Europe's biggest software company said on Tuesday its widely used suite of corporate planning applications and newer cloud-based Internet software would work together using a single, modern user interface. Forrester Research estimates that could lead to exponential improvements in SAP data-crunching times.
               
The unified database platform, called S4 HANA, promises to cut the time it takes to compile business accounts and forecasts to minutes, instead of hours and days, by analysing vast amounts of data in local memory. This provides instant-access retrieval instead of the slower call-and-response method of pulling data from hard disks, CDs and tapes.
               
Established software makers such as SAP are battling to boost Internet software sales and fend off pure cloud-based rivals Salesforce.com, Workday and Amazon.com's Web unit.
               
According to some analysts, SAP has staked out a big, early lead in the market for real-time business planning software by signing up a chunk of its biggest customers to S4 HANA.
               
For most companies, accounting for sales performance, inventory levels and other key financial measures still requires an elaborate scheduling effort known as the quarterly closing process to synchronise relevant data, a snapshot in time that is often days or weeks old by the time it is ready.
               
SAP's newer approach, in development for four years and used in parts already by thousands of customers, is to combine its super-fast "in-memory" database with business analysis functions. This lets company planners drill down into actual financial transactions and draw on a range of both internal and external data instead of relying on statistical assumptions.