAP Real Time Data Platform. There is incredible value to be gained from the augmentation of these different technologies and unless we understand their respective roles and importantly their collective synergy, we stand to short change ourselves and the customer. This also relates very closely to the Nexus of Forces but more on that shortly….

 

Donald presented a number of incredibly powerful concepts which really resonated with me. Let me share some of these with you along with my supplementary thoughts.

  • Best practice or ex practice – the example provided related to tapes but one that is closer to me is the Data Warehouse. In my opinion we too readily accept Dimensional Modelling, Denormalisation, Staging, etc. as irrefutable best practices. The best practices must be challenged and are being challenged by the advent of in-memory computing and we should be open to re-establishing the best practices suited to the modern era and specifically to address the business models and technological environment that we are experiencing before us. It’s no longer necessary to be so prescriptive and beholden to principles such as storage of data for analysis, the requirement to store everything that is required for reporting in a single database and denormalisation of all this data. Whilst the DW concept remains applicable, it’s implementation has profoundly changed.
  • Business Orchestration Model – related to the above point, it’s simply impractical to store data of all size and format into a single database, despite the supremacy of the SAP HANA Data Platform. We may have petabytes of unstructured data, social media data, web logs and other streaming data that is required to support decision making but this doesn’t and cannot translate to the need to store every byte of this data in a purpose-built Data Warehouse. Instead we should be considering seamless Business Orchestration Models which allow users to answer these questions and have the SAP HANA Data Platform determine the appropriate source for this data. SAP HANA SPS 6 introduced the Smart Data Access functionality that allows us to link back to a number of these data sources and retrieve data for localised processing, e.g. Hadoop.
  • Nexus of Forces – a concept that really came to life for me through the vivid illustrations provided this afternoon. This refers to the four interdependent trends: social, mobility, cloud and information. Each are compelling in their own right but the key is to drive synergy through the collective application and adoption of these. This reminded me of the incredible outcomes we were able to deliver for a recent customer through providing sales information via mobile devices but then also the ability to socialise this and share with other parties through the cloud infrastructure. This streamlined decision making and pushed it right to the customer touchpoint where it mattered and then provided a feedback loop to collaborate internally and externally using different permutations of this information.
  • Performance – old hat with HANA you may think….the point this afternoon related to how we can now run incredibly powerful predictive algorithms in SAP HANA through leveraging the PAL functionality and as a consequence, allow businesses to make effective decisions before the actual events have unfolded. This can easily be taken for granted and we should remember that such onerous computational activity previously lagged behind the actual events and was merely of interest. We are now equipped with this information to influence and shape the future; The WHO proactive polling of disease profiles gauged through social media was a poignant example.
  • Total Cost of Ownership is very different to Total Cost of Acquisition – Whilst both are important, it’s equally important to not confuse one with the other. I would also add to this that there has been a number of studies conducted into the price comparison between disk and RAM and whilst the perception is that RAM is a lot more expensive than disk, when you compare the two on the basis of performance per second, the RAM is a far economical choice.

 

When you’re at a showcase event laid by SAP, you are certain to increment your tally of acronyms and HTAP was the order of the day. Hybrid Transactional Analytical Processing is the new term coined to describe the convergence of OLTP and OLAP workloads. The ability to run applications and analytics in a single environment, along with the unprecedented improvements in performance and everything else that comes with the SAP HANA Data Platform for me is why HANA reigns as a database platform. This has profound implications across many fronts: technical, management, economics, latency and user experiences to name a few. Most recognisably for most businesses, this spells an end to batch processing and eradicates much of the “best practices” we are currently beholden to in the domain of Data Warehousing.

 

In summary, a long but interesting day. Thanks to everyone who presented today. I hope that this has been a useful recap for those who attended and for those who didn’t attend, a reason to watch out for my write-up tomorrow. Same time, same place….adios.

I stopped over at one of the prominent SAP HANA stands before making my way for what continues to be fine (and often over-indulgent!) lunch at SAP SAPPHIRE and had a very interesting discussion and demonstration from the equally helpful guys on the stand. I wanted to share with you the extent of support you can expect from SPS5 around unstructured data and how I envisage this helping businesses.

As discussed in my previous blog SPS5 brings with it a spectacular array of capabilities which will help businesses solve their data challenges. Having worked in Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence for many years, the perennial problem continuing to spook businesses is the growing volumes of unstructured data. A simple search on your preferred search engine will provide a measure of this. Here is the first result I fetched during my search:

  • 80 percent of business is conducted on unstructured information
  • 85 percent of all data stored is held in an unstructured format
  • Unstructured data doubles every three months
  • 7 million web pages are added every day

We often talk about unlocking value from data and delivering information in the hands of the business users but the reality is that this has overwhelmingly focussed on the structured data deposits and in the shadows of this success looms an untapped source of value and competitiveness locked away in the unstructured counterparts. Of course we have made strides through the use of API interfaces with social media networks, text processing capabilities during the Extract Transform and Load (ETL) operations and working with partners such as Netbase in the Social Intelligence space but we have been stretched when trying to match the sophisticated analytical capabilities we enjoy over structured data when it comes to addressing unstructured data.

So what’s changed I hear you asking? I have already mentioned the embedment of the Text Analysis processing in the SAP HANA platform, along with the announcement of Extended Services (XS). You may already be aware that we have Binary Large Object (BLOB) support in the platform. When these capabilities are considered collectively, we have everything to solve our perennial challenge except a suitable business interface allowing the most important part of the process to take place, an actionable insight. Well, we have it now!

SPS5 will ship with what has been described as a HTML5 “Framework” based upon the new XS engine in SAP HANA which can quickly be adapted to provide a web based user interface which allows a user to enter a search term and as the search term is being populated, suggestions are continuously provided to the user based upon the data that resides in SAP HANA; much like the bing or Google search functionality. The search terms entered by a user or provided as suggestions whilst the user is populating the search fields emanate from the SAP HANA contents but this is where the sophistication of the BLOB support and Text Processing must be considered. The collective power of these components allow the SAP HANA engine to present nouns, be that names of places, people, job titles, etc. along with the text contents of a document, be that a Microsoft Word document, PDF, etc. The contents of such documents are included in a Full Text index which resides in memory. Therefore, this very simple but exceptionally powerful search capability allows a business user to search through both structured and unstructured data stored in SAP HANA through an interface which is akin to any familiar web based search engine. As a result of the user defined search, the results are returned along with corresponding analytical facets which are customisable and resemble the type of visualisation one would experience in SAP BusinessObjects Explorer. The user can then select the appropriate search result and drill into the detail and as part of this, fetch out and open any corresponding documents. The associative capabilities built into this framework also allow a user to view similar search results again akin to the type of experience one would expect in a conventional search engine.

Potential use cases may include the need to simply and seamlessly search across both structured and unstructured data to identify information relating to a given term but also extends through to sophisticated brand management which may require detailed analysis of social media expressions, documents and patterns and contexts pertaining to the various pieces of text. I am interested to learn about the evolution and maturity of this application and specifically any potential integration of with the rest of the SAP BusinessObjects suite but a great illustration of how SPS5 will come together to solve real business challenges nonetheless.

For the techies amongst us, this is currently designed to interface with an SAP HANA Attribute View but I expect that this will evolve to include Analytic Views, allowing the search criteria and results to correspond to measures. The measures are currently limited to the instance count of a given attribute based on the search definition.

SAP HANA continues to be an unescapable phenomena at SAP SAPPHIRE where speakers, booths, advertising and coffee-machine conversations are all reminding us of the central prominence this now has within SAP and in turn for our customers. I have spent much of my time at the conference talking to representatives from SAP about the technology and the plans for its evolution. I am excited to share the highlights with you.

Firstly, the next major release will be SP5 and is scheduled for general availability towards the end of this year. In parallel to the rampant development of the on-premise edition, we now also have SAP HANA in the Cloud edition. This is available through Amazon Web services and is a real breakthrough in providing an on demand, elastic solution which is both instantly and economically available to customers for fully-fledged production usage. The latter is a key point and not be confused with its predecessor which was limited to development workloads. It has some limitations amongst which is the size limit of 62GB but a compelling proposition nonetheless. Expect further announcements around virtualisaton of SAP HANA in the coming weeks.

Returning to SP5, we can expect a number of enhancements as part of this and the following sections will provide an appreciation of this along with my thoughts.

OData will become a supported protocol, making it easier to consume data in clients such as Microsoft Office. This is a significant development and extends the reach of SAP HANA into the enterprise and in particular allows PowerPivot developers to seamlessly consume data through this interface in much the way that they can currently with other data sources. Given the prolific use of Microsoft Office within businesses, this will help deliver pervasive information experiences and help increase the SAP footprint in what may traditionally have been Microsoft oriented IT landscapes. Similarly, we are also seeing a trend towards BI as a service and this is prevalent in industries where customers want to share information with their customers, usually in B2B scenarios and the recipient would like this information in the form of a data feed which they can then incorporate within their Data Warehouse implementations. The publication of this data as a web service would make this an effortless task.

There has been further simplification through merging the existing Business Function Language BFL and Predictive Analytics Library PAL into one single, Application Function Language AFL. Yet another TLA to remember unfortunately, but hopefully allows us to forget the other two. I hope to have access to the SP5 build very soon and will examine if this has introduced any additional capability.

There was also a mention of Text Analysis in this next release and this was being discussed synonymously with the current functionality available in Data Services 4.0. I am making a slight leap here but SP5 appears to make this available within the database engine and therefore significantly ramping up the support for unstructured data; be it the identification of entities in respect to whether they are names of individuals, places, products through to analysing the sentiments being expressed. This would be much welcomed and open up enormous possibilities in wading through valuable stores of unstructured data and have this happening directly inside the database engine and without incurring data latency as would currently be the case through using the Text Analysis Transform in Data Services. Unstructured data in both on-premise and off-premise formats represents huge opportunity for businesses and is often neglected due to technical constraints that have plighted businesses to date. This opens up incredible possibilities to respond to social media expressions and manage your brand and loyalty in a way that has never been possible. Increasingly, unstructured data is being monitored and analysed alongside structured and quantitative data to provide a consistent interpretation and appropriately contextualised information.

Multiple instances on a single appliance will be supported in the case of non-productive environments. This simplifies the creation of Development and Test environments. SAP HANA One is also a candidate for consideration here. The provisioning of this has been simplified through the use of configuration wizards. This provides much needed clarity and allows customers to effectively and more economically maintain discipline around Development, QA and Production practices. I expect further developments in this area through support of virtualisation.

The Backup functionality is currently handled from the Studio Client. This will be extended through integration with third party tools. This is yet another stride to ensure that SAP HANA is truly enterprise-ready as it removes any hurdles with complying with backup and recovery procedures and it can now seamlessly fit in with the wider IT strategy. On a similar note, the integration with SAP Solution Manager has been enhanced by removing the need to connect the SAP HANA system to the internet to download and apply updates. You can now maintain the SAP HANA system through SAP Solution Manager. On the subject of maintenance and recoverability, SP5 introduces the concept of Warm standby which enhances the current disk-level replication capability. The new replication functionality will take place at the SAP HANA Data Store level resulting in data being committed to memory and hence reducing the recovery time in the event of failure.

Event Stream Processing ESP which allows the monitoring and capturing of Complex Events has been more closely integrated with SAP HANA, with this now being a supported destination. ESP is typically used in situations where we encounter a data source which is highly transactional and frequent in nature and examples of this include sensors, machine outputs, etc. The supplication of SAP HANA will result in dramatic reduction in latency, be that latency in the form of data, analysis or action. Users will have instantaneous access to granular data collated through the ESP network and the ability to analyse this through familiar and consistent formats via the SAP BusinessObjects suite.

Other improvements include usability improvements to SLT and a rearrangement of the SAP HANA Studio. The client tool has been redesigned to simplify the creation of Attribute and Analytic Views through merging this process and also introduce features such as code debugging and intelli-sense to help developers build scripts. This provides a mature development environment which users have come to expect and removes the need for the multiple steps currently required for debugging and setting traces…phew!

Lastly and possibly most significantly, the next release boasts of a new capability knows as Extended Services XS. This provides web serving capabilities built within SAP HANA which again simplifies application architectures. The current Information Composer will be amongst the first SAP applications to leverage this in what will be a HTML5 application supporting text search and an improved set of visualisations. SAP HANA continues to evolve into a comprehensive Platform which goes well beyond “just being a faster database”. Increasingly SAP HANA is delegating processing from what would traditionally have taken place in the application tier to the database tier and this is another example of this. I intend to provide additional detail on this in the coming weeks.

At risk of squeezing the next one in, Geospatial support will also be introduced in the next release. I haven’t been able to ascertain the extent of this but expect this to provide geocode support and query functions such as Points, Lines, Polygons and Buffers. Again, more on this as it becomes known.

Signing off to start learning about Mobile Business Objects in Sybase Unwired Platform…

SAP Executive Keynote

Following our arrival (itelligence UK and specifically Andy Steer, Andrew Fox, Stephen Jerram and Jon Ward at some point during the week) into Madrid and an extensive tour of the airport whilst making our way to the exit through what must be the largest terminal building I have ever experienced, I have this morning enjoyed a “fascinating” keynote delivery from the Co-CEO’s at SAP, Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe. More on the “fascination” shortly.

With just 20 minutes before my next session let me provide you with the key take-away’s and try to evolve this with some of my own humble experiences and knowledge through working with our customer base. Starting with the relevance first and especially after my bout with a kilo of Tuna last night for dinner, did you know that SAP’s customers are responsible for distributing more than 71% of the world’s food? They are. Perhaps I will revert to this or the similarly impressive stats for Health and Beauty when I am next asked about what I do for a living…

Bill started by reminding us of a very basic but fundamental business lesson he learnt whilst running his very first business as a Deli and this was to focus on the customer as without the customer there is no business. A stark reality but one many businesses have had to be reminded in less than favourable circumstances lately. It may seem abundantly clear and clichéd but I know from my own experiences that the temptation to fade this into the background can be very inviting when in the company of IT departments and blinkered by a fixation on internal processes and procedures. Of course these can ultimately bring about the improvements required in order to recognise the importance of the customer but cannot achieve this in isolation. Bill went further by asking himself the question on whether the existence of his business mattered; would customers feel any different if the business disappeared? Clearly a profound set of questions which bear out the essence of a given business. Design Thinking has also been touted as an approach to properly understand and delve deeper into organisational drivers and then embody these principles in any technological manifestations.

In response to describing the consumer of the current age, Bill vividly described a savvy consumer who demands a digital experience and went on to explain how this has necessitated an unparalleled focus on individual customers, the segment of one. We have seen in the UK much like many other markets, competition is increasing and consumer expectations continue to soar, this has led to commoditisation taking place at unprecedented rates and hence the need to continuously evolve, innovate and delight the consumer. Bill described how success is being achieved through moving away from individual products to experiences and as a result attaining greater levels of loyalty. To this point, we have noticed a real shift in customer sentiments where efficiency is being trumped by the need for effectiveness. Organisations are keen to innovate, grow and back this with technological investment. We continue to work with new and existing clients to help discover ways in which we can collectively bring about business transformation through the application of information. In practical terms this has meant equipping sales staff with mobile information allowing them to have more engaging and ultimately successful conversations with clients and in other instances allowing customers to share premium grade analysis with their customers in order to enhance their levels of service and attain greater levels of satisfaction and loyalty.

Unsurprisingly, adoption of mobile technology continues to soar with today’s illustration coming from Kenya where people are skipping meals in order to maintain the cost of their mobile devices. Not necessarily a practice I commend or recommend but certainly illustrates the pivotal role the technology is playing in our lives. On a more positive note, there was an example of how Mobile technology has allowed penetration of banking services into a huge dormant market in South Africa where previously consumers were reluctant to engage in banking services. The advent of mobility has made this easier and more enticing for this set of consumers.

The SAP 360 Customer program has been announced which I expect to gain further clarification on but appears to be the amalgamation of SAP CRM on HANA and the associated Mobile Apps to enable a real-time sales enterprise. The need to get closer to customers has been borne out of a recent survey which suggests that the average consumer is 40% more likely to make a purchasing decision if they have been conditioned through social media. This along with the paramount importance of customer experiences, makes this an interesting development and certainly one to explore further.

Amongst other announcements, Jim commissioned a new learning and development programme targeted at the unemployed youth to help them acquire new technical skills and it starts immediately and from Madrid. There was also a brief reminder of Ariba which has been unescapable walking around the show floor and an announcement relating to several RDS offerings which are now available. We can expect much tighter integration between SAP and Ariba to mutually benefit both customer bases over the coming months.

Finally, “fascination” was a euphemism for what many may substitute with an expletive of their choice. The suggestion from Jim was to look for opportunities in the face of adversity and it is the collective responsibility of business leadership to help the economic recovery we find ourselves entrapped within. Perhaps a fitting end to my piece given the protests planned for tomorrow.

 

Finally, pen to paper moment (metaphorically at least). Having worked in the Business Intelligence industry for a number of years and being privileged to engage with clients through the entire Software Development Lifecycle, spanning from envisioning and conceptualisation through to delivery and realisation of solutions which fundamentally redefine the relationship between business users and data, I have been increasingly intrigued by the advent of Big Data and Mobility.

Whilst there is ample material available to discuss each of these individually, I struggled to find something which seeks to understand the relationship between the two and specifically in Business Intelligence terms. If this wasn’t enough to reduce the search results returned from Bing, I also wanted a business perspective on this. After resorting to the remaining household brands in search engines I finally conceded and as is often the case with great inventions, set out to build my own J

With the above serving as a useful prelude of what is to follow and hopefully an appropriate qualification of the ensuing content, I would now like to switch the focus to the topic under consideration, convergence of Big Data and Mobility. Before we take the plunge and for avoidance of any doubt, on this instance I will not seek to digress into the technicalities associated with the implementation of such a solution. Instead I would like to draw on my experiences of talking to clients about business challenges and the associated solutions which are developed as far as the shine of the whiteboard and smell of ink, with steady streams of caffeine in between. I will look to expand this in to the technical realms and draw on my development experience in a separate piece.

So why write about Big Data and Mobility and not Politics and the Economy perhaps? My experience may be the delimiting factor of course and an attempt at the latter may stagnate with repeated mentions of the expression “it’s the economy, stupid!”. Given my experiences of working with clients and prospects, discussions evolving around Big Data and Mobility have been the natural evolution in many cases and an intriguing phenomena with others. As a broad observation, businesses are already attuned with insights from structured and what we tend to think of as conventional systems through common Business Intelligence architectures, often in the form of Data Warehouses and presentation layers supporting reporting and analytical capabilities but are either fending off the data challenges presented by Big Data and contending with the thrust of social and enterprise mobility.

Before we go any further, let’s define the terms Big Data and Mobility.

 

Big Data

A term which is often used with a multitude of different intentions and interpretations. System vendors are infamous for pedalling this in a way which is compatible with their software but my working definition of the term is that it is a relative state for individual organisations and is reached once the capacity of conventional systems has been exhausted by the demands placed upon it by the data. One could argue that, this would be the case with organisations that have very old hardware and simply require a refresh. This is not the situation I am eluding to and instead referring to the noticeable volume, variety and velocity manifestation of such data. In practical terms it often refers to unstructured data, social networking data, video and audio transcriptions and click stream logs amongst other similar data sources. When taken collectively, this presents this slightly amorphous state of Big Data.

Here is a formal definition provided by Gartner as available here

“Big Data is the term adopted by the market to describe extreme information management and processing issues which exceed the capability of traditional information technology along one or multiple dimensions to support the use of the information assets. Throughout 2010 and into 2011, big data has focused primarily on the volume issues of extremely large datasets generated from technology practices such as social media, operational technology, Internet logging and streaming sources. A wide array of hardware and software solutions have emerged to address the partial issue of volume. At this point, big data, or extreme information processing and management, is essentially a practice that presents new business opportunities.”

 

Mobility

Again, another nebulous term which is often referring to hardware, software, remote working and cloud services interchangeably. For the purpose of this blog, I shall be using this term to discuss the adoption of business applications deployed through mobile devices of varying form factors. The emphasis will be placed on the mobile nature of these applications and the purpose of these applications could be to support line of business activities such as order taking or analysis to support the search of products, reviewing account history, forensic pipeline management, etc.

 

 

Big Data, Mobility and the progressive enterprise; how it all comes together

A holistic appreciation of the convergence in Big Data and Mobility, requires us to take note of some fundamental changes taking places in the domain of technology, work, social collaboration and economics which has resulted in the redefinition of business models. I shall now turn to a brief discussion of these and their relevance to the topic at hand.

 

Economic pressures

With economic and competitive pressures blighting the fate of many businesses and causing grave concern for others, I sense a genuine desire on the part of businesses to work much closely with their customers. Examples from my personal life include the recent purchase of a new sofa suite where the salesman no longer disappeared into a back office to contend with a slow system whilst he locates the preferred suite and leaves me pondering over whether I should defer the purchase (post purchase dissonance syndrome as known in Marketing-speech), instead the salesman was armed with a tablet device which churned through thousands of combinations to provide us with suitable options whilst seated on our preferred sofa. We continued to make our selection and eventually completed the entire purchase process without moving from the comfort of this sofa and by which time I was convinced that it was even comfortable enough to endure my tenure through the long haul of a five day test match. Another example is car showrooms where again the sales teams are wanting to seize the moment when a customer is enticed by the right vehicle and drive the whole search, selection and purchase process there and then; “Doing business in the moment” as our technology partner often refers to it. There are a multitude of additional examples ranging from mobile banking through to tracking my progress in the gym.

These anecdotal examples from my personal life have a resonance with my wider commercial experience. The ability to work in such close proximity with the customer through fusing these processes onto a simple device brings with it technological simplification but more importantly an unparalleled focus on the customer. This allows the sales force to eke out every grain of value from these increasingly precious touchpoints whilst providing a real point of differentiation and an extraordinarily spectacular customer experience.

This liberation from the desktop and the privilege to work with the customer in this fashion places unprecedented demands on these mobile devices. The form factors of the device should be such that it is appropriate for the given interaction. For instance, the small screen of a mobile phone would not have been suitable for the selection of our sofa suite and the larger size of a tablet device would be inappropriate for me to carry to the gym. Additionally, despite the incredible reduction in size when compared to the desktop, our soaring expectations of performance have continued unabated. There is a powerful body of evidence suggesting that we are increasingly impatient when it comes to the responsiveness of a mobile device; we are much less forgiving on page loads and waiting for applications to process. A few seconds of waiting will now lead to the abandonment of the application and take users to the next item on their list. This dynamic needs to be considered in the context of the wider theme of this blog, which includes Big Data. There is a tacit contract between users and app vendors to not only provide a first class user experience deployed through these mobile devices but also to process incredible volumes and diversity of data in the process. The ensuing paragraphs will elaborate on the challenges presented by Big Data but it was important to note the inextricably linked nature of what we have come to expect from mobile app experiences and the data challenges that it is expected to overcome in providing this.

With economic and competitive distresses being felt by businesses around the globe, the inclination to cut costs and reduce prices can be excused as an initial reaction. However, strategically focussed businesses are relentlessly focussed on improving their understanding of the customer and doggedly pursuing their objectives to maximise value from every customer interaction they are privileged to have.

 

Mobile Workforce

In a similar vein sales forces in business-to-business relationships are also being encouraged to spend a greater amount of time with customers and prospects which in many cases sees them working away from a “traditional” office on a permanent basis. It is paramount that the productivity of this remote workforce is maintained as well as the social fabric of the organisation making them feel a sense of identity and belongingness. Having managed a team of field-based consultants I am acutely aware of the significance of this and its direct correlation to performance, morale and attrition rates. The chilled beers will only win you temporary accolade I hasten to add. The discussions in the point above are wholly applicable here as organisations seek to empower their workforce and continue to exploit the value to be derived from every touchpoint with clients and prospects. It is therefore imperative that the salespeople in this example have access to timely information which allows them to be well informed about matters such as account history and business requirements allowing these to be the focus of any business meeting. Whilst this particular example relates to a Business Intelligence scenario, it is also possible that a deal may need to be transacted whilst on client-site. Hence the empowerment of this work force stretches beyond merely consuming information and extends to transactional activity and thereby significantly improving the productivity of a sales person and the results emanating from prospecting activities.

Again to pick an example from my personal experience, I was recently visited at home by my financial advisor to discuss the renewal of my mortgage product. Not only was he able to take me through the relative merits of the many hundreds of different offerings through a simple ranking chart based on the criteria of interest to me but then submit an application and attain a decision in principal right there at my home at around 7 in the evening. There was no requirement to reconnect “back at the office” and for a decision to reach me 48 hours later. I will graciously reserve any comment on the outcome of the mortgage decision and the state of my credit worthiness.

The traditional office as a permanent base has become a chapter for the history books and businesses are reorganising their workforce to drive maximum customer value and orientate themselves in favour of their addressable market. Mobilising (colloquially speaking) the workforce in this way requires equal consideration to the equipping of these resources and ensuring that collaboration, communication and productivity is preserved despite the geographically disperse nature of those involved. Businesses applications must embody this new organisational trait and heed to the attributes raised above. Perhaps it’s also apt that I am authoring this blog from my home office at 9pm!

 

Consumerisation of Information Technology and the social influence

Whilst some of the requirements discussed above could be fulfilled by laptop devices, increasingly users have access to unprecedented power and sophistication through their mobile phones and tablets. Most of us make routine use of these in our daily lives, be it to connect with our social networks, updated statuses, manage our financial affairs, send and receive messages and even occasionally to make calls. Whilst consciously observing its usage over this weekend, I would go as far as suggesting that they have already earned the status of a ubiquitous device which is pertinent to many practicalities of life. These personal experiences are constantly challenging the business experiences which typically fall short of this and I tend to refer to this as the symmetrical lives of individuals where the application experiences are at polar opposites when it comes to on-work and off-work experiences. The positive effects of this influence can readily be seen through the social manifestation of application vendors where features such as like, follow, connect and comment are becoming commonplace within business applications. I was recently discussing the deployment of Business Intelligence with a client where the key criteria was to deploy it on Tablet devices to a corporate wide workforce of 2000 users and meld this into the incumbent corporate social network and identity management infrastructure. Whilst there are many laudable examples of such mobile application implementations within businesses, my experience suggests that they are patchy, embryonic and usually the poor relation to their counterpart. They are often restricted and disjointed, requiring users to revert to desktops at a certain stage of the process and continue to be unsupported in many cases. The bring-your-own-device culture thrust upon organisations and users inclination to increasingly use these for business applications coupled with IT’s lag in supporting this has in many cases prompted this lukewarm response from IT. The promise of Mobility remains unfulfilled and calls for a rigorous structure of governance to ensure that this is properly embraced as part of an overall enterprise IT management strategy. The capability to seamlessly include Mobility in the overall IT estate is now available along with the ability to remotely manage and maintain these applications much like conventional applications are handled.

These pressures that I refer to along with the symmetrical divide in system experiences is also commonly referred to as the “Consumerisation of IT”. I am unsure on who to credit for this but it’s certainly not a phrase that I have coined. The gauntlet has been thrown down to application vendors and the joust has begun, with business applications providing an equally immersive experience and the liberty to run these across a device of the users’ choice.

I have already touched on the social use of technology and specifically the role of social networks in our personal lives but businesses are also adopting this in their droves. Social networks in their various guises continue to present tremendous opportunity for businesses as they are increasingly embraced by the masses and hold a wealth of data. With brand and positioning being at the forefront of business considerations, what users say or do not say about you matters. There is an increasing body of evidence which points to the influential role of social networks in both search and selection of products and services. I recently read about a household brand which is extremely sensitive about the quality of its products and to this end is proactively polling twitter updates to detect any compromise in this. Any leads are swiftly followed up to ensure that the defect never becomes a mainstream issue and adversely affects its brand position.

As indicated by this example, within this social data is a crucial source of information, differentiation and promotion when used in the right way. Driving insights from the huge amounts of data amassed by these networks has been incomprehensible until now as technological and economic considerations have meant that organisations have had to compromise between the extent of data they can handle and the exorbitant costs that are incurred in the process. This equilibrium is set to rebalance with the costs associated with such endeavours gradually being eroded through breakthroughs in technology and yet demands seeing a surge in the face of rampant and unabated growth in data volumes. Social networks are just one example of an application that produces enormous volumes of data, we then have the increasing web footprints of organisations where not only is there a requirement to capture and understand event-based data, i.e. what was purchased and when but also the “incidental data” or as I like to think of it, the contextual data; no longer do we want to keep at arm’s length from this extremely valuable information. Through a proper understanding of click sequences and more recently hover-over activity are we able to understand the buyer behaviour and how this can be influenced. The same concept rings true for physical outlets where again there is a growing interest in the traffic density and flow around the stores. This can be properly understood through GPS tracking of coordinates and its relativity to product locations. This offers palpable business value and is another contributor to the Big Data phenomenon.

Of course all of this needs to be coupled with the data produced by our core systems and again perhaps at a level of detail that wasn’t previously possible.

 

The Cloud

The emergence of the Cloud is worthy of a separate blog but its omission from this discussion would be tantamount to being economical with the truth. Interestingly the Cloud is both a propagator and solution to Big Data. Its propagating nature has already been acknowledged through the proliferation of social data but it is increasingly being turned to as a solution through the provision of flexible and economic alternatives to capital purchases of hardware and software to help address the challenges presented by Big Data. The advent of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model has meant that the shackles have been removed from businesses trying to provision externally-facing applications and in that pursuit having to address the audacious matters of security, scalability and elasticity of demand. SaaS and the web services protocols has made the consumption and sharing of data a very simple and unified process which is being leveraged to create immersive application experiences where the user is served with rich and contextualised information. The proliferation of mobile devices throughout organisations has already been mentioned along with the bring-your-own-device culture but this needs to be properly embraced by providing seamless application experiences across this range of devices and allow users to very easily switch from one platform to another. The Cloud is becoming renowned for this and ridding IT departments from having to develop this in-house.
I have personal experience of web services through the consumption of a weather feed which is integrated with my calendar allowing me to plan events whilst being aware of the likely weather conditions. Those of you familiar with the UK climate will know how much we cherish the few weeks of sunshine we get on our shores. A further example includes a mapping application which is overlaid with traffic information allowing me to easily identify sticky points and navigate around these without impacting my journey times. I have also considered the inclusion of Point of Interest data on this, providing knowledge of local events or Schools which are likely to attract localised congestion at certain times of the day. Many of these datasets are freely available and add real value to business applications through augmenting internal data with very useful context.

The Cloud in both its public and private format is poised to play an increasingly significant role in addressing the challenges posed by Big Data and in a complimentary role, become the platform of choice when it comes to provisioning applications which will be seamlessly deployed across devices and platforms.

 

 

Conclusions

With economic and competitive considerations continuing to dominate boardroom discussions, the determination to maximise business value through everything at their disposal has never been greater. Businesses are increasingly turning to data of all sizes and variety for this competitive advantage. The size, variety and velocity attributes of this data which ranges from internal systems to clickstream behaviour on the web site and ebbs and flows of traffic within a store to the extremities of what is being said about you on social networks and videos is now all included in the extended ecosystem of an organisations dataset. This challenge collectively has been acknowledged as Big Data.

In parallel to this is the surging adoption rates and levels of sophistication being packed into mobile devices. Coupled with this is a mobile workforce which is spending increasing amounts of time with customers and away from the office. This calls for an elegant user experience supporting this remote workforce whilst processing unprecedented volumes and variety of data to satisfy this ever-impatient consumer.

Finally the proliferation of these mobile devices needs to be tamed through the application of a coherent Enterprise IT Management strategy which addresses the challenges of safeguarding and maintaining organisational software and hardware assets.

Therefore in conclusion, data volumes are surging as is our inclination to use mobile devices for business applications. Technology has achieved momentous advances on both of these fronts and it is now for individual organisations to determine what this means for the future of their business.

 


 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.