SAP - at least for me - is one of those sometimes larger than life players with its hands on many, many plates – including a very new effort to help wireless carriers unlock deeply buried strategic information from their subscriber databases.
Of course, most multinational Fortune 100 giants fall into this larger than life category, but SAP has more mobile stories to tell than a lot of other enterprise software players. We like to stay close with these companies for hopefully obvious reasons, and in the case of companies such as SAP we've been doing so for more years than we dare to admit.
In SAP's case there are a number of other threads - for example, the company acquired Sybase - another heavily mobile-focused company I've covered forever. Along with Sybase came Sybase Mobile 365, and Sybase Mobile 365 came about through Sybase's own acquisition in September 2006 of a company called Mobile 365 - which we had also been covering for some years prior to Sybase's buy. Given those roots and my coverage history, I was anxious to catch up with SAP Mobile Services. In particular, I was on the lookout to see where mobile messaging will be heading on the carrier front and what new things SAP is bringing to the game for its customers.
For those sensing a theme developing around the 2013 CTIA gems I've uncovered so far with VoxOx and Infinite Convergence, well yes this is another take on the possibilities for the wireless carriers to figure out how to better and more fully monetize mobile messaging in the face of Over the Top (OTT) players and a flattening out of SMS revenue streams. In the case of SAP Mobile Services, which operates as a division of SAP, that flattening out of carrier revenue impacts SAP’s own revenue streams. For SAP Mobile Services, it is both an issue of helping their wireless carrier customers do a far better job of maintaining customer loyalty and increasing messaging traffic and of creating new ways for SAP Mobile Services itself to create new revenue streams for SAP.
SAP Mobile Services operates a vast mobile messaging network, delivering global messaging interconnect, data roaming and an array of IPX-based services. These services enable businesses to engage with their consumers through a variety of mobile marketing and communication solutions. SAP Mobile Services helps businesses process 1.8 billion messages per day, across more than 990 operators and 5.8 billion subscribers in 210 countries.
For years this is how SAP Mobile Services and its previous incarnations earned its keep. But mobile messaging revenue and traffic has slowed down enough that both SAP and its carrier customers have begun to feel a real revenue pinch. Hence, the need for SAP Mobile Services to develop new capabilities to drive new revenue has arisen.
SAP HANA to the Mobile Rescue
In order to deliver on new services, SAP Mobile Services opted to look to its own parent SAP for possible solutions. And fortunately SAP happens to now have a hugely effective in-memory database tool in hand - HANA, which is capable of processing in real-time over 50 billion rows of data in two seconds. I’ve covered SAP HANA and SAP's HANA-driven analytics capabilities elsewhere and for the better part of almost a year - it is an exceptional technology and business achievement for SAP and happens to be the most effective tool SAP Mobile Services could have possibly hoped to have available in terms of what the company had in mind to deliver as a new carrier service it could in turn effectively monetize.
That product - the new "SAP Consumer Insight 365" mobile service (we'll informally refer to it as CI 365 over the rest of this article) - was announced at CTIA last week. To dig more deeply into what CI 365 is all about; I met up at CTIA with John Sims, the president of SAP Mobile Services. After a bit of catching up and coming to an agreement on the overall state of the carrier-side mobile messaging market, Sims began to dig into CI 365 and the problems it seeks to solve.
He began by noting that, "Carriers have an enormous capacity to collect unfathomably enormous amounts of subscriber data. There isn't anything a subscriber does with a mobile device - including how, among many other variables, subscribers interact with other mobile users or access the Internet and Web - that any carrier doesn't have enormous numbers of data points on. The problem is that this data is so vast in scope and size that the carriers simply cannot make any use of it. Any analysis a carrier might conduct to try and uncover any sort of useful information would take so long to accomplish that it would be outdated by the time the analysis - and whatever nuggets of useful and actionable information it uncovered - would be useless."
He let that sink in and of course it was clear that we were now talking directly about big data applications. But, it's more complicated than that. Every day the database grows by leaps and bounds. We're also talking about data that touches on the thorny issues of subscriber privacy and information security. On top of these core issues carriers guard subscriber data as if it was the entire collection of gold sitting in Fort Knox - you get the point. Carriers view their subscriber data as a critical competitive advantage and have never shared it.
Through CI 365 SAP Mobile Services believes it has found the perfect way to unlock near real-time, fully actionable consumer information and insights of both the strategic and tactical sort from these vast hordes of otherwise unmanageable wireless carrier data stores. What’s more, this sort of information will be useful not only to the wireless carriers themselves but also to market research and media companies.
Consumer Insight 365 is being launched as a pilot initiative, and will be completely cloud-based. The service will allow enterprises (especially such businesses as retailers for example) to gain deep and actionable insights directly from the analysis of the massive amounts of consumer data residing in operator networks in real-time. Further, these data stores will be both aggregated and anonymized.
Aggregated data of course provides many more data points. Ensuring that all data is fully anonymous (anonymized, BTW, this is SAP’s word, not mine – I’m not sure it’s a real word but it surely gets the point across) is critical to ensuring that no actual subscriber information is ever divulged or can be traced back to specific carrier subscriber data. This is a critical piece of CI 365’s capabilities – without which no carrier would otherwise agree to share its data.
With CI 365, data from operator networks is analyzed through advanced HANA-driven analytics, providing both global and regional population level insights as well as high-definition detail through an intuitive Web portal, but without the need to drill down into user-specific information. All mobile network operator data will be stored discreetly and individually partitioned within a global network of SAP data centers.
Further to making it all work, John points out that, “In order for our carrier customers to come on board we not only have to ensure them that the data is anonymous and untraceable back to actual users, but in fact we also need to rely on the very real fact that any such data breech would also be hugely detrimental to SAP’s own reputation and would have a huge impact on SAP’s own business. SAP is large enough to offer this crucial co-risk taking, enough so that our wireless carrier customers can trust us to guard their data exactly as they do. We’re no less Fort Knox-centric about it than they are – we have no choice!”
The other critical component of course is SAP HANA. Without it, there would very simply be no such capability as IC 365 possible. That SAP itself is able to leverage HANA to plumb the depths of such a huge big data application delivers a powerful message about HANA itself. But to also be able to create a potentially huge revenue source for SAP, while delivering the strategic and tactical insights SAP’s and SAP Mobile Services’ customers need as well is a significant win-win.
It is this win-win that makes CI 365 a true CTIA 2013 Gem for us. I don’t see another such capability on the immediate horizon from any other players in the space, so for the foreseeable future SAP has a pioneering advantage and opportunity here – both for itself and or its customers.
Brand Loyalty – Bigger than Fort Knox!
The market intelligence that will be generated through CI 365 will allow brands to strengthen relationships with consumers through well-targeted and precise, context-specific marketing efforts. CI 365 creates a new empirical data source that will both complement existing research methodologies as well as enable brands to better connect to consumers.
How will it work? John outlines it this way: “CI 365 is accessed through an intuitive, searchable portal and real-time service packages based on simple subscription models. Our new cloud-based analytics solution will change the way companies acquire mobile consumer intelligence, which is only possible using SAP HANA. This will allow brands to have a much more engaging relationship with their customers through timely marketing campaigns that are relevant to consumer’s interests, lifestyles – and where they are located. Different regions have very different characteristics, and this ability to deliver more local insights is critical.”
As we all know, brands, market research and media companies for the most part still work with traditional methods of monitoring and measuring the changing behaviors of consumers – even as they are brought about by ever more powerful smart, connected devices. These include of course surveys, polling and purchasing research that captures and analyzes consumer data and market trends. As we noted earlier on, because the pace of technology and its use by consumers changes so quickly, such traditional-based information tends to be dated by the time the research is completed and analyzed – which in itself is an agonizingly slow process.
CI 365 changes all of this. By moving to a state-of-the-art, 21st century big data model, brands gain huge insights that will – or at least should – lead to greatly improved customer engagement and ultimately to that magical holy grail of enhanced brand loyalty – and the always hoped for “brand recommendations” from existing customers to their colleagues, friends and relatives – for most businesses this is bigger that Fort Knox gold.
Consumer Insight 365 is not only a powerful product that will generate new revenue for SAP and its customers, but it will also serve as a powerful example of the possibilities that SAP HANA now puts on the table for big data applications. For SAP, that in fact ends up being a win-win-win, so perhaps I’ll need to modify my own phrase here and make the new product a multi-faceted CTIA 2013 gem!
TechZone360 Senior Editor
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