Transport for London Using SAP HANA for IoT and Big Data Processing
Transport for London (TfL) has explained how it uses SAP HANA to process large volumes of data, including Internet of Things (IoT) information, to improve day-to-day planning and decision making.
TfL CIO Steve Townsend said in July 2014 that the organisation was beginning to use SAP HANA to make “different decisions and outcomes”. The in-memory database and analytics platform was only being tested at the time, and Townsend was hesitant about rolling it out across the whole of TfL.
SAP HANA has since been fully deployed and is yielding benefits, according to Townsend.
“So things that used to take a long time, such as the reports and analytics that we used to generate, just generally go faster,” he told V3.
“It came as a surprise to us because we didn’t think we’d see so many requests of data from our ERP, and we went from overnight processing to pressing a button and having [the data] processed the same afternoon.
“So it’s driven a layer of asking different questions over a short period of time, which can affect planning and improve planning cycles.”
Townsend explained that in-memory data management allowed TfL to get a lot more real-time answers to queries. The system has not yet enabled TfL to make second-by-second changes, but is helping with planning how the organisation operates.
“It gives us a number of different options, particularly with our desktop exercises when we are planning for future events. For instance, we can play with data and come up with different answers,” he said.
“So, as yet, it is not necessarily changing the day-to-day running of London, but it is certainly changing the day-to-day planning of what we will be doing and the amount of scenarios we can run.”
TfL also uses SAP HANA in some traffic-management models to process huge volumes of data in a short time.
But despite all the benefits, Townsend admitted that it “takes a little bit longer to mature, to get some real business value out of it”.
He also emphasised that it is not worth using SAP HANA for everything. “There are some business processes that just cannot be enhanced by the use of in-memory data management,” he explained.
“It’s like any other technology. You have to look at it and understand it and let it bite you a little bit, but you’ve got to become very aware of it and then deploy it appropriately. You can’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”
Townsend added that some of TfL’s legacy systems, such as railway management systems, can’t interface with SAP HANA, making it “highly inappropriate” to suggest a path to them from HANA.
“We are definitely [using HANA] where we are using the IoT and large data volumes. We are experimenting and ‘failing fast’, and looking at opportunities for how we can process data and come up with different models,” he said.