by Davin Wilfrid, SAPinsider
One of the vexing issues of “Big Data” is that there is very little consensus on what, exactly, big data is. Kicking off his keynote at the SAPinsider conference for BI, mobility, cloud, and administration professionals, SAP data head Steve Lucas confronted the issue head-on. A few weeks ago, he solicited input from his Twitter following in an attempt to distill a standard definition of “big data.” The attempt failed.
Nevertheless, Lucas says the proliferation of information of both structured (stored in a database) and unstructured (emails, internet postings, etc.) data is an issue that affects SAP customers already. “I firmly believe that big data is no longer a trend that can be ignored,” he said.
Not only must big data be acknowledged, Lucas argues, but it must be seen as the foundation for all future innovation in business intelligence, analytics, mobility, cloud computing, and administration. To gain traction or competitive advantage in those areas requires a firm understanding of the impact of big data.
Furthermore, haggling over the definition of big data is largely irrelevant to the business challenges of present-day enterprises. Every business must now confront the “three V’s” of data: Volume (how much do you have?), Velocity (how quickly do you need to do something with it?), and Variety (what kinds of data are included in your total volume?).
Lucas’s co-presenter Timo Elliott — one of the first employees at Business Objects — added a fourth “V” to the list: Validity (how “true” is your data?).
Once these questions are addressed, organizations can begin the process of solving real-world challenges by harnessing their data and extracting the right information out of it. This is where SAP makes its case as the practical alternative to open source big data projects such as Hadoop, MapReduce, Hbase, Kafka, and others. Each open source option is created and maintained by different groups with different standards. The solutions themselves are rarely designed to integrate or communicate with standard business IT infrastructures, making them an unwieldy choice for businesses wrestling with data challenges.
“One thing I’m not seeing from open source is business applications running on top of these solutions,” says Lucas.
By contrast, SAP has already launched several business applications Lucas says demonstrate the power of integrating business applications into a big data framework. FreshDirect, a New York-based online grocery delivery business, migrated from outmoded SQL queries to SAP BusinessObjects solutions in order to track complex events (such as a delivery truck falling behind schedule due to traffic) in near real-time. Now, FreshDirect knows when a truck is going to be late, and can send a back-up delivery truck to avoid major challenges. The ability to process, analyze, and act on huge volumes of real time data allowed FreshDirect to improve its on-time delivery rate from 91% to 99%, says Elliot.
“Someone told me they also saved $2 million a year in parking tickets,” adds Lucas.
Implications for mobility, cloud computing, and administration
The defining aspect of the age of big data is that as data volumes grow, the screens on which we consume data shrink. iPads, iPhones, Androids, and other mobile devices have forever changed the landscape of enterprise mobility. SAP positions itself at the intersection of these opposing forces – a conduit from raw data to small-screen context. Lucas argues that time is right for a single solution framework to translate billions of bytes into 360 pixels on a smartphone screen.
Organizations will quickly realize realize the value of employing a dedicated framework to managing the wide span of an organization’s data, from capture to delivery, says Lucas. From there, they can apply proven practices to getting the right information out of their data.
“The fundamentals of needing to get access to data haven’t changed. But I believe we have an opportunity to consolidate our approach,” he says.