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The three ages of SAP

At TechEd12 in Madrid, and with the added SAPPHIRE event, one of the most frequent questions I heard from people new to the event was “just what is SAP providing nowadays?” To anyone  immersed in the detail, it is sometimes very difficult to step back and put yourself in the vantage point of the questioner. I always feel, whatever I say will either be too much on one thing, or ignore something important – or both. What I tried to do was provide a historical chronology in across two decades to try and show a clear journey from SAP’s original core ERP offering to its intended future.

So here’s my take, and if you think it’s rubbish, just put your point of view in the comments, and then my answer will get better ๐Ÿ™‚ . I’ve tried to keep the answer reasonably concise: too many details and that glazed middle-distance look comes over them. Hopefully, the broad brush strokes and vivid colours of the Impressionists is the effect I’ve achieved.

The full spectrum

20 years ago, this was the motif that was indelibly associated with SAP. As a symbol of core functionality for the enterprise, it is still the mainstay  of SAP business processes today.

Full Spectrum of business processes.JPG

It’s interesting to go through what every module does, and then you get a sense of the ambition in creating one piece of packaged software to do all that. It ran on its own operating system keeping the technology SAP-only. Configuring the business rules was tightly coupled to a SAP defined business process. These were the halcyon days for professional consultants and developers alike. If the package didn’t fit the client’s requirements “out-of-the-box”, there were always two answers: adapt or “re-engineer” the client’s business processes to fit, or fix the package to accommodate.

Instance specialization

About ten years ago, SAP started specializing their offerings on separate “instances” (a single database using one or more application servers).

Instace specialisation.JPG

The ERP instance remained core, but was joined by other business process specific instances.  Additional components where written in Java Enterprise Edition (J2EE) which provided:

  • The intra component messaging layer or “Exchange Infrastructure/Process Integration”
  • Java applications front-ending to the original ABAP-written business processes.
    • More versatile analytics through acquiring the Business Objects company.
    • Solving the problem of a user being faced with so many different logons, a single sign-on through the Enterprise Portal provided a framework to build user roles out all the different systems (as well as all the other Portal capabilities).
  • A Composition Environment to integrate business processes in all these different systems.
    • the architecture for communication used SOA (Service Orientated Architecture) – as did PI too!
    • the inter-component requirement for workflows was solved with Netweaver BPM (Business Process Management), with a “Universal Worklist” (UWL) from the portal providing the user integration into the process chain.
  • Finally, with such a diverse landscape, the management of it requires a server all of its own, provided by the dual stack (ABAP and Java technology) Solution Manager.

Instant access

Fast forward ten years to today, and SAP have embarked on a period of platform diversification. I think of this as the “instant access” age because there is instant access physically with in memory database provided by HANA, instant access on an enterprise level by new processes on demand in the cloud, and instant access on a personal level, with participation of SAP processes on device.

There is really only one picture that captures this, and that is the self-contained universe of the atom, with an on premise nucleus and its everywhere and anywhere electron orbits.

From my reflections at SAP TechEd, I think I now understand the following:

1. HANA means so much more than just faster analytics. It has the ability to do away the batch scheduling, and simplifies the underlying reporting structures. Nevertheless, the challenge here is to keep up with new arms race of competitive advantage through insights, rather than the earlier competitive advantage through process efficiency.

2. Mobile apps are the design imperative that finally pushes for simplified UI for all users. The constraints on mobile app means that each interaction is tailored closer to only what the end user needs to do. The challenge here is to design the process correctly so that the right information is displayed for the right reasons. Does that sound like BPM/workflow?

3. Cloud computing is NOT just remote sourcing by another name. The ubiquity of access to the cloud allows for new business models to become viable. If there is a challenge, it’s the arguable and fleeting one of first mover advantage.

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  • Hi Philip,

    This is excellent and gives a "youngster" like me a good overview of some of the older days and how SAP has evolved and re-invented itself as time progresses. It will be interesting to see one of these in 10 years' time!

    Best regards,


    • Thanks, I was hoping to keep my thoughts on exactly that level. It's difficult to get the right perspective on new technologies as they are introduced, but when the next thing comes along it kind of "completes the circle so you can see the whole", if that's not trampling on the English language.

    • Fred,

      any way you cut it, the "old" picture is still relevant, its latest reincarnation is business suite which is eagerly awaiting to be dressed up on HANA.

      i just don't see how tables like T001 or BSEG can be wished away.


  • Hi Philip,

    Thanks for the material - its a useful history lesson. However I would contend that SAP did not begin on 06/07/1992 with the first release of R/3 (as ERP was known then).

    There were software products (Mainframe based) named R/1 and R/2 that predated R/3.

    So I would say that 3 ages is selling history a bit short...

    Cheers, Phil G.

    • It was still a packaged solution even then - we called it wall-to-wall SAP, and not just because those blue documentation files filled a whole side of a room-sized bookcase (it was a time before CDs).

      edit - I have this now

      In fact, I remember puzzling over the documentation for the RA (fixed assets) logical database. The auditors had the bright idea to independently verify the book value and depreciation by writing a custom report from the data files [-shudder-]. HANA would now flatten that hierarchy.

      • Thanks Philip,

        Along similar lines to your post, a couple of years back at a Conference Event here in OZ a session was run showing the various SAP UI generations over the years. It was quite illuminating. If I can find it I will try and share it, although as it's now a couple of years old, the very latest Mobile Apps and UI's are not included.

        Cheers, Phil G.

  • Nice post, Kizza.

    In fact, I was going to make the same point as Phil G, in that the history goes further back. I know you explicitly stated your remit of "20 years ago" but this, as you know and have alluded to with your RA references, is not the full spectrum ๐Ÿ™‚  Allow me therefore to include another picture, the R/2 diagram from way back when.

    [mode: grumpy old git] One thing that stuck in my eye a bit is this tendency to use the word 'instance' when the 'proper' word is system. In SAP R/3 terms, an instance was always a dispatcher plus a number of work processes - what some people call an 'application server' or 'dialog server' - even 'dialog instance'. A system is made up of one (central) or more instances and a database. An instance is by no means a system. Or wasn't. Terminology seems to change, but I like to stick to the original meaning. It's the same with "blog" here on SCN - people these days would refer to, say, this particular post of yours as a "blog", but it's not, it's a "post", an item within a blog.[/mode].

    Perhaps I should leave the room now ๐Ÿ™‚

    • l'm glad you read it to the end at least! This post/blog was an experiment in a way - I wanted to address anyone with only a sketchy idea of SAP's direction.

      I really didn't want to dwell on the history of the software. What I hoped to achieve was coalescing around the minimum of the major milestones. I'm only using the R/3 icon as as a motif for the original concept of ERP integrated software, which was the origin and is still many peoples' first idea of what SAP is. 

      HANA/mobility/cloud is such a milestone that has come out all at the same time, but is more than just another incremental addition as in their different ways provides "instant access" (although perhaps the phrase is too close to marketing speak). 

      • Agreed, and I know (hope) that you took my comment as it was intended ๐Ÿ™‚

        I deliberately didn't bite on another point you made in the post: "Cloud computing is NOT just remote sourcing by another name." ... mostly because we'd be here all day!



        • I agree up to a point. More than anything it was timing. Realtime mainframe processing was possible with R/2, but when the processing power of clustered low end servers caught up, it was a natural fit for SAP basis work processes to move to client-server architecture. The processes were so well defined and real world tested its popularity was assured - just as if mobile devices today didn't have anyone else writing apps other than SAP.

          So I know SAP is becoming more of a technology company than a business processes company, but I see the change of platform not as significant as letting go from a closed integrated system to collection of specialised systems, and then opening it up further in this new wave to make ubiquitous availbility.

          But that's just me joining the dots in a line of my choosing!

    • DJ,

      You forgot Landscapes...

      One or more instances belong to a system, one or more of which belong to a Landscape; usually, but not exclusively, the systems in a Landscape are arranged so that code and configuration is developed in one system then transported from one system to another after passing quality assurance and testing criteria, until it gets imported into the Production System.

      Though there was (still may be available ?) a version of SAP R/3 where the Landscape was one system, with a development/configuration client, a QA client and a production client.


      PS Talking of old age, I still find myself occasionally typing slog instead of sm221

      • There must be a pub somewhere with a room up stairs where old SAP grey beards talk about ol' times  - you've not lived if you've not debugged a JCL whatever.

        Jumping ahead, I'm quite pleased with the allusion of the on premise landscape to an atom's nucleus. How shall I compare thee? Almost infinitely complex and perhaps not entirely knowable? Just don't put it into a particle accelerator...

      • Hey Martin

        I didn't forget Landscapes, I just didn't consider it relevant for bringing out the difference between an instance and a system ๐Ÿ™‚

        But yes, the next level up above system is landscape.

        I don't ever remember a single-system landscape, but I could just have been lucky. Even R/2 had a multi-system landscape, with different load libraries embedded in the STEPLIB DD card.

        Oooh, memories ...

  • An interesting read Phil,

    Its exciting to see how far SAP has come in a relatively short time,
    it would certainly be interesting to reflect on this post in 10 years time to see how far the 'future' of SAP is now behind.


  • Thanks for the journey through SAP Phil!

    It's amazing to see how it has evolved, especially seeing that the core ERP motif has lasted 20 years. It'll be interesting to see any additional instances that will be joining over the next few years.

    It interests me to see SAP making the move into mobile and the cloud, for someone about to enter the world of SAP I'm excited to see how they develop.

    Can't wait to be writing a blog post here in 10 years time on my findings!


  • Hi Phillip,

    That was a very intruiging insight to how SAP has evolved over the years and how it is still expanding and evolving today. As a newbie to this area it's always nice to see how things have changed and the direction they are heading in especially in the area's of cloud computing and mobile usage. The next 10 years should be very exciting for SAP and it's surrounding technology advancements.



  • Hi Phil,

    I'm new to the world of SAP and this has given me a great insight as to what SAP is and has been in the past. I'm excited to see exactly how SAP will re-invent itself again in the next few years, and how HANA will help revolutionise the way we use it.



  • Good one ,

    The first picture you have put was there in one of my earlier SAP classroom  notes I have prepared for myself.

    Glad to get reminded with those earlier days ๐Ÿ™‚

  • The advantage of R/3 over R/2 is clear from the diagrams: R/3 is more 3D and has better symmetry. I expect architecture diagrams for Business Suite on HANA to feature animated holographic imaging and super-symmetry.



    • Great comment, I think you've taken this on to the next level. Previously, no matter how much complexity there was in a system, it was essentially restricted to breadth and depth.

      Now, and in the future, there is perhaps no limit to the number of dimensions, even running in parallel. What I mean is before, we had to settle on just one way of doing something, whereas do we now have the ability to embrace diversity at any point we want to?

      What are the limits, bearing in mind most things would be developed externally to the customer. It is almost as if we would call open a library of components and processes and not even worry about physical resource limitations, they just don't occur!

      Must think more on this...

    • Thank you so much Rachna! I noticed you joined today, a big welcome to the community and look forward to hearing more of you, and not only because you're very to nice to me ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I like the way you selected the HANA picture showing a hint of quantum mechanics. Just as quantum mechanics brought us the age of transistors/computing... so be it with the HANA impact on Enterprise Intelligence.

    • Hi Huseyin

      This is really quite brilliant, a lot more detailed than my overview. My attempt was decidely an "evalator pitch" and so a lot of detail was removed.

      But the fact that we both recognized the same milestones is surely confirming the correctness of describing SAP's evolution in these three stages.

      More power to you for spotting it first!.

      Best regards


  • Just before I joined SAP 6 months ago I was trying to learn as much as possible about the company, and you wouldn't believe how many times I ran across content from the first phase like the image you posted. Wish I had found this earlier!

  • Philip,

    Your article is an "instant classic" because it describes and pictures the path I have taken in SAP, as well as everyone else.  Well done.

    Best regards,