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

SAP SE is a multinational software corporation that is currently the market leader in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) field. 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 company currently serves more than 180 countries. An estimated 77% of the money exchanged through global business transactions touches an SAP system. A majority of the customers are small- and-medium sized businesses (SMB). The company offers on-premises, cloud and hybrid deployment models, with cloud computing options being the focus for the company's future.

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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.

A brief description of the SAP SE software company.

What is enterprise resource planning (ERP)?

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.

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:

SAP main modules
SAP main modules

SAP also has cross-application components, such as enterprise document management systems and product lifecycle management (PLM), which can be implemented with any of the main modules.

What is SAP software used for?

SAP software is used to assist companies with the management of business areas, such as finances, logistics and human resources. The SAP ERP system is the foundation of SAP software, but other application software is also available that supports specific, complex business functionality; this is called the SAP Business Suite.

The SAP Business Suite is a bundle of business applications that provides integration of business and processes, as well as industry-focused functionality. This bundle is based on SAP ERP, but also includes modules for customer relationship management (CRM), PLM, supply chain management (SCM) and supplier relationship management (SRM). 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 that was released in 2015. It is an ambitious rewrite of the Business Suite optimized for the HANA platform. S/4HANA is meant to reduce complexity, according to SAP, and to replace SAP ECC, eventually.

SAP S/4HANA Cloud is a SaaS version of S/4HANA, presenting the advantages of HANA's in-memory processing and real time data accessibility within a SaaS model, meaning users can access all of the software's functionality.

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

How does the SAP ERP system work?

The SAP ERP system is often arranged in a three-tier, client-server architecture. This set up is recommended because it enables flexibility and increased scalability. The three tiers used by the SAP ERP software include: the presentation tier, the application tier and the database tier.

The presentation tier provides the user with the SAP graphical user interface (SAP GUI). The SAP GUI can be installed on any computer that uses the Microsoft Windows operating system (OS) or Mac OS. The SAP GUI is the point of communication between the user and the SAP ERP system.

The application tier is the core of the SAP ERP system. This tier is responsible for processing client transactions, executing business logic, running reports, monitoring access to the database, printing jobs and communicating with other applications.

The database tier is where both the business generated data -- or data objects created by users through different business processes -- and SAP application programs are stored. The performance of this tier ultimately decides the scalability of the entire SAP ERP system since each system is usually deployed using one database instance.

When working together, the application tier will receive the input and then send the information to the presentation tier. The presentation will display the output in the SAP GUI. This data is then stored in the database tier.

All processes that are started or stopped within the SAP ERP system are called SAP instances. Each instance possesses a dispatcher and various work processes. The dispatcher allocates tasks to one of the work processes. The SAP ERP system has different work processes to match with different tasks. These work processes include:

  • dialogue work processes for managing online transaction requests from users;
  • update work processes that perform updates in the database;
  • spool work processes which enable printing in the SAP system;
  • batch work processes that process any background jobs scheduled in the system and
  • gateway work processes which enable communication between applications, such as between SAP R/3 and SAP R/2.

While the SAP ERP system can contain several application instances, there must always be one special, central instance (CI) that has two additional components: the message process and the enqueue server. The message process is used to establish communication between the various application instances in the SAP system. The enqueue server manages locks on the database tables, ensuring the updates are performed in the proper sequence and guaranteeing the consistency of business data.

Beyond this breakdown, there are several application modules that make up the SAP ERP system. Each module is designed to accommodate the SAP application programs and specific business data related to a particular area of business, such as MM or FI.

Within an SAP system, users will also find:

  • SAP C/4HANA, a cloud-based customer experience and e-commerce platform that consists of the SAP Marketing Cloud, SAP Customer Cloud, SAP Sales Cloud, SAP Service Cloud and SAP Customer Data Cloud.
  • SAP Leonardo, an integrated system of software and services that encompasses next-generation technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), big data and blockchain under the SAP Cloud Platform
  • SAP Fiori, a collection of SAP software that the company intends to use as its predominant user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) model going forward. A number of Fiori apps run exclusively on S/4HANA, and the two are intended to more closely intertwine as they evolve.

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 Americas' SAP Users' Group (ASUG), being the largest.

Advantages and disadvantages of the SAP ERP system

Advantages of SAP ERP include:

  • The standardization of an organization's business processes.
  • The ability to integrate with other third party systems and perform enterprise-wide services.
  • The flexibility to create custom rules with the SAP structure that set the parameters for transactions.
  • Various analytical features -- such as reporting and decision making -- that enable SAP to meet the needs of various complex businesses and government organizations.

Disadvantages of SAP ERP include:

  • The high cost of purchasing and implementing the program, including buying the software and hardware, labor costs of internal IT employees and external consultants, the costs of training employees and the residual costs for software maintenance and periodic upgrades.
  • The complexity of the system means most companies will only implement one feature of the SAP ERP software at a time, causing the complete implementation of the software to take up to several years.

History of SAP

SAP was started in 1972 by five former IBM employees in Mannheim, Germany. 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.

In 1973, SAP released R/1, a financial accounting system. R/1 ran on IBM servers and disk operating systems (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 1988, it changed from a private, limited-liability company to the publicly traded SAP AG (with AG changing to SE in 2014). Also in 1988, the company established SAP America in Pennsylvania.

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 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. SAP SE 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.

In 2006, the company claimed hefty revenue from SAP Business All-in-One and SAP Business One.

In 2009, SAP Business Suite 7 became available to customers worldwide. This version used a service-oriented architecture.

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.

Since 1996, the company has also 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
This was last updated in August 2019

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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.
Good morning.
I want to learn to work with the tool, where I can do training, I live in Miami, thanks

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