SAP HANA Spatial: Where Are They Now?

The Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award has boosted awareness of the winning teams among customers and colleagues — and hasn’t been bad for their careers either.

Anyone searching for evidence that an innovation award can move the needle on a product and its people need not look any further than SAP’s Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award. Introduced in 2014 to promote entrepreneurialism among SAP’s 75,000 employees, the award was won by two development teams: the SAP HANA Spatial team and the Zero Downtime team.

Fast and accurate spatial data processing is one of the biggest technical challenges facing digitalization today. It connects Big Data, mobility, and the Internet of Things visually so business users can gain new insights and make better-informed decisions. The job of the SAP HANA Spatial team is to improve the processing and visualization of spatial data using SAP HANA, the company’s in-memory database platform.

Real-time processing of spatial data has already opened up completely new opportunities in industries such as insurance, energy, utilities, transportation, and retail. But what’s happened to the project, and what’s been the effect on its team members since they won the award in October 2014?

“The biggest accomplishment of my career”

One of the biggest changes to the team has been the promotion of SAP HANA Spatial development manager, Gerrit Kazmaier, to lead the development of two of SAP’s most important cloud products, SAP Lumira and the SAP enterprise performance management suite.

“Winning the award has without a doubt been the biggest accomplishment so far in my career. The experience was both breathtaking and flattering for me personally. But more importantly it gave me the affirmation that it is worth the effort to constantly push forward, never hesitate, and never surrender when you believe in a goal,” said Kazmaier.

Kazmaier believes the Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award is important because it “highlights the core values of SAP: technical excellence and innovation translated into business value. The urgency and striving to take SAP to the next level is a tradition worth holding onto. It is part of our DNA.”

The experience has also helped Kazmaier in his current role by giving him a sense of confidence about how to create great solutions. The only way to do this, he believes, is through open and constructive dialog with customers, turning them into true innovation partners.

Kazmaier’s ties with the SAP HANA Spatial team remain strong. He recently invited the team to a joint workshop in Vancouver with a new customer to integrate SAP HANA Spatial features into the newly developed SAP Lumira cloud applications. “During this week I felt like I never left the team,” he remarked.

A New Team Lead

Kazmaier’s former team member Hinnerk Gildhoff has now stepped up to lead SAP HANA Spatial – and has never looked back.

“The Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award generated a great deal of interest for the topic internally,” says Gildhoff , who now spends a lot of his time with customers and partners instead of programming code.  “We had more inquiries than we could possibly answer, from teams that wanted to implement spatial capabilities in their software, to employees who wanted to work join our team.”

One example is the digital farming solution that became a showcase at CeBIT in March.

To be a SAP HANA Spatial developer, you need excellent C++ programming skills, a strong hand in logic and algorithms, not to mention a solid math background. For Gildhoff, however, C++ coding has taken a back seat to travelling worldwide to customers and partners to present the capabilities of the SAP HANA’s spatial capabilities. And he is enjoying his new externally facing role. “It’s an extremely exciting area to work in,” says Gildhoff, “but there is still an awful lot to be done.”

Customer and Partner Interest

Customers and partners have apparently been lining up to find out what the real-time visualization of spatial data can do for their businesses.

“We built a proof of concept for a well-known energy company in Germany to perform a risk analysis on their underground pipes and cables,” notes Gildhoff. “We showed them that they could reduce the analysis time from several days to fraction of a second with SAP HANA Spatial. They had no idea that the process could be automated.”

For Lufthansa Systems, which is already a SAP HANA customer, the SAP HANA Spatial team built a prototype 3D flight surveillance monitor that allows an overview of the status of all flights, including which routes are affected by weather conditions. The prototype was used as a showcase at SAP’s annual customer event in May. Lufthansa now plans to implement it as a product.

Retailers and banks are interested because they want to visualize their data in order to choose the location for their next store or branch office. This is an optimization calculation combining geospatial data and demographic information such as population density and average income. And because more and more customers are requesting standard software for the visualization of geospatial data, the SAP HANA Spatial team is working closely with the development group from SAP Lumira to ensure these features are provided right out of the box.

In addition to ESRI, with whom SAP has had a longstanding partnership, Gildhoff notes that there are new partners who are eager to connect their applications to SAP HANA. Examples are Intergraph, which is focused on the European market, and Safe Software’s FME, which enables the migration of spatial data from an Oracle database to HANA.

Crunching Spatial Data from Satellites

According to Gildhoff, one of the next big areas of development involves solutions applying satellite data. SAP is therefore cooperating with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the German National Aeronautics and Space Research Center (DLR) to make use of data from Copernicus earth observation satellites in SAP’s geospatial solutions.

In one of the simplest use cases, an insurance company could, for example, compare two satellite images from the same area, before and after a major flood, to see what objects have been affected. In another application, SAP HANA could be used to create composite satellite maps from the images of different satellites. Instead of taking 2-3 days to crunch the spatial data, processing of with the spatial engine within SAP HANA would take only seconds. The Spatial team is currently working on the algorithms to do this.

SAP will also provide a toolkit for deriving so-called “geocontent” from satellite produced images which show population density, wind speeds, water pollution, or other data. The technical challenges in accurately processing and visualizing spatial data are formidable, but the potential benefits in industrial and scientific applications are so promising that it keeps the SAP HANA Spatial team motivated to push on at a strong pace with entrepreneurial spirit, much like that of SAP’s founding fathers.

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