Q&A: Info overload drives demand for ERP, analytics, SAP's Courteau says

Dealing with data a challenge as companies seek competitive advantage

The past two years have not been the easiest for SAP. The company was among the many technology vendors hit by the slowdown in spending during the recent global recession. It made itself unpopular with its customers by forcing them to replace existing support plans with a costlier plan few actually wanted. And it faces the prospect of having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to Oracle for copyright infringing actions taken by a now defunct subsidiary.

In an interview, Robert Courteau, SAP's new president for North America, offered a look ahead at the trends driving the ERP market, trends he says SAP is fully prepared to handle.

What are you hearing from your customers? There's a real focus on being competitive in the market. What's happened in the last two years is people have improved their balance sheets coming from the credit crisis and they are now starting to make bets on how they are going to compete. The overarching theme around competitive advantage is one of globalization, where people are looking for new sources of supply or new markets to serve. And that's good for SAP.

How are SAP's customers planning on building out their existing investments in your technology? What we are telling customers is that they need to absolutely continue to drive ROI out of the core investments in SAP -- new departments, new business processes, new ways of doing business that are benchmarked on how the leaders in their industry use SAP. So that's number one. The second thing that we are telling customers is they've got to release this information. So you've got this infrastructure that you put in place called SAP Business Applications. You need to release the information out to what I call 'big data,' 'little data' and 'live data.'

What are some of the trends driving this market? Flat out one of the biggest trends is information overload. If you want to actually start targeting your data onto those critical periods where you can make profits or avoid costs, the ability to use business intelligence to do that, and be precise about it, is really important.

We are trying to build products that take advantage of the core, but speeds up time to market, speeds up decision-making, deals with information overload and allows you to use new innovations around mobility.

How are these trends shaping your product strategy? We came out with a product in Q4 of last year called HANA, which is a big data engine that combines in-memory analytics with high-performance processing. It is optimized for SAP environments now, but we are going to evolve that product to work in SAP and non-SAP environments. It allows you to really pour through terabytes of data in seconds so you can drive the analytics around things like managing your global inventory and supply chain.

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