Imagine you are living in a normal, ordinary city somewhere in Europe (say Stavanger or Bremen). Travelling to Paris for dinner and theatre would take at least half a day of travelling. Now what if you could be there in less than a second? What would that do to the nightlife of your city? * **

It would not just change it. It would redefine it. Just imagine.

A similar dose of imagination is needed to fully appreciate what is currently going on in the world of Big Data. It is not just a matter of being able to store and use an unprecedented volume of data from many different sources. It is also not necessarily about the capability to deal with both structured and unstructured data. The real breakthrough – as clearly indicated in practice – comes from acting on insights in real-time.

This is where the new technology underneath SAP’s Hana and Oracle’s Exadata / Exalytics (to mention only the most obvious specimen) starts to shine. If we can use one and the same system – all in-memory or whatever does the job – not only to store transactional data in real-time but also to analyze it in a split-second so that we can just as much act in real-time, something truly transformational is lurking around the corner.

It is one of these rare moments when the rules of the game change. Let’s call it the Inflection Point of Real-time: the point in time in which the ability to analyze and act on real-time data transforms the way certain business activities are conducted.

The challenge to both IT and business is not to consider the new capabilities as just another trigger for stepwise improvement. It requires fresh thinking, potentially leaving behind most of what we think we know about a process. What does it really mean if we can perform profitability or cash analysis at any time of the day, based on the actual transactions going on? What does a supply chain look like if it is driven by the mood of the hour – or minute – at the points of sale? What about credit scoring if a request can be analyzed in depth on the spot, in seconds?

SAP’s CTO Vishal Sikka announced the end of batch during his closing keynote at Sapphire Now, last week in Madrid. And indeed, if our systems are powerful enough to store and process any input the moment it is created, there is no more need for piling up, no more waiting queues, no more intermediates.

Clearly, the impact of this ‘end of batch’ goes much further than IT processes and systems. It indicates nothing less than an inflection point for business, where we need to imagine where it can lead us if there are no waiting times. For anything.

And it’s always good to learn – from the original definition – that an inflection point signals a breakthrough to either of two directions: to the positive side of the scale, or to the negative one.  Food for some solid contemplation. In batch, naturally.

* Thanks to SAP’s Mark Raben who first introduced me to this useful metaphor.
** I was recently asked at a conference if I was predicting teleportation. Seriously.