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Thứ Hai, 28 tháng 10, 2013

SAP's Plattner aims to remove the bugs from the human machine - Financial Times

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More than 40 years after he transformed the business software market by co-founding SAP, Hasso Plattner has set his sights on an even more daunting challenge: prolonging human life.

At an age when many of his peers are playing leisurely rounds of golf, SAP’s chairman, who turns 70 next year, is pressing the company to broaden its focus beyond helping businesses to run more efficiently, by helping human beings to run more efficiently as well.

The key, he explains, is enabling doctors and researchers to tap vast and various forms of medical data, help them perform lightning-quick calculations and analysis and thereby deliver personalised medical care.

If diseases are identified earlier, humans should live longer and the trend of rising healthcare costs could be reversed, so the theory goes.

“The data in this area are gigantic. A human genome has 3.2bn characters. Dealing with this puts an [ordinary] computer under stress,” he says.

His belief that the healthcare sector lies on the cusp of a big data revolution is not unique. According to McKinsey, the consultancy, over 200 businesses created since 2010 are building tools to make use of healthcare information.

Google last month launched a heathcare company called Calico that will attack some of the most difficult scientific problems in diseases related to ageing, while IBM is developing data analysis technology to improve the treatment of traumatic brain injury among a range of activities in the healthcare sector.

Mr Plattner, however, claims that the difference in his approach is “Hana”, a high-speed database tool that he began developing with a team of PhD and Masters students seven years ago at his eponymous computer science institute in Potsdam.

“Hasso’s New Architecture” can run some complex studies in a matter of seconds, instead of hours or days, because it compresses the data and holds it in memory chips rather than on a separate disk. “The idea is that all requests are infinitely fast,” Mr Plattner says.

A researcher could therefore use Hana to conduct real-time genetic analysis, he says. By identifying an individual’s genetic variants and cross referencing these with a databank of other genomes, researchers could reveal which variants are a marker of susceptibility to particular illnesses, such as diabetes.

SAP has reworked its traditional business software applications so they can run on Hana and has signed up 2,100 corporate customers. Hana sales reached €149m in the third quarter.

However, its potential medical uses remain largely in the research phase. SAP has partnered with a variety of healthcare entities, including the Stanford School of Medicine, publishing house Springer Science and the Charité university hospital in Berlin to build potential applications.

Mr Plattner stresses that SAP does not want to compete with healthcare providers but to provide the platform on which they can run applications tailored to their needs.

Still, the SAP chairman’s passion for the subject – his father was a doctor – could help the German software company claim a slice of the healthcare analytics market, which is projected to grow to $10.8bn by 2017 from $3.7bn in 2012, according to ASDReports, a market research group.

Mr Plattner, who remains far more hands-on than is typical of German supervisory board chairman, argues that China’s vast population should mean it is a likely early adopter of big data analytics in healthcare.

“The new president of China came to Germany and spoke to one of our board members for half an hour about Hana, It’s unbelievable. None of our politicians here [in Germany] have ever asked me about Hana, and they won’t,” Mr Plattner says, displaying a famed propensity for impatience and tetchiness.

He acknowledges that not everyone is comfortable with the healthcare industry collecting and exploiting their personal data but draws a comparison here with the early age of automobiles.

“The protection of an individual must be ensured as much as possible but not at the price that we don’t do things that we could,” he says.

“Before there were cars there were also no traffic laws . . . It’s a similar thing here. We must make laws that regulate what happens with digital information.

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