Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award: Whiz Kids Teach SAP HANA Geography

By Paul Baur

Don’t know much about geography? Not to worry, help is on the way. A team of developers at SAP has taught SAP HANA to crunch masses of geospatial data at sub-second speeds and therefore has been named one of the winners of the first Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award.

For the award, six finalists were chosen out of more than 250 nominations. Since May this year, employees were able to nominate projects and initiatives for this new — and from now on annually given — award. The Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award is held for employees that demonstrate courage as well as entrepreneurial and innovative spirit.

Processing spatial data becomes more important

Six developers dared to teach SAP HANA how to process spatial data and showed that it is possible to think, act, and succeed as a startup within the walls of a big company. Anyone who has used a car’s navigational device has witnessed the power of spatial data. But there is much more to spatial data than just calculating the optimum route from Paris to Prague. It is different than other data in that it describes the position, shape, and orientation of objects in space. Nearly 80 percent of all the world’s data contains a spatial component, making it a critical factor for visualizing data and gaining more insight from it.

Big Data, mobility and the Internet of Things, all topics that business are currently challenged to master, play a major role in the growing importance of processing large volumes of spatial data. Real-time processing of spatial data opens up completely new scenarios and business opportunities in industries such as insurance, energy, utilities, transportation, and retail. But we will come to that later.

In addition to industry applications, anyone with a smartphone in their pocket is a potential supplier and user of spatial data, which can be applied in a myriad of ways, most of them not yet even imagined. For example, spatial data is the Holy Grail for retail companies that want to target consumers based on their location, vacation plans, or any other information in their digital footprint.

The development of the project
But there is a crux. Until now, companies that wanted to crunch spatial data in a big way needed to install a separate spatial engine and replicate the data in a spatial database, all outside of an ERP system. This added complexity and slowed down the process, so that it sometimes took hours or days to get results. Because of Gerrit Kazmaier, Vice President Analytics, and his team of developers, that has all changed, and this is the story of how it happened.
Gerrit Simon Kazmaier
Gerrit Kazmaier, Vice President Analytics

Few believed it was possible to develop a fast spatial engine with such a small team in such a timeframe without being an expert in spatial data.

Kazmaier and his team of five assumed responsibility for all aspects of the spatial project for SAP HANA, including development, customer co-innovation, university cooperation, go-to-market, and even contractual issues.

“The essence is that we all believed in it and were all willing to work insanely hard and never give up, never surrender,” Kazmaier remarks.

Speed, simplicity, scalability
Twitter messages with political content are analyzed by SAP HANA and visualized on a map of Africa.At right: Twitter messages with political content are analyzed by SAP HANA and visualized on a map of Africa.

The team broke new ground by developing algorithms for processing spatial data that far outperform those of competitors. They worked on several different algorithmic approaches in cooperation with Professor Michael Gertz, Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science at Heidelberg University, optimizing them in an iterative fashion until they were satisfied with the speed.

According to Gerrit, the algorithms the team developed are completely new and are now the intellectual property of SAP, giving the company a leg up on the competition and equipping SAP HANA to take on completely new business scenarios combining business and geospatial data in a single database. The integration of spatial capabilities into the HANA engine also improves performance by orders of magnitude, for everything from modeling and storage to analysis and presentation of spatial data.

“By integrating spatial capabilities into the SAP HANA engine the system complexity of customer landscapes becomes much simpler,” says Bernd Leukert, member of the Executive Board responsible for Products & Innovation. “This new SAP HANA integrated approach allows scenarios to be done directly on SAP HANA without an additional component.”

Ahead of the storm

The spatial engine now integrated within SAP HANA has made the company’s flagship product even more attractive to customers and prospects whose business imperative it is to tame and monetize Big Data. Here are the most prominent customer examples and industry partnerships to date:

  • Insurance and Risk Analysis: Weather driven natural hazards like hurricanes and cyclones are on the increase, which has led to high insurance claims among insurers and reinsurers. Getting insight in the vast amount of data is crucial to understand the financial risks better, and to derive the appropriate actions to control the risk. Insurers and reinsurers are therefore using SAP HANA to predict the damage. The applications use existing data on insured assets combined with the geospatial data on actual or predicted path of storms to calculate probable damages to policy holders assets according to type of coverage (examples: flood, wind, hail). SAP HANA’s spatial engine has reduced the time for risk analyses from several hours to several seconds.
  • Sports analytics: SAP HANA Spatial form the foundation for the player analytics solution built for the German Bundesliga soccer team TSG 1899 Hoffenheim to store and process spatial sensor data in real time – up to one million data points per minute. During training sessions, the players are equipped with sensors which track their positions. The spatial data is streamed into the SAP HANA database and can be immediately analyzed to provide insights into a player’s performance and help optimize training exercises. SAP HANA Spatial is so fast, that it would be possible to dynamically adapt the advertising on the boards based on where the TV camera is pointed on the field.
  • Telematics: SAP HANA Spatial has obvious applications in the transportation industry, where it can be used in in fleet management to track and analyze the driving patterns of vehicles, by tire manufacturers to monitor tire wear, and by automobile manufacturers to offer services for drivers.

There is currently no dearth of customers and prospects knocking at SAP’s door, each with their own business challenge that only be solved through rapid spatial data processing.

Reprinted with permission from SAP News.

Published Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Written by Paul Baur

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