Tuesday, August 21, 2012

(BN) SAP Courts Startups From Health to Retail in Data Push

Aug. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Jan Karstens is looking for ways to reduce the amount of food supermarkets have to throw away and avoid items getting out of stock. As better forecasts require processing ever more data, he opted to seek an ally in SAP AG.

Karstens, head of development at Karlsruhe, Germany-based Blue Yonder GmbH & Co., joined more than 30 startup executives in Berlin this week to pitch ideas to the world's largest maker of business-management software -- and earn access to SAP's real-time data crunching technology. The software giant hopes its tiny partners will spawn new concepts that give it an edge against competitors including Oracle Corp., which dominates the $26.7 billion database market.

"If you can do a business model change with innovation, that's very hard to catch up with," Aiaz Kazi, SAP's senior vice president of technology and innovation market strategy, said in an interview at the event. "We have something here that's frankly beyond traditional SAP."

SAP's Startup Focus Program was begun at the behest of company co-founder Hasso Plattner and Chief Technology Officer Vishal Sikka to aid the rollout of Hana database technology. The program began a world tour in March, starting in California's Palo Alto and moving through cities including Seattle, Toronto, Tel Aviv and Bangalore, India, with Tokyo and Singapore to follow in coming weeks.

Health Treatment

In Berlin, candidates vying to use the technology include Pixray GmbH, whose software helps photographers and companies find illegal copies of their images on the Web, and Next Audience GmbH, which helps advertisers better grasp the interplay between their digital marketing activities, Internet- advertising platforms and customer management systems.

Alacris Theranostics GmbH would use Hana to improve its ability to analyze the genome of cancer patients and predict which treatments work best on particular individuals. That would reduce side effects and raise rates at which drugs are approved by regulators, Chief Executive Officer Bodo Lange said.

The startups' offerings will be more attractive to clients if the systems allow larger amounts and more types of data to be analyzed and if they issue results more quickly, using technology such as Hana, the startup leaders said.

Faster Analysis

Karstens, Lange and the other executives now await the verdict from SAP's jury on which companies will be given free use of Hana development tools for a year and marketing assistance. Walldorf, Germany-based SAP, via its venture arm, may also invest a share of the $155 million it has budgeted for that purpose.

SAP shares were little changed at 51.96 euros as of 9:53 a.m. in Frankfurt trading, giving the company a market value of 63.8 billion euros ($78.8 billion). SAP overtook Siemens AG last month to become Germany's most valuable public company. Oracle added 1.5 percent in New York yesterday.

Hana is designed to quickly analyze vast caches of sales and operational information, as well as unstructured data such as e-mail and social media. It allows operations to be performed in a computer's memory, avoiding data transfers to and from slower hard drives.

Sales of Hana have exceeded 300 million euros so far this year, Kazi said. That compares with a target of more than doubling last year's figure of 160 million euros by the end of 2012. SAP is evaluating how to make Hana-based software more affordable by delivering it via the Web, he said.

SAP Investments

The ramp-up comes at a cost. In April, SAP said it planned to spend almost $500 million to convince customers to adopt Hana and get smaller partners to develop software to showcase the capabilities of the technology. The company may offer Hana to the startups at a discounted upfront price or take a share of the revenue the companies generate.

SAP has invested in smaller companies via its SAP Ventures arm. Investments have included professional social network LinkedIn Corp., e-mail marketer ExactTarget Inc., Box Inc., a provider of cloud storage and collaboration systems, and Lithium Technologies Inc., a social-media marketing company.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison last year unveiled the so-called Exalytics Intelligence Machine, which also analyzes information within dynamic random access memory. SAP has said its in-memory approach leads rivals by about 18 months, and that Hana is cheaper and more versatile than other offerings.

"Oracle has reacted the least," Blue Yonder's Karstens said. "They've cobbled something together from old technologies that's not an alternative for me." Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Vertica, International Business Machines Corp.'s solidDB, Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server, and Germany's ParStream GmbH are more useful than Oracle's big data offering, he said.


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