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SAP Must Make the Most of Its 'Two-Year' HANA Advantage

SAP should keep in mind that gaining an initial head start doesn't mean it will succeed in getting its HANA enterprise data architecture firmly entrenched before competitors catch up.

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"I believe we are about two years ahead," said SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe in a brief interview following his and co-CEO Bill McDermott's press conference at this year's Sapphire conference in Orlando, Fla., in May.

The two years that Snabe was referring to is the lead he believes SAP's HANA enterprise architecture provides to enterprises that adopt it. Two years is a very long time in the enterprise technology arena.

In the year since HANA was formally introduced to customer and media communities that were left a bit confused by what the technology was all about, the company has been winning converts. Snabe said the company presently has 1,500 installations, with about one-third of the installations in organizations that were not previously SAP customers, one-third to SAP customers using HANA on non-SAP applications and one-third to SAP customers using HANA on SAP applications.

While 1,500 installations might sound small in a world of consumer applications measured in the millions, the number is significant in the enterprise space, where companies are usually slow to make bets on new technology.

The installations highlighted at Sapphire range from The McLaren Group race car team to the Under Armour sports clothes company. McLaren assembles the huge amount of data generated during a race, analyzes that data in real time and can make race winning adjustments to the race car's engine, suspension and other performance characteristics. Under Armor used HANA to federate a range of disparate systems to create an inventory and predictive system to fuel the company's rapid growth.

These were strong customer success stories bringing together the big data, real-time trends that have become the hallmarks of forward-thinking enterprise technology implementations. But SAP needs a lot more of these stories if it is going to make HANA a required piece of the modern enterprise.

Here's what SAP needs to do to get HANA off the interesting technology list and into the must-have category.

1. Internally decide how to describe HANA (in-memory database is not enough to catch the business executive's interest and calling it a platform has little meaning) and be relentless in messaging that description.

2. Lean into calling out customer success stories that are based on merging traditional internal data with streams of unstructured outside data. This is the sweet spot that many CIOs would like to reach in their companies, and any help they can get would be welcome.

3. Highlight the cloud-based HANA as a service offerings. This is a recent but important piece of the puzzle as it allows company developers to get experience on the system without having to bring in the box.

4. Explain that HANA is for new applications rather than simply doing existing applications faster.

5. Describe how HANA fits in with data infrastructures such as Hadoop, how it enables mobile applications, how it can operate under modern user interfaces, and how CIOs can build HANA expertise in their staffs.

Two years is a big lead in the enterprise space, but leads can quickly dwindle unless you can consistently show growth and acceptance of your technology.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC Week) from 1996-2008, authors this blog for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.