Interview: Dan Kearnan discusses SAP’s Business Technology Platform (BTP)
Since joining the SAP family back in 2006 with SAP’s acquisition of the Business Objects organization, Dan Kearnan, Senior Director of Product Marketing at SAP, has proved he knows more than a thing or two about turning data into business value. Kearnan has worked for software companies in the software technology space for more than two decades, with the bulk of his career being spent at SAP where he has contributed in many roles focused on marketing, product management, partner alliances, and alliances.
As SAP’s Business Technology Platform (BTP) is a relatively new concept for the company, Kearnan’s current role is to help raise awareness of what the BTP is and the value it can bring to the market and to SAP’s customers. Kearnan recently spoke with SAPinsider to help demystify the BTP for the community and clear up any confusion.
Dan Kearnan, Senior Director of Product Marketing, SAP
Q: What do you see as big technology shifts currently happening in the market?
The biggest trend that organizations have been dealing with over the last five to ten years is the speed at which they now have to pivot and react to changing markets and the everchanging needs of customers. The pace of business has become increasingly more hectic, putting pressure on companies to find new ways to adapt and respond to stay profitable or, in some cases, to survive.
In a pre-digital, analog world, which moved at a much slower pace, businesses had more time to react. Because we’ve accelerated transformation across organizations of all sizes and industries — with digital supply chains and digital communications — we now see companies struggling to digitize the business to keep up and respond faster, and we see those that lag in their efforts and fall behind their peers losing relevance.
If the speed of business wasn’t already fast enough, on top of that is the most recent trend: the impact that COVID-19 has made on organizations. The pandemic has introduced a host of changes that organizations need to deal with to adapt to this COVID world. It has made the pace of business even faster and put more pressure on companies to pivot their business models to respond more quickly.
For instance, Parkland Health & Hospital System is an organization that already had overwhelming call volumes in its call center, dealing with patients’ questions and struggling to respond to those in adequate time. Then along came COVID-19, and it clogged up those call centers with a dramatic increase of concerns and issues. In this case, Parkland Health had no choice but to change its business model so it could handle the explosion in call volume and provide adequately timed responses for the resident population.
Companies in the retail industry have found that brick-and-mortar sales have pretty much evaporated. These businesses had to quickly decide how best to embrace the digital world — moving more products online and finding faster ways to send shipments to customers — all while knowing their supply chains were weakened due to the pandemic and the demand for online sales was higher than they ever experienced in the past.
Q: What challenges do SAP customers face today relating to the trends you just described?
As SAP has been helping customers adapt to change for over 50 years, this change in business climate and the digital economy just described is not lost on us, because we talk to customers on an ongoing basis and are fully aware of their present challenges. That said, the main issue companies face right now is having to look at their current methods of doing business and find ways to change, accelerate, or completely upend those to be more responsive and adapt to constantly changing conditions.
Most organizations, especially larger ones, have established business processes and technologies that no longer adequately meet today’s need to become much nimbler. This misalignment could be attributed to a lack of technology; the fact that communication and response channels that their customers and partners expect are different from what their business model allows today; or that a competitor in their industry has simply become a frontrunner with that new way of doing business — but a lot of organizations just don’t have the IT infrastructure or the business processes in place to keep up in this hectic and frenetic business climate. This means that companies must reevaluate the technologies, processes, and business culture they have in place to truly pivot and change.
Q: Can you define what the BTP means and how it helps address customers’ challenges?
To help customers navigate the struggles and pressures in the market today, SAP has stepped in with a business technology platform (BTP) that provides the foundation needed for change and adaptability to help companies more quickly adapt and respond. What does that mean, exactly? As a definition, the BTP from SAP is a portfolio of integrated technologies that help organizations transform their most valuable asset, which is data, into business value. It consists of solutions falling under four integrated technology pillars — that is, database and data management, analytics, application development and integration, and intelligent technologies — from on premise to the cloud.
The technologies within those four pillars themselves provide value to our customers today, but the real value is when they start combining the technologies of the BTP — in a “better together” scenario — to more quickly solve some of the most challenging business problems or achieve wins not possible when using only one of the stacks of the technology pillars. It’s when they start mixing more technologies that they can overcome more complex problems or uncover even more interesting opportunities.
It is important to understand that the BTP is not a single product customers can buy, for example, as a single line item on the SAP pricelist. Rather, as a portfolio of integrated SAP technologies, the BTP allows organizations to choose the right blend of solutions to help solve a certain problem today and then add in others to solve even more problems tomorrow. It’s a group of different technologies that talk to one another in an integrated fashion — so it’s a combination of those separate solutions that you apply in a “better together” way that makes the BTP.
Q: What solutions are included in the portfolio SAP offers with the BTP?
As I mentioned above, the BTP is a portfolio of integrated technologies that derive value from data stemming from SAP applications (SAP ECC, SAP S/4HANA, SAP Ariba solutions, etc.) as well as non-SAP applications. The figure below shows examples of the technologies that fall under the umbrella of the BTP. For instance, SAP HANA is a product that we sell as a technology under the database and data management pillar; the SAP BusinessObjects BI suite is an example in the analytics pillar; under the application development and integration pillar is SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite; and machine learning is under the intelligent technologies pillar. Customers can buy any of those separately as technologies to help them solve problems. But again, they are better when used together.
The portfolio of integrated solutions that make up the BTP
Q: What are some differentiators that make the BTP unique in the market?
We know our customers have a wealth of vendors providing best-of-breed technologies from which they can pick and choose solutions they want to use, so why would they turn to one vendor for the portfolio of technologies needed to solve their business problems? I can answer that question with three reasons, or differentiators, that set the BTP apart. The first uniqueness is business centricity. The BTP is uniquely positioned in the market to truly unlock business value from data because at the core of the BTP is SAP business applications, which is where most organizations choose to collect and maintain their business data. Having that data is only valuable if you can analyze and understand it. We have designed our technologies to truly understand the business semantics and metadata layer — the way data is stored and organized in business applications — which can be quite esoteric and difficult to extract to turn that into value. Without an understanding of the business semantics, there is no way to make sense of that data and surface it as a useful analytical report, and the BTP has an intrinsic understanding of data in both SAP and non-SAP business applications.
Another differentiator for the BTP is the completeness of the portfolio of integrated solutions. Under one vendor, you have a complete suite of technologies that span the spectrum of data capture, storage, management, and insight as well application integration and extension, and more — all under one roof, from which you can pick and choose to solve whatever problem you encounter. And more importantly, these integrated technologies are aware of one another and have many common shared services. So SAP Analytics Cloud understands SAP Cloud Platform, and SAP HANA understands machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) technology. There is an interconnectedness between the technologies that — in a “better together” fashion — really helps when combining these technologies to solve a problem.
And the third unique factor is its open architecture. The BTP offers a choice of approaches and infrastructures for how these technologies are implemented. You can use these technologies in the cloud, on premise, or in a hybrid fashion, which aligns very well with the IT landscapes and approaches of most organizations that currently have technologies running both on premise and in the cloud. Also, there is no infrastructure lock-in, so we don’t insist that you run our cloud technologies on a certain infrastructure as a service. Instead, we run on all infrastructure providers, whether that’s SAP, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, and so on.
Q: Can you share examples of customer successes with the BTP?
In almost every customer example where a company is faced with a challenge and looks to SAP’s BTP technologies to overcome it, I tend to find a common theme. To start, the companies apply just one of the technologies — for example, SAP HANA — but quickly realize that SAP HANA is not going to solve the problem by itself, so then they fold in an analytics solution and turn to SAP Analytics Cloud, for example. While getting closer, they still need to go further, which brings in another SAP technology, such as SAP Cloud Platform.
Usually what happens is a journey as the organization realizes the problem at hand is more complex than it originally thought or the opportunities it is uncovering are growing. Interestingly, this folds into the “better together” notion in which the full value of the BTP comes in — starting off with one technology and realizing you need to complement it with other technologies as your problem grows or as your opportunity widens. In the four customer examples that follow, the common thread among these stories is that multiple technologies were subsequently deployed to solve a business problem:
- Henkel built a mobile app that is fully integrated with SAP Sales Cloud and enables salespeople to access or update customer data and activities and receive notifications while on the go — integrating with the BTP’s SAP Conversational AI services and SAP Cloud Platform Mobile Services technologies.
- Ansaldo Energia is evolving a hybrid SAP solution architecture based on the BTP that combines cloud-based and on-premise solutions to improve product performance. SAP S/4HANA connects back-end systems for manufacturing, product lifecycle management, and warehousing, while SAP Internet of Things and SAP Edge Services enable predictive plant maintenance and service.
- Built on the BTP via SAP Cloud Platform, Kaiserwetter is creating models that can predict performance issues and failures for renewable energy assets, whereupon those actionable insights are then sent to clients via user-friendly dashboards. SAP Data Intelligence applies those models to massive amounts of data and sends it to SAP HANA for analysis.
- Deloitte Africa has transformed its business (of 28 offices in 17 countries) to operate “As One,” unlocking the power of its workforce through an embedded intelligence that combines SAP S/4HANA Cloud and SAP SuccessFactors solutions with the BTP technologies SAP Analytics Cloud and SAP Cloud Platform.
Q: What is the strategic vision for the BTP going forward?
The vision for SAP’s BTP is to become the integrated data and development platform for our SAP customers. SAP is working on integrating the BTP portfolio of technologies more tightly to deliver these solutions and capabilities on one connected platform with a consistent commercial model, one digital cockpit, an open service catalog, and a seamless, consistent user experience. The BTP will not only span current and additional capabilities that cover data-to-value, integration extension, and development agility, but also offer guided journeys for users in different roles and with different skillsets to perform all sub-tasks belonging to the respective value creation processes.
As the BTP evolves from a portfolio of integrated solutions to a unified platform with shared services and connectivity, SAP will focus on these core qualities and continue to:
- Integrate all platform solutions by harmonizing data and processes, technology, functionalities, and user experience, while acknowledging that there is no “one size fits all,” especially around development methodologies. This will save unnecessary data movement between different technology stacks and reduce customers’ total cost of ownership.
- Offer unique industry and business process knowledge through our technologies and tools and provide customers with reuseable business-centric components and pre-packaged business content to relieve them of any technical complexity.
- Work with open-source and third-party technologies, partners, and customers to expand our open architecture more fully on this effort, allowing organizations to easily extend their IT landscapes while offering flexible deployment options so they can move from on-premise to cloud or hybrid environments at their own speed and on their infrastructure of choice.
Q: Do you have advice for organizations that want to get started with SAP’s BTP?
Many organizations are already getting started with SAP’s BTP because many of them are running one or more of the technologies that make up SAP’s BTP (for example, SAP HANA or SAP BusinessObjects BI solutions). To these organizations, I would say that to get more value out of their investment in SAP technologies and to achieve more value from them in the future, I recommend evaluating the value of combining other SAP technologies with their current solution mix as a way to solve more complex problems that will inevitably come their way or when uncovering more lucrative business opportunities.