SAP to crunch and sell carriers' data on mobile use

The anonymized data will help enterprises craft marketing campaigns and better target consumers

Mobile operators collect huge amounts of data about how their subscribers use mobile data, and that information is starting to go on sale as targeted intelligence that enterprises can use to better reach consumers.

SAP will introduce a cloud-based service at this week's CTIA Wireless trade show that will collect information from carriers about what mobile sites and apps their customers use, and even where they are when they use them. Using its own HANA in-memory computing technology, SAP will crunch the big data in near real time and sell it for marketing use. Carriers are already talking to SAP about the service, called SAP Consumer Insight 365, and enterprises may begin using the data within about three months, said John Sims, president of SAP mobile services.

The data won't tell SAP what specific user did what and where, but the company will be able to break down the information by demographic measures such as country, neighborhood, gender and age group, plus time measures down to the time of day, Sims said. As for location data, it will be up the carriers how specific it gets.

With HANA, SAP's data centers can work through billions of rows of data per second, Sims said. That's important because an average medium-sized operator may generate one terabyte per day of information about subscribers' mobile activity, he said. The most current data will reside in HANA, while the rest will move to a more persistent environment such as a Hadoop cluster or SAP's SybaseIQ database.

Because consumers now do so many things on smartphones, detailed knowledge about that activity can be very valuable to companies that want to reach them, according to Guy Rolfe, head of the mobile practice for Kantar, a consulting arm of international advertising company WPP. Kantar is an SAP customer and advised it on the creation of the service.

Until now, carriers have only sold their mobile usage data as a whole, through overpriced licenses that few companies would buy, he said. SAP will be able to slice that data into pieces that are of interest to specific customers, making the information more relevant and a better value, Rolfe said.

For example, if a company bought a Super Bowl ad, SAP Mobile Services could tell the company what Super Bowl viewers did on their mobile devices during ad breaks, such as visiting its site or those of other advertisers. Another example would be telling a big-box retailer how many shoppers in its brick-and-mortar store visited a competitor's website while there. (For privacy reasons, it couldn't report where consumers went on a site beyond the top-level domain.)

SAP already provides interconnection services to about 1,000 mobile carriers around the world, directly or indirectly, according to Sims. The company processes SMS messages and some IP (Internet Protocol) services, such as data roaming, through its processing hubs. With Consumer Insight 365, it plans to partner with the carriers and share revenue from its sales of the data.

It will be up to the carriers to remove details such as names, phone numbers and addresses of subscribers before they aggregate the data and send it to SAP, Sims said. SAP will be able to tell if that information hasn't been stripped out.

"It's our intention to make sure that we only deal with operators, and we only deal with data from the operators, that has gone through whatever the local regulatory and other data privacy regulation is in a particular country," Sims said. "Assuming we're comfortable with that, we would embark [in] that particular country."

The service could give a boost to mobile ads by making advertisers smarter about what kinds of ads may work and then judging their effectiveness, Kantar's Rolfe said. It would let advertisers see how many people see their mobile ads and what they do on their phones after they see them. Today's Internet measurement tools for advertising don't accurately measure mobile activity, he said.

In addition, SAP will combine data from multiple carriers, something that hasn't been done before, he said.

"The more carriers that partake in this, the better, because we want to be able to remove any biases. The customer bases of different carriers can tend to be quite biased, demographically," Rolfe said.

For consumers, this should translate into ads that are more interesting to them and less generic, Sims and Rolfe said.

The company plans to announce one enterprise customer this week and has already talked with some major carriers, Sims said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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