From mainframe to the web, 25 years of IT history. (September 1999)

PDMís Editor Neil McNaughton traces SAPís inexorable progress from the batch processing of the 1970ís to the new web portal mySAP.com. SAPís Oil and Gas solution is now moving upstream, particularly with the new Energy Integration Platform.

SAP was founded in 1973 which makes it nearly as old as IT. The core product is sexily termed "R/3" which being interpreted means "Real-time system Version 3". Not a very auspicious name for what has become the world-leading Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) package, the flagship of Europe's computer industry and possibly the best marketed software in the world. But there is a lot behind the R/3 moniker. The reference to real-time computing is a curve-ball for the unwary - almost an IT in-joke. The real-time here is real time accounting. Which is a sort of accounting in-joke too, since this profession is the oldest asynchronous process in the (business) world.

unrealizable

The success of R/3 lies in an unrealizable promise to make accounting, or rather the whole business process, as near to real time as possible. Data is captured once and for all and rendered up to users of the prolific R/3 modules and add-ons, via SAP's labyrinthine processes. The software is modular and Ďcustomizableí. A large part of an R/3 installation goes to the army of well-paid consultants and customizers who will tweak the software to your needs, but more importantly show you how to change your business so that it fits into the R/3 mould. Customization of R/3 is a two way process - of the software and of your business. An SAP installation represents a huge upheaval and there have been some high profile, acrimonious failures.

marketing

SAP's marketing department have adopted a two-pronged attack on the business world. One approach is aimed at the IT specialist who has been told over the years, that SAP is "Real Time", a "Client/Server Technology" and more recently "Business Objects." The other approach is aimed at the MBA grads, and you will find tools attached to R/3 which will handle just about every consulting fad from Enterprise Resource Planning or Allocation (ERA/ERP) to Balanced Scorecards, Key Performance Indicators and most recently e-Business and Customer Relationship Management.

e-commerce

As SAP slowly and steadily moves into Oil IT, it is making a parallel attack on e-commerce at large. The latest SAP gimmick is the new web portal, mySAP.com - introduced in last month's PDM. SAPís involvement in e-commerce and business to business has not developed overnight. SAPís Application Link Enabling technology has been allowing SAP to trade data with foreign applications since 1993. The new version, mySAP.com intends to offer the world business to business e-commerce, and completely outsourced SAP systems and software.

Solution Maps

SAP's customizations for new industries are frequently performed in association with third parties such as Landmark. The customizations are quickly turned around by the marketing department into ĎIndustry Solutionsí - illustrated by impressive ĎSolution Mapsí. The Oil and Gas solution map spans the whole business process from exploration to the gas station. How many of the individual boxes on map are really populated is known only to SAP. Indeed, many will find it strange that SAP offers ísolutionsí for such domain specific activity as Portfolio Risk Analysis, Basin Evaluation, Surveying and Reservoir Modeling to name but a few. On the other hand, SAPís solution maps can be viewed as an invitation to tender. If your software can fill in some of the gaps and you would like to sign up for yet another integration platform, talk to SAP and join the EIP.

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