Opening Keynote: no surprises
TechEd’s traditional opening Keynote by SAP CTO Juergen Mueller brought little surprises for the field of data & analytics this year. The usual adoption numbers were coined; double the amount of active HANA users, doubled adoption for SAP Data Warehouse Cloud (DWC) and a sixty percent increase of SAP Analytics use compared to the previous year. All relative numbers that don’t say much without context, so let’s move on. The focus on portfolio convergence was stressed; planning integration between DWC and SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) was mentioned specifically, as was the introduction of the Analytic Model in DWC as the new consumption-level object (replacing perspectives and consumption models in the Business Layer of DWC). SAC’s undo/redo functionality, a feature that took SAP a very long time to finally implement, also got a mention in the Keynote. Other than that, smaller things such as the improved possibilities with Python and SQL in Jupyter Labs (in HANA) and the flexible core memory were briefly highlighted. The most interesting takeaway however, was the launch of the Unified Story (previously called ‘Story 2.0’) in SAC.
With the Unified Story, SAP is honoring its promise of integrating the functionalities of the current Story (1.0), the Analytic Application and SAP Digital Boardroom, providing a unified design environment for both business/BI-oriented and developer-oriented Analytics Cloud users. We believe this will make the creation and subsequent adoption of more technically complex Stories at customers easier, even if it is only because we are now referencing a single object. In line with the Keynote’s storyline, we see the same focus on integration with SAP’s flagship Analytics solution. Multi-actions can now utilize a new API step, which allows users to add closed-loop integration scenarios to these SAC processes (in the session an example with SAP Business Warehouse was shown).
Aside from the Business Technology Platform (BTP) and Data Warehouse Cloud (whose models will be considered first-class citizens in SAC) key integration points, Microsoft Office also gets a lot of attention. The SAC add-in for Office is scheduled to receive support for dynamic formulas and custom sorting, in addition to more planning-related functionalities such as the execution of data actions in Q4, followed by features such as commenting, member management and fluid data entry in 2023. Given the frequency by which customers use the plug-in, these are also welcome updates. Finally, SAP also shared the next steps for embedded SAC, which will expand towards Ariba, Customer Experience (CX), Fieldglass and Concur.
Data Warehouse Cloud
The main focus for DWC this year appears to be on the aforementioned portfolio convergence. The first major milestone of this key investment area is the integration between DWC and SAC Planning. We stated earlier that DWC models would be considered first-class citizens in SAC, which means that SAP’s priority is to realize replication-free planning between the two solutions (currently, only replication-based planning is possible).
With regards to integration with SAP Data Intelligence (DI), DWC is gradually receiving more functionalities from the former to eventually replace SDI by means of, what SAP calls, Replication Flows and Federation Services. The goal here is to harmonize the connection and integration capabilities that DWC and DI offer. This of course raises the question: why not fully integrate the two solutions? SAP was not clear on this, other than that they stated the gradual convergence of the two solutions will continue in 2023.
Something that might offer some solace in the meantime, is the (Beta) One Data Catalog. This proposed single-point-of-access for all data in the (SAP) BI landscape is able to leverage metadata from SAP data & analytics solutions, such as DWC, SAC and BW/4HANA. This will provide (end)users with a clear single portal to access all data assets within the SAP BI landscape, regardless of source or location. We believe this solution has potential, but it is still too early to say how much of a difference it will be able to make. After all, this will be an additional catalog to keep up-to-date, which in turn would require solid integration with the other data-bearing solutions in the landscape in order to be feasible.
Smaller updates to DWC concerned the development of a monitor for out-of-memory events, and the possibility to create workload classes for Spaces, which is a nice touch and allows customers to manage available resources to a higher degree. Closing out the DWC-section of this blog is the BW Bridge. The announced developments for the Bridge were, in our opinion, lacking. Innovations that have been present (or were announced) for some time now were highlighted once again, such as shell-and-remote conversions or support for process chain management. Additionally, there is still no clear solution to accommodate BW queries yet, even though there is an item on the horizon for this in Q4 2022. While the BW Bridge-part of the DWC roadmap is quite filled and SAP is also showing the right intention here, we believe that the lack of pace in this area severely hampers the adoption possibilities for DWC as a whole.
HANA & Data Intelligence
Data Intelligence has by now cemented itself as the data cataloging and orchestration hub in the BTP as well as the center of connectivity and integration through virtualization or replication. We get the idea that, within or outside of DI, SAP’s underlying goal is to create some sort of replication tool dedicated to the Cloud and more specifically, the BTP. This feature set should then be applicable to the broader SAP portfolio, including its business solutions. This TechEd also showcased SAP’s intention to make DI the central hub for data replication for DWC, not entirely dissimilar to what the position of SLT has been in the past for SAP data warehousing landscapes. Here again we see that similar to SAC, for DI, integration seems to be the main goal.
HANA Cloud, as the heart of everything in SAP’s data & analytics portfolio, was not really singled out this year (and should it be?). Migration scenarios to unburden unwanted customer loads were mentioned and showcased, more specifically involving Cloud Foundry and Eclipse Neon. In addition to that, a demo showed how HDI containers can now be deployed in DWC through the BTP, which might sound small but could offer some significant (and needed) support for DWC in light of future customer requirements (for example to leverage not only views but complete tables). Finally, the new HANA Native Storage Extension allows HANA to use extended disk-based space so that it no longer has to keep a full column in-memory (it can now be split into pages). If such a page needs to be loaded, it will be loaded from disk instead of in-memory, which is a useful performance feature for older data.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
While not a focal point for SAP in years past, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) sessions we attended were definitely worth the time. SAP’s main message was again that they are not a leading AI company, which is a conscious and smart stance in our opinion, but are more looking towards integrating AI in their business solutions such as S/4HANA, Concur and SuccessFactors. In this area, AI is more of a supporting function based on the BTP as opposed to a significant differentiator. AI and ML will not be a separate product in the SAP portfolio, but an integrated experience. There are some tools for developers that are quite intriguing, for example Intelligent Scenario Lifecycle Management (ISLM); a layer through which you can implement intelligent scenarios through different means, such as HANA’s PAL/APL, SAP AI Core, DI or the AI Business Services, on a landscape scale. Users can trigger workflows (such as model training and the deployment or the monitoring of metrics) through this framework as well. These are all nice touches that allow developers to add (AI & ML) value to different areas and applications on the BTP, providing functionalities that by default would not be present.
At Expertum, the main feeling we are left with after this year’s TechEd is a lack of excitement. No big announcements or updates were presented for the area of data & analytics, and some of the previously teased (bigger) portfolio shifts did not (yet) see the light of day. The most interesting development in our opinion was the Unified Story, which is a good and logical next step, but no big change or innovation. The AI sessions also provided interesting food for thought outside of the squared data & analytics space. However, in a general sense, we missed some technical depth across the board. While this perception is not exclusively or necessarily negative, what we do see is that SAP is struggling to get the functionalities of the ‘old and reliable’ SAP products for data integration, such as SAP Data Services, in the new generation of solutions in order to retain the value customers are used to, all while modernizing the user experience and integration with the Walldorf portfolio. Because of this movement, we expected more in terms of ambition and delivery of features that would differentiate DI, and to a higher degree DWC, from Cloud Datawarehouse competitors such as Snowflake and Redshift, as opposed to focusing primarily on convincing existing SAP customers to move to SAP’s cloud solutions. This lack of ambition (and perhaps pace) to close the gap with these competitors, as well as with SAP’s own on-premise and private-cloud solutions that are leaps and bounds ahead in terms of functionality (that customers also highly value), undermines the potential that the flagship solutions DWC and DI have with regards to adoption rates.
Even though there are some interesting and useful data & analytics developments that have been shared during 2022’s TechEd, and some more are on the (sometimes uncertain) roadmaps, the real excitement was in the ballpark of the SAP Build unveiling and the developer sessions around it. For more on these developments, please make sure to check out or colleagues’ TechEd 2022 blog!