Mak­ing big data more ac­ces­si­ble to all

Ger­man soft­ware ma­jor SAP AG scents huge growth op­por­tu­ni­ties in China

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By GAO YUAN gaoyuan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Hasso Plat­tner sat com­fort­ably on a couch as more than a dozen jour­nal­ists quizzed the 70-yearold on the fu­ture of big data, cloud com­put­ing and ev­ery­thing about next-gen­er­a­tion in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy.

Most of the quest ions would bet­ter suit Sil­i­con Val­ley com­puter en­gi­neers half his age.

Plat­tner, co-founder of Wall­dorf, Ger­many-based soft­ware gi­ant SAP AG, is more than happy to ex­plain in de­tail that he some­times feels he holds a crys­tal ball in his hand.

“I think we are on this path that we ap­ply com­put­ers to ba­si­cally ev­ery­thing,” Plat­tner said at the com­pany’s newly-opened de­vel­op­ment cen­ter in Pots­dam, Ger­many.

He was ea­ger to share his views about a to­tally dig­i­tal­ized fu­ture.

Por­ta­ble de­vices have given people around the world “an un­be­liev­able” power in their pock­ets and palms. People also have to put to­gether the mas­sive amount of data they recorded be­fore mov­ing on. That, the Ger­man busi­ness­man said, is where SAP comes in.

“From time to time we have to clean up the data, we have to sim­plify what we have done in or­der to con­tinue to do more in the fu­ture,” Plat­tner said. “SAP is a ma­jor cleanup sim­pli­fier.”

Plat­tner has de­voted his ca­reer de­vel­op­ing an­a­lytic soft­ware. He and other for­mer IBM re­searchers founded SAP in 1972, cre­at­ing soft­ware to sim­plify en­ter­prise ac­count­ing and pay­roll pro­cesses.

That was dur­ing a time be­fore mod­ern PCs. Tech­ni­cians used punch cards to con­trol ma­chines and Steve Jobs, the late founder of Ap­ple Inc, was still a de­vel­oper at an ar­cade game com­pany.

Plat­tner’s per­sonal wealth

has quickly ex­panded over the past decades as SAP’s en­ter­prise re­source plan­ning busi­ness grew. He has put the gains into a range of in­ter­ests in­clud­ing hockey, IT re­search and ef­forts to fight AIDS.

Ac­cord­ing to Forbes mag­a­zine, Plat­tner con­trolled nearly $9 bil­lion of per­sonal wealth as of 2013. He is chair­man of SAP’s su­per­vi­sory board, an in-house think tank of the Ger­man com­pany.

SAP’s most valu­able mar­kets are those with the largest amounts of data that need to be stored. That led Plat­tner’s com­pany to China, a data gold mine.

In mid 2013, SAP iden­ti­fied China as one of world­wide.

Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Bill McDer­mott said he ex­pects China to be­come one of SAP’s top five mar­kets glob­ally by rev­enue by around 2015.

The com­pany has about 4,000 em­ploy­ees in China and of­fices in Bei­jing, Chengdu, Xi’an and Nan­jing. “We have to be able to han­dle the big­gest big data in the world, be­cause China is the largest coun­try in the world” by pop­u­la­tion, McDer­mott said.

For SAP’s China team the para­mount chal­lenge is to find ways to han­dle the world’s largest amount of data. Mark Gibbs, pres­i­dent of SAP Greater China, said the com­pany sees mas­sive busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in the coun­try, where man­u­fac­tur­ing, oil, lo­gis­tics and trans­porta­tion sec­tors are far more vi­brant than in other economies.

China’s State-owned en­ter­prises will con­tinue to be SAP’s ma­jor clients and it is also seek­ing new deals with some leading pri­vate firms, Gibbs said.

Ex­pe­ri­ences in

its strate­gic mar­kets

lo­cal

projects such as build­ing smart cities will be­come ba­sic ideas for the rest of the world, he said.

Over the past two years, China des­ig­nated nearly 200 cities, in­clud­ing me­trop­o­lises such as the cap­i­tal Bei­jing and county-level ur­ban ar­eas, to trial smart-city projects. SAP is the fund­ing part­ner for China’s smart city project.

Plat­tner ap­pre­ci­ates the beauty of sim­plic­ity. “Twodecades ago, we­did a lit­tle re­make of the SAP user in­ter­face,” he said. “In the Amer­i­can ex­pres­sion, weput lip­stick on a pig.”

“A sys­tem that pre­tends to be beau­ti­ful for a very sim­ple” pur­pose is over­done, he said.

When global con­sumer IT gi­ants such as Ap­ple and Google Inc went with their so-called flat de­sign, they sim­pli­fied the user in­ter­face. SAP de­cided to fol­low.

“People do not do (over dec­o­ra­tion) any­more,” Plat­tner said. “They would spend two hours or more on per­sonal de­vices each day. This is dom­i­nat­ing the world and that’s how YouTube, Face­book and Google be­came pop­u­lar. This is what they do now.”

Plat­tner praised Google “mas­ter” of sim­ple de­sign.

“It is im­por­tant for the fu­ture of SAP to have a user in­ter­face which is on par with the Face­book­ers, with the Googlers, with the ebays be­cause the soft­ware for en­ter­prise use is tend­ing to ditch their cold out­look and learn from con­sumeror­i­ented com­pa­nies,” he said.

Face­book Inc runs an on­line so­cial net­work­ing site and ebay Inc op­er­ates an on­line auc­tion site.

It is un­com­mon that a tech vet­eran who en­joyed deal­ing with the code lines needed to cre­ate soft­ware is also will­ing to spend a great amount of time ex­plain­ing how im­por­tant a user de­sign would al­ter the cor­po­ra­tion’s busi­ness.

“I can only tell the SAP man­agers to lis­ten to the cus­tomers to whom we made a prom­ise we would change the user in­ter­face,” he said. “Let the nor­mal users test the prod­ucts, the ones who only use SAP prod­ucts half an hour each day.”

SAP has pledged to in­tro­duce a user in­ter­face more suit­able for mod­ern-day use.

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