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Author's profile photo Hanne Smaadahl

Terminology at SAP: 25 years of innovation

Terminology management has been part of SAP since the late 1980s. Over the past quarter-century the terminology management tools and processes developed and matured in parallel with the company’s own development and growth. From the early days of terminology work being contained within local teams, SAP has gradually developed end-to-end terminology processes that span across departments, functional areas, and geographical boundaries. What started as a carefully protected internal asset is now freely available to all as part of a company culture that puts the customer and innovation in the centre. SAP’s current success in terminology management had its genesis over 25 years ago. Charting our future involves reflecting on our past.

The early nineties was a time of innovation and rapid growth for SAP. With customers in over 30 different countries and nearly 50% of revenue generated outside of Germany, terminology became a key component of the company’s international growth and was seen as a competitive advantage. Terminology was managed in a closed, internal system carefully controlled by terminologists and subject matter experts. This system, SAPterm, was built on cutting edge terminology management theories such as a single repository, concept orientation, and data elementarity. The SAPterm team ensured governance through customized user authorization, in-depth training modules, and clearly defined data entry standards.

In the course of the 1990s SAP increased its partnership with other major software companies allowing customers to take advantage of additional operating systems and platforms, as well as connecting online applications to their SAP systems. By the late 1990s, nearly 80% of revenue came from outside of Germany and there was increasing demand for access to SAP terminology from technology partners, customers, and language service providers. These groups needed SAP’s standardized terms and their definitions to ensure quality in everything from software user interfaces to documentation and training, to provide the correct translations, and to reduce costs involved in working with and translating SAP-related projects and products. In response to this demand, SAP released its first terminology CD in 1999. The CD contained a subset of the terminology held in SAPterm but was limited in the number of entries and languages it could provide. The terminology CD marked an important shift in how SAP viewed its terminology resources. The growing ecosystem of SAP partners, customers and translators meant that competitive advantage could be found in better integration between products, add-ons, and solutions. Sharing terminology resources promoted this integration and thereby increased the return on investment into terminology at SAP.

By 2000, SAP’s workforce numbered more than 24,000 employees in over 50 countries. With a diverse workforce and a deep product portfolio, SAP recognized a need to bolster its knowledge sharing efforts across the entire enterprise. An internal, online version of SAPterm was launched on the SAP corporate portal in 2001. This internal read-only web access made terminology available to all employees at SAP and helped ensure consistent communication and knowledge transfer across a wide spectrum of employees and teams. This company wide access to terminology moved terminology at SAP out from the specialist roles in product teams to basically anyone in the company. Easy access to corporate terminology helped facilitate consistent communication both internally between teams and externally with customers.

Even after the terminology CD was updated in 2002, a plethora of competing files and unofficial terminology sources continued to grow outside of SAP, at times misrepresenting SAP or the concepts it used. User needs also changed. A static CD could not provide the up-to-date information needed in the rapidly developing field of enterprise software. SAP needed a terminology delivery system that kept pace with its product innovation.

In 2011, SAP launched a project to redevelop its internal web access to SAPterm. The interface in use today, designed and created on SAP WebDynpro, offers powerful functions for searching and filtering through the contents of the SAPterm terminology database. Detailed views of SAPterm entries include subject area and software release as well as available definitions, abbreviations, synonyms, and their translated equivalents.

Then in 2013, SAP turned an important page in its terminology management efforts. An external version of the SAPterm web access was launched on This portal provides free-of-charge access to official SAP terminology. makes over 4 million terms available, including 150,000 source entries that have been translated into 42 other languages. In addition to more than doubling the number of languages on the terminology CD, provides up-to-date access to SAP terminology with regular updates from the internal terminology system. By providing the company’s terms and definitions to the world, SAP hopes to help foster cooperation between parties in the software industry, in business applications, and in content development and translation.

In addition, SAP established this very SAP Terminology Community which gives participants a chance to give feedback to SAP on its terminology and to discuss terminology management issues. This Community is not limited to questions about SAP terminology, but is intended as an inclusive community for all terminology professionals. Participants are invited to raise topics for discussion, ask questions regarding terminology, share their expertise, and provide guidance for other colleagues.

A quarter-century after the first internal terminology processes were put in place, SAP continues to grow in the field of corporate terminology management. Through its latest terminology sharing efforts, SAP aspires to support the language of enterprise resource software and industry terminology, as well as provide a platform where professionals worldwide can interact around terminology topics, bring together experts on specific market terminology, and support language development and standardization.

(This article also appeared in the GALAxy Newsletter, Q2 2013)

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