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When I first started learning SAP back in 1989 it was a cutting edge technology providing a brand-new technical edge to businesses (mainly in Europe) – integrated enterprise software. This was innovative and really bleeding edge stuff! Transactions were navigated via the ‘OK Code’ (no fancy menus) and to work within the applications and use the function codes (no save, change or create icons) a working command of German definitely helped.  Table names were either memorized or found via the handy fold-out cards we received at training, and the end-user experience could be in either green, white or orange font on a black 3270 terminal screen. Pretty high-tech stuff. Life was mainframe, assembler and nascent ABAP/4. And we were happy.

To get a feel for this life, have a look at the great old screen captures of R/2 at: http://www.sapdesignguild.org/goodies/r3_history.asp#v1

To see how much SAP changed in just a few years took at all the screen shots provided in the blog. It is amazing! Even under R/2 SAP had already started working on the usability with a vision for the future.

Then in early 1991 and early SAP began to provide to its international subsidiaries and partners a sneak peek at R/3 and the roadmap for this new thing called ‘client server architecture’.  I came to the US from SAP Australia for an internal SAP meeting to see this new technology and understand the new roadmap. Although it was exciting to learn of the new technical infrastructure and changes to the applications and end-user experience, it was just as frightening to consider all the new skills to be learned, the skills that would be made redundant and the potential shuffle in the market of new players vs. old players and how quickly we would need to ramp up to support this new technical direction.

To help answer the many questions about the roadmap and support path for R/2 and R/3 SAP produced a diagram which I have recreated from memory. I do know for sure that we expected the R/2 support to end in a few short years after the release of R/3 and that everyone would clamoring to embrace this new client -server world as fast as they could drop their mainframes. There were the expected ‘jumping on’ points for early adopters and then the general releases. For R/2 support it seemed like sailing off the worlds end. Customers new to SAP were expected to go straight to R/3.

It looked something like this:

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And guess what happened? It didn’t quite play out that way.

It turns out that many SAP R/2 customers were happy to stay longer on R/2 until the client server world was more known and they were able to create a clear technical strategy for their legacy environments. New customers were subjected to higher support rates from both SAP and the functional and technical support partners who were also learning the new R/3 product and client-server tips and tricks.  The broad R/2 customer base then began to implement their strategic plans and migrate when both the technical, functional and consulting support and products were ready, more stable, and beginning to become more affordable.

The migration path instead looked something like this (with some customers still on R/2 even today !!):

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And within that path the functions that migrated and those that didn’t provided a challenging learning curve for everyone involved but it was exciting and ultimately ended up as a benefit to the customer. I used to love some functions that were available in SAP R/2 RP that made it to R/3, then slowly slipped away (RPDSYS00 anyone ?). And now here in 2012, long gone are the games of ‘SAP Transaction Codes and Tables Jeopardy for $100’. But Hello! navigation menus, GUI icons, BI graphics, online help, IMG, mobility and now cloud. 

So as I look out over the tweets, blogs, webinars, SAP conference presentations and chatter I see almost a repeat of what we had in the early 1990s: the fans, the early adopters, the optimists, the ‘wait and see-ers’, the nay-sayers and the outright panickers.

With the SAP HCM and SuccessFactors integration there is still a lot to be worked out deep in the development halls.  Once again we will see functional changes in both products. Some functionality will be gained. Some we will mourn. Some we might love and some not-so-much. But as in the past, customers will continue to voice their needs and the evolution of the products will respond to that call. There will be new players and old players in the market, winners and losers, high costs and rates at the beginning then a supply/demand shift as experience slowly builds up.  Customers will pick their new jumping-on point based on their on-premise/cloud strategy and readiness. And we will all eventually move into the brave new world.  When we are ready, and when there is a business need.

Aye, the old SAP days were grand. And these times are a changing.   But there are no dragons ahead.

When I look back at where we have come since I first logged into a blinking mainframe terminal at SAP in 1989 these giant leaps forward have always seemed to be the scariest at the time – but also the most exhilarating.  Lots of changes, lots to learn and lots to be excited about.

Remember – the best view is not always in the harbor but in the wild and beautiful sea!      Happy Sailing !

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