In-memory computing not only provides access to data in real-time, it also delivers better insight by providing insight into data that was previously effectively inaccessible. For instance once you start to analyse profitability across multiple dimensions, (eg customer, channel, SKU, day of week, period, version, etc), the volumes of data meant models can be very slow to calculate and queries tiresome. Today with cost and profitability solutions powered by in-memory calculation engines, the speed of processing is dramatically improved – think seconds rather than hours. There is also no limit to the depth of analysis, so that managers can gain instant reports on the profitability of individual product variants supplied to each one of their customers’ outlets through a complex manufacturing and supply chain. At a time when improved profitability depends on the cumulative accretion of small improvements in margins throughout the value chain, being able to effectively mine ‘big data’ is a definite competitive advantage.
Consumer goods giant Unilever that controls brands such as Dove, Hellmans and Lipton is just company that is using SAP’s in-memory computing platform Hana to transform its operations and increase its profit margins by accelerating its profitability analysis. SAP Hana combines an in-memory database with an analytics engine on a single platform. Its in-memory storage, column store and parallel processing architecture is suited to rapid analysis of large datasets from multiple sources and making predictions in real or near-real time. This year Unilever began using SAP Hana to carry out profitability analysis (CO-PA) for its operations in the Americas, using SAP’s Hana-based CO-PA accelerator, which is designed to speed up OLAP queries. It has just implemented a Hana-based CO-PA accelerator in Asia, for operational planning in India and plans to begin using the in-memory platform to carry out a range of reporting, analytics and forecasting tasks across all regions worldwide next year.
In proof of concept tests Hana was able to return planning and forecasting information far more rapidly than a hard-disc based systems and in subsequent tests SAP Planning and Consolidation 10 (BPC) software running on Hana was able to return results from 200 million records within 30 seconds. Such functionality is allowing Unilever to refine how it calculates the price of products, for example calculating how fluctuations in the costs of raw materials, and other factors that affect production costs, should be reflected in a product’s price. It also allows product costing routines to be carried out on a weekly rather than quarterly basis. This really does allow Unilever to accrete small improvements in margins, all off which add up in to some really big numbers when you are talking about a € 50bn business – it also means you get a rapid return on the investment.
In the next stage of their roll out, Unilever hopes to include rescheduling of sales orders, optimisation of product cost calculation and analysis of purchase orders and contracts, but starting next year they intend to start down the road of moving their entire SAP Business Suite ERP system on to Hana to deliver a truly real-time business.