For Univ. of Kentucky, SAP's HANA is 'disruptive'

Here's what happened after the school adopted SAP's in-memory computing system

The University of Kentucky says it has reshaped its business intelligence (BI) capability as a result of adopting SAP's in-memory system, HANA. Vince Kellen, the university CIO, calls it a "disruptive technology," and for this institution at least, that appears true.

Analysts are more restrained in their assessments of HANA, in part, because of a tug of war between so-called engineered systems, represented by something like Oracle's Exadata platform, and systems that use x86 hardware platforms such as HANA.

Whether the one-year-old HANA system succeeds for SAP may depend, in part, on whether it gets new customers for the company. University of Kentucky is already an SAP customer.

But none of these tech industry issues change how the university used SAP's in-memory technology to reshape its business intelligence services.

Kullen said the university was searching for ways to improve retention rates of its students and boost number of students who graduate.

The university collects detailed data about student retention at various stages of academic progress. It has course history, grades, class attendance data from the classes that track it, and engagement data -- a measure of student participation in virtual classroom spaces, including discussions and assignment downloads.

"All of that engagement information gives us clues as to what is going on with student retention," said Kullen.

The university initially wanted to identify students that may be having problems and to create automated workflows to proactively contact students and faculty, with activities ranging from a simple email poke to tutoring services.

But getting at that information is difficult. Typically, it would have involved building a data warehouse and then employing ETL activities (extract, transformation and load). But with HANA, the university was able to use real-time replication right from SAP systems that collect this data, via HANA-ready feeds.

"We saw the opportunity to transform how our business intelligence teams work," said Kullen.

Instead of manually aggregating data and running batch processes, the university's approximately 14-member BI team has morphed from being "back office plumbers" to serving as "advisors and model builders for our users," said Kullen.

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