Analytics are important to the way we do business. They help us learn more about everything from who our customers are to how effectively we are doing business with them. The more efficiently we can analyze the data, the better able we are to understand and serve our customers.

A major problem to date has been the time it takes to generate these insights. Depending on the size of the customer database, retrieving the necessary information could have taken days or even weeks. To couple this with the influx of real-time data, the problem gets compounded multiple times. By the time the data is analyzed, there is a good chance that the analysis is no longer current or the opportunity has passed.

No one will argue the merit of real-time analytics. SAP has changed the way businesses run analytics with SAP HANA, its next generation in-memory database. Where it used to take hours or days to retrieve data, now with SAP HANA, data can be retrieved and analyzed in seconds. Further, with the ability to analyze structured and unstructured data, the derived insights are invaluable.

But why SAP HANA? Steve Lucas, Global GM & Senior Executive, SAP Business Analytics and Technology, offers a practical example of HANA’s power and ability. He says to think of it in terms of retail. SAP HANA can dramatically change the point-of-sale experience. Today, many customers are asked at checkout if they’d like to apply for a credit card. By using SAP HANA, businesses have the ability to process customers’ current purchases and offer them sales or discounts on the spot based on trends in the shopping experience. This would allow the business to go from a very general point-of-sale marketing approach to one that is far more precise. The ability to access this kind of data on the spot and improve the customer experience so entirely is monumental. Until very recently, this caliber of data retrieval has not yet been available.

For companies like NextPrinciples, we recognize that social media channels produce a tsunami of data that might otherwise be difficult to process. Mega events like CES (blog), DreamForce (Oracle Open World vs. DreamForce 2013 on Pinterest), and CeBIT provide brands with an opportunity to understand in real time who their key influencers are, what messages are resonating, or what’s the sentiment based off an announcement. So-Lo-Mo, which is the combination of social, location and mobile data, is another use case that requires crunching of large amounts of real-time data to better understand and engage with customers.

It is not just about what real-time data offers to brands. Customer expectations are also changing. Increasingly, customers are now expecting a seamless cross channel experience. They tweet out their disappointment about a service or product and within a few minutes get on the 1-800 number expecting the call center agent to not only be aware of the problem but to also have resolved it.

Batch updates that run every hour might seem frequent, but when you consider the pace at which social media moves, and changing customer expectations, an hour is too long for stakeholders to wait for a response. SAP’s HANA platform has allowed us at Next Principles to overcome these challenges. Instead of waiting for batch updates to run, we can now analyze and parse social media data in real time and the resulting query processing is 300 times faster.

It is after all about driving customer-centric businesses.