Got Data? Making Sense of It All
Since the dawn of automated, electronic capture of corporate financial, operations, supply chain, HR and sales information data—what's become, more or less, ERP—companies have cumulatively spent billions, if not trillions, on managing and trying to extract value from their vast data repositories.
Accenture's Jim Hayes, the global managing director of its Oracle practice, says companies know what they want to do—they see the value of business intelligence and analytics output for their users—but they've often been stymied. "We know how to do transaction processing. We know how to close the books, capture orders, do pricing, allocate stock and support business with ERP," he says. "But the real promise was: How could we take this data and turn it into information? A lot of clients were asking about how we could help them unleash the value of that data. And then the [economic] meltdown happened. All of the sudden, there was a dramatic shift to: Cost reduction." And many of those "unleashing the value" projects, he adds, have been put on hold.
Enterprises today are deluged with terabytes of data: their own internal data; customer and partner data; as well as new "unstructured" data flows—from Internet-based social networks and mobile devices. But guess what? We ain't seen nothin' yet. During the next five years, Gartner predicts that the amount of enterprise data will grow by a jaw-dropping 650 percent. And the vast majority of that data will be unstructured, meaning not included or tied to any particular database, Gartner points out. This head-scratching growth, noted David Cappuccio, Gartner's chief of research for the infrastructure teams, in a CIO.com article, "is going to cost us dearly if we don't pay attention."
Philip Say, vice president for SAP Business Suite, says that this area is, in fact, "one of the most exciting areas of innovation" going on at the company. "The depth, the volume, the detailed sophistication of all the data being generated—from enterprise systems, e-mail and other corporate systems—it's as if we're reaching a point where it's almost unmanageable for the end user and there's no question for the enterprise," Say adds. "As we look to the future, this is one of the more vibrant areas SAP is investing in."
Say points to the acquisition of Business Objects and those analytics applications, tools and developers working on solving this challenge. He also notes SAP's new in-memory tools and techniques that aim to manage huge chunks of enterprise data in fast, intuitive and easier ways than in the past. "This is ushering in a new definition of what we mean by ERP," Say adds.
But all of this unstructured data could also be a huge opportunity for other, non-traditional ERP players to move into the market. For example, the unstructured data market is virtually owned and operated by Google. What about a Google play in the business applications space? At the Gartner IT Symposium 2009, CEO Eric Schmidt made no secret of the fact that Google has designs on the enterprise market space. Schmidt thought that the enterprise business for Google can be a multibillion dollar one—terming it "humongous." The 11-year-old company has its sights set on Microsoft; it has recently made its hosted Google Apps suite more enticing to large government users by announcing plans to tailor its cloud computing services for various federal agencies, according to a Computerworld.com article. Google Wave has taken dead aim at the collaborative apps space (hello, Microsoft Sharepoint), and Android is going after the mobile space by extending the enterprise into portable devices. Still, for many CIOs, at least now, Microsoft is the devil you know, rather than the one you don't.
Jon Reed, an independent analyst, SAP Mentor and blogger at JonERP.com, has trouble envisioning Google building an ERP suite or acquiring an ERP company—"that's extreme," he says. However, "if a Google type of company can present a way of pulling together all this unstructured information in a cloud-based environment, and then somehow connect that to a structured platform—uniting the unstructured and structured information—then that's a big, big thing," Reed says. "Think how pathetic these big companies are right now. They have no visibility into that."
Adds Accenture's Hayes: "We will we look back five years from now, and realize that the unstructured data [issue] was another disruptive force that will have to be reckoned with."
The Future of the Supervendors
Behold the Supervendors! It sounds like something out of a Transformers movie—There's OptimusOracle, IBM-Bot, MicroScream and MegaSAP. (Don't ask whose "side" they're on.)