How to Understand If SAP’s Relentless HANA Push Paid Off?

Executive Summary

  • SAP has relentlessly promoted HANA, but HANA has not paid off; it is more of a liability for both customers and eventually for SAP.
  • We cover how SAP markets HANA versus how competitors market both applications and databases.

Video Introduction: SAP’s Investment in HANA

Text Introduction (Skip if You Watched the Video)

SAP has made a tremendous investment in marketing HANA. When the strategy originated, it was thought to become a stunning success by Hasso Plattner and those loyal to him and SAP. However, the vast majority of SAP information about HANA has been either false or greatly exaggerated. Secondly, the focus on HANA has taken away from the emphasis that could have been placed on other SAP products. You will learn whether the investment into marketing HANA has paid off for SAP.

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Notice of Lack of Financial Bias: We have no financial ties to SAP or any other entity mentioned in this article.

  • This is published by a research entity, not some lowbrow entity that is part of the SAP ecosystem. 
  • Second, no one paid for this article to be written, and it is not pretending to inform you while being rigged to sell you software or consulting services. Unlike nearly every other article you will find from Google on this topic, it has had no input from any company's marketing or sales department. As you are reading this article, consider how rare this is. The vast majority of information on the Internet on SAP is provided by SAP, which is filled with false claims and sleazy consulting companies and SAP consultants who will tell any lie for personal benefit. Furthermore, SAP pays off all IT analysts -- who have the same concern for accuracy as SAP. Not one of these entities will disclose their pro-SAP financial bias to their readers. 

A Brief History of SAP HANA

It is acknowledged that the push toward HANA originated by Hasso Plattner, the best known of the founders of SAP. He has written three books on in-memory computing since 2011. SAP HANA was accepted as the dominant marketing tent pole and has been the primary driver of SAP’s marketing and sales messaging at this time. This was a transition for SAP, as the prior tent pole was called Netweaver, which was discarded for all intents and purposes when SAP HANA arrived on the scene. Four years after the fact, it’s almost difficult to remember how dominant Netweaver was in SAP’s marketing message.

The Tent Pole Concept Applied to a Software Company

A tent pole is a term used by movie studios to describe the largest budgeted and highest grossing movies or television programs it produces. It “keeps the tent” or operation up. I have adopted the term here to mean the major marketing theme employed by any software vendor.

In analyzing the marketing tent poles used by SAP going back to the company’s origin, interesting things surface. SAP’s first tent pole was the integration of operations to finance in its ERP system. This was highly effective as it both resonated with customers, and it also happened to be true.

What Has Been the Real Customer Buy-In on SAP HANA?

The marketing and sales investment in SAP HANA has been enormous. So what has been the client’s response to the big HANA push?

It’s hard to answer this question of SAP HANA’s success and adoption rate from the outside looking in because SAP marketing and those that write about SAP (who want HANA business) create the impression that a lot is happening with SAP HANA. Tracking SAP HANA sales provides an enlarged view because sales do not mean implementation success. SAP stopped breaking out HANA sales as a separate item a while ago, which reduces the visibility to sales. Some speculate this may have been to obscure SAP HANA’s real growth rate, but they did have a good reason or cover story for doing this. But I have now counted several ways in which SAP is providing a misleading view as to SAP HANA adoption. One approach has been to count licenses given away to customers who have no plan for implementing HANA — as “customers.”

From the inside of companies I see as a consultant, the picture looks much different. It turns out that even at this late date, more than four years after SAP HANA has been introduced, there are relatively few SAP HANA implementations.

Reasons Why it is Difficult to Justify HANA

Some of the reasons for this are often discussed among the more educated SAP salespeople that I work with. I won’t go into all of them because that would be another article, but here are three central reasons:

Issue #1: Price

As HANA is on the upper end regarding costs and often comes to $1 million in just hardware costs alone (per application), the actual software is at the top end of SAP’s offerings. HANA consultants are also at a very high end in cost (and being difficult to find). I would suggest that anyone investigating HANA’s costs simply take the hourly rate of a large consulting company HANA resource and multiply it by 160 hours per month. This will build an appreciation for the sticker shock HANA customers face.

Issue #2: SAP’s Account “Headroom”

If SAP were a small portion of the spending of IT departments, it would be one thing. Still, SAP already has such a sizable part of its customers’ IT spend those up-selling customers from their current position constitute a significant challenge.

Issue #2: HANA’s Benefits Focus

SAP has developed all aspirational material types on how to use in-memory computing, and they employ very effective solution specialists to present this. However, HANA just does not address the primary pain points that SAP customers have. There is a very apparent misalignment between what SAP is promoting and what SAP customers are focused on.

The Real Issues on SAP Projects

The fact is that the clients’ biggest problems are not the speed of processing of transactions or that business intelligence output does not run quickly enough. I would think anyone who works on SAP projects would know that there are more pressing issues that SAP customers face, such as the following:

  • Maintaining current systems accurately
  • Improving the uptake of the system by users
  • Configuring some of the existing functionality that is not working as desired
  • Maintaining master data (Which so often leads to SAP systems being used less than optimally.)

Some of these items were added to the video I created on the adoption of HANA by customers.

In Defense of  SAP HANA

If a person from SAP or who worked for a SAP consulting partner were to comment on this post, they would most likely say a world of difference when HANA is added to SAP. That I am not “getting it,” perhaps that I lack vision, am a terrible person, etc.. However, the issue is not whether I agree with it, as I don’t buy SAP software.

Instead, the issue is whether customers agree with SAP on HANA. Up to this point, where SAP and their consulting partners have had more than enough time to present the case, customers have not agreed with SAP that HANA is critical for them.

While some customers have purchased HANA, and most of these purchases are for a single application category, analytics, and un-coincidentally, HANA is primarily an analytics database.

SAP HANA Competitors

SAP spends lots of time discussing the benefits of HANA SAP. However, when they describe HANA SAP, they often make it sound as if their SAP HANA competitors aren’t doing anything with their databases. However, that isn’t true. Let us go to the quotes. The following is from the vendor Anaplan.

“…HANA is an analytics database heavily used on-premise for small sets of users, and, per its name, is not intended for planning (i.e., to allow users to make changes to plans). This leads to performance bottlenecks when modifying plans and viewing resulting calculations. Another side effect of HANA SAP is that horizontal scaling across servers and cores is not supported for planning use cases. No doubt it will take time for the newest of the CPM products to mature and stabilize, especially from a company unfamiliar with the cloud. There is no confirmation that SAP will take on the enormous effort to re-architect for multitenancy, the speed of planning changes, and horizontal scaling.

..SAP Cloud for Planning, has had difficulties addressing large enterprise needs due to insufficient modeling capabilities. Even smaller companies have challenging modeling needs due to their industry-specific revenue modeling requirements, the use of driver based forecasting and “what-if” scenarios, consolidation rules, or their hyper-growth nature. Modeling flexibility is lacking, making room for spreadsheet proliferation.

Only Anaplan can scale for more complex models and large enterprises, three since Anaplan does not use off-the-shelf in-memory computing, but instead has a patented in-memory, Java-based planning engine. In particular, the patented Anaplan Hyperblock™ technology is optimized for planning and not merely analytics, unlike HANA SAP. What’s more, Anaplan’s unparalleled modeling flexibility makes it possible for Anaplan customers to scale horizontally across hardware without compromising speed, in contrast to off-the-shelf frameworks such as Apache Hadoop.”

So as one can see, every vendor has its story. Oracle, IBM, and SQL Server have all made improvements to their database. SAP also discusses them as if only HANA is moving forward while all others stay still.

Checking With SAP HANA Competitors on HANA SAP

An important principle here is verification. SAP makes exaggerated claims on HANA SAP. But not only do SAP HANA competitors not agree with SAP’s assertions but computer science experts do not agree with SAP on many of its contentions regarding HANA SAP. Also, SAP has published scant benchmarking data versus SAP HANA competitors like Oracle.

How SAP Markets HANA

HANA is one of SAP’s major marketing tent poles that it has used throughout its existence. I estimate that HANA is the largest marketing initiative ever undertaken by a company in enterprise software. However, any tentpole only has so much of a lifecycle. Either the concept is successful and is eventually adopted by competitors such that it is less of a differentiator, or it wears out its welcome. Something else becomes the new emphasis point. To see examples of how differently the competition markets see this article.


It is now common to hear about “HANA fatigue.” For four years, just about every SAP conference has been distinctly HANA flavored. One of my clients told me of her experience at one SAP conference where the HANA pitch was so strong it took on as she described it as a “cultish vibe.” That is a signal from the market to be aware of.

SAP can only keep talking about something for so long before either the audience accepts it or rejects it, and it is time to move on. That time is approaching for HANA. This is not to say that SAP won’t continue to improve HANA, reduce its price, and increase its implement-ability, but that it’s probably time for the marketing emphasis to change to a new topic.