Contributor(s): Tom Payne, Cecil Roets, David Schlanderer, Jawad Akhtar and Diann Daniel

SAP SE is one of the largest vendors of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and related enterprise applications. The company's ERP system enables its customers to run their business processes, including accounting, sales, production, human resources and finance, in an integrated environment. The integration ensures that information flows from one SAP component to another without the need for redundant data entry and helps enforce financial, process and legal controls. It also facilitates the effective use of resources, including manpower, machines and production capacities.

According to its 2018 corporate fact sheet, SAP serves more than 404,000 customers in 180 countries, of which 80% are small- and-medium sized businesses (SMB). The latter fact is a more recent departure from the company's previous focus on large enterprise organizations. It's estimated that 77% of all global business transactions come in contact with an SAP system. The company offers on-premises, cloud and hybrid deployment models, with cloud computing options being the focus for the company's future. On the Forbes 2018 list of "The World's Largest Public Companies," SAP was ranked the 12th-largest technology company, with 2017 revenue of $27.4 billion. SAP is headquartered in Walldorf, Germany.

In 2011, the company launched SAP HANA, an in-memory database platform that is at the forefront of the company's future strategy. HANA was a major development project for SAP, which has said it intends HANA to take the place of the traditional databases SAP has used for its business applications. SAP has offered HANA as a deployment option for Business Suite, and, in 2015, released S/4HANA, an ambitious rewrite of Business Suite optimized for the HANA platform.

As of this writing, Bill McDermott is CEO of SAP, a position he has held since May 2014. Meanwhile, company co-founder Hasso Plattner is a member of the SAP Supervisory Board and continues to help lead the technology strategy for the company.

List of SAP modules and developing products

The SAP ERP software system, called SAP ERP Central Component (SAP ECC), is the collective term for SAP's functional and technical modules that enable enterprises to manage business processes through a unified system. ECC is the on-premises version of SAP, and it is usually implemented in medium and large-sized companies. For smaller companies, SAP offers its Business One ERP platform.

SAP ERP software has different main modules, which are separated into functional modules and technical modules, each of which has submodules.

SAP's functional modules include:

  • Human Capital Management (HCM)
  • Production Planning (PP)
  • Materials Management (MM)
  • Project System (PS)
  • Sales and Distribution (SD)
  • Plant Maintenance (PM)
  • Financial Accounting (FI)
  • Quality Management (QM)
  • Controlling (CO)

SAP also has cross-application components, which can be implemented with any of the main modules.

Some of the cross-application components are:

SAP technical modules include:

Further, SAP also has industry-specific applications that support business processes unique to a particular industry. Some of these applications are:

  • SAP for Utilities
  • SAP for Insurance
  • SAP for Oil and Gas
  • SAP Healthcare

SAP Business Suite is a bundle of business applications that provides integration of business and processes, as well as industry-focused functionality. It has SAP ERP software as its foundation, plus modules for customer relationship management, product lifecycle management, supply chain management and supplier relationship management. SAP customers can choose to run Business Suite on SAP HANA.

S/4HANA is the vendor's in-memory version of the Business Suite ERP platform, and it is run on HANA. S/4HANA is meant to reduce complexity, according to SAP, and to replace SAP ECC, eventually.

SAP C/4HANA is a cloud-based customer experience and e-commerce platform introduced in June 2018. It consists of five component applications: SAP Marketing Cloud, SAP Customer Cloud, SAP Sales Cloud, SAP Service Cloud and SAP Customer Data Cloud.

SAP Leonardo is an integrated system of software and services that encompasses next-generation technologies that include Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), big data, advanced analytics, 3-D printing (additive manufacturing), and blockchain under the SAP Cloud Platform

SAP Fiori is a line of SAP apps -- the first 25 were released in 2013 -- that the company intends to use as its predominant user experience and user interface model going forward. Fiori is meant to address criticisms of SAP's user experience and UI complexity. A number of Fiori apps run exclusively on S/4HANA, and the two are intended to more closely intertwine as they evolve.

A note about the term modules: In ECC, the correct term is component. However, due to the continued prevalence of R/3, the term module is still in widespread use. ECC's components are often interchangeably referred to as modules, with modules belonging to R/3 and components belonging to ECC, but both offer the same functionality.

SAP NetWeaver

SAP made a key decision in 2001 to open up its proprietary technology and make it programmable via SAP NetWeaver, which received a lot of industry attention as the first fully interoperable, web-based, cross-application platform that could be used to develop not only SAP applications, but others, as well.

The platform enables the use of standards-based web services to create new applications for business needs. SAP NetWeaver is the technical foundation and main computing platform of SAP, and it provides a set of tools for building and integrating applications from a number of disparate sources and locations via service-oriented architecture middleware.

Part of the company's mySAP product group, SAP NetWeaver can extend and is interoperable with other development platforms, including Microsoft's .NET, IBM's WebSphere and Oracle's Java.

SAP Labs and acquisitions

SAP says its primary focus on growth rests on internal innovation by developing and improving its own products. As a step in that direction, the company created SAP Labs, which are research and development locations that develop and improve core products. These are located in high-tech clusters around the world, such as in Bangalore, India, and Palo Alto, Calif.

Beyond organic growth, SAP has executed on an aggressive acquisition strategy to fill its technology gaps. Since 1996, the company has made more than 60 acquisitions. A major focus for the company in recent years has been building its cloud computing capabilities and enabling greater mobility. Acquiring companies with such technologies has helped to build those capabilities. A few acquisitions that serve as examples are:

  • Qualtrics, 2018, experience management, second largest acquisition to date
  • CallidusCloyd, 2018, sales team performance management
  • Concur Technologies, 2014, online travel and expense management software as a service, largest acquisition to date
  • Fieldglass, 2014, cloud-based contingent labor and services
  • Hybris, 2013, e-commerce, part of the SAP Customer Engagement and Commerce suite
  • Ariba, 2012, cloud-based B2B marketplace
  • SuccessFactors, 2011, cloud-based human capital management
  • BusinessObjects, 2007, business intelligence

SAP User Groups

An important part of SAP's information dissemination and engagement has been its user groups. These are independent, not-for-profit groups designed to help educate members, create customer involvement, give voices to users in influencing SAP strategy and provide networking opportunities. Here, SAP employees and users can meet and share information, experiences and lessons learned.

Arguably more important, SAP hears user feedback in both the technical areas and the functional areas. User groups are organized by region across the globe, with ASUG (Americas' SAP Users' Group), being the largest.

History of SAP

SAP was started in 1972 by five former IBM employees in Mannheim, Germany. The original name for SAP, Systeme, Anwendungen und Produkte in der Dataverarbeitung, translates from German to "Systems, Applications and Products in Data Processing." The original idea for SAP was to provide customers with the ability to interact with a common corporate database for a comprehensive range of applications in real time.

SAP logoSAP corporate logo.

In 1973, SAP released R/1, a financial accounting system. R/1 ran on IBM servers and DOS, and it had a single-tier architecture in which presentation, applications and data were on one platform.

In 1979, SAP released R/2, a mainframe system that provided real-time data processing across accounting, manufacturing, supply chain and human resources. R/2 used a two-tier architecture, where presentation was on one platform and applications and data were on another. R/2 helped power SAP's growth, and the vendor expanded its customer base to about 200 companies.

In 1992, SAP released R/3, which represented a switch from mainframe computing to the client-server model, and from a two-tier to a three-tier architecture, in which presentation, applications and data were housed separately. R/3 was a critical product for SAP that launched the company onto the world stage.

In 1999, SAP launched mySAP, which marked a new strategy for the company of focusing on combining e-commerce software with the applications in R/3. One year after R/3's release, SAP partnered with Microsoft to port the new version to Windows NT. By 1997, SAP employed 13,000 people.

In 2004, the company launched SAP NetWeaver, and it reported that more than 1,000 customers acquired the application development platform that year. Also in 2004, the successor to R/3, the SAP ERP system (or SAP ECC, for SAP ERP Central Component) was released. Customers already using R/2 or R/3 were still supported, but new customers were required to implement SAP ERP. By 2005, SAP was generating $8.5 billion, with upwards of 35,800 employees around the globe.

In 2006, the company claimed hefty revenue from SAP Business All-in-One and SAP Business One, its SAP ERP systems for SMBs.

In 2009, SAP Business Suite 7 became available to customers worldwide. At the time, SAP called it "the company's next-generation software suite enabled by service-oriented architecture."

SAP America

SAP has subsidiaries around the globe, with six geographic regions. In 1988, it changed from a private, limited-liability company to the publicly traded SAP AG (with AG changing to SE in 2014).

The company had first established operations outside Germany in the mid-1980s, but began a global expansion in earnest in the later part of the decade. As part of this, the company established SAP America in Pennsylvania in 1988, eventually moving to its permanent headquarters in Newtown Square, Pa.

At first, the company staffed SAP America with some of its German managers. However, it soon became clear that a staff more aligned with American culture would be more effective, and the company began hiring staff from the United States. SAP America's profits quickly grew with the release of R/3 in 1992, and it soon became the most profitable subsidiary, growing from two U.S. offices to 20 between 1992 and 1995. Today, SAP America serves the largest SAP user base in the world.

This was last updated in August 2018

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With which SAP products has your company had the most success?
Please put the tutorials for master creations.
Nice to see that improvement in SAP versions.
Presently, I'm using SAP in my work place. I want to know more about SAP.
I want to know more about SAP in order to be efficient at work because SAP is what I use in a daily basis.
Hello, I want to know about SAP.
I want to know more about SAP.
For more about SAP, I'd recommend starting here:

Lots of resources depending on what you'd like to learn. 
Please, I want to know the SAP applications related with accounting and finance because in my company. I'm using Oracle.
I want to know more about SAP so that I can be efficient in responsibilities at work because my company is using SAP.
Please tell me what is sap and tell how to do use it in our daily works. what is the procedure to load the software of SAP.
I believe you have a typo above...38,4000?
I am considering a move to a position which relies on SAP for cost accounting. I have not worked with it in the past, on a scale of 1 to 5, how difficult do those of you with experience believe it is to teach an old dog new SAP tricks?
Two recent paychecks were misrouted to another's account and my bank and employer's financial advisor assert that a communication glitch between SAP and our ADP systems are the cause. I wonder if there is any way to find out how any such mistake is possible, and how best to ensure against it.
Hi there -- My goodness, that sounds like a bad situation. Whoever helps run SAP and ADP for your company is probably the person to turn to as they may understand where to start looking. I have not ever heard of this happening before myself, but may others out there reading have.  

FYI, I was checking our TechTarget archives on this topic, and while we haven't written about your particular situation, I did run across a story looking at SAP and ADP's positions in the HCM tech market:

Is there any module of SAP login, and which module is suitable for shipping co?
Thanks for writing. Could you clarify what you mean by a "module of SAP login"?

As for shipping companies, it depends on what areas you looking for an ERP module to handle. For example, SAP has transportation products and services, such as here:

But shipping also gets involved with supply chain, logistics and mobility, which are different areas that SAP deals with.
Thanks for explaining this very deeply, many more questions are clear now, thanks.
Thank you for writing. Are you using any SAP products? We're always interested in hearing people's experiences with SAP.


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