You Speek SAPanese?

I am often asked how many SAP experts I employ. If I don’t feel like elaborating on this, I simply answer “…roughly 100 directly and including sub-contractors and partners, probably closer to 200 – give or take”. By elaborating I mean discussing the deeper meaning of SAP expertise, or defining the discipline of speaking SAPanese. After all, what or who is an SAP expert?

By definition, an SAP expert is one who knows how to install, configure and customize SAP software, design, deploy and run SAP based software applications. But what is SAP software? In the early days (the 1970’s), SAP software was a modular RM system, dubbed R/1. In the 1980’s as SAP developed the next generation solution R/2, the programming language ABAP (Advanced Business Application Programming) was developed and in the late 1990s R/3 was launched, developed largely with ABAP programming. By 2001, practically all but very basic functions were written in ABAP.

When the SAP NetWeaver platform was released in 2004, it marked the start of a new era of SAP expertise. This was when Java was announced as the parallel primary programming language and it was also the time for one of the very first technology acquisitions made by SAP.

SAP NetWeaver was based on portal technology developed by Israeli Toptier Software. Although SAP-grown ABAP remained as an official programming language, the core ERP based development took a turn with Shai Agassi at the helm towards platform based development and ERP also went out of fashion – for almost a decade.

SAP grew almost organically the first 30 years and by 2002 it had acquired only a dozen-or-so companies. Until then, SAP expertize was regarded indigenous. It was mastering the R/3 modules, it was speaking ABAP, the center of gravity was in Walldorf and all “not-invented-here” -solutions were regarded inferior-by-design.

Since then the enterprise application market started to erupt. Oracle started the stampede already earlier and soon thenafter SAP also changed its growth strategy. Since 1991, SAP has acquired 59 companies. Some of them have been small complements and others large technology gulps like Toptier (400M$ -2001), BusinessObjects (6.8B$ – 2007), Sybase (5.8B$ – 2010), SuccessFactors (3.5B$ – 2011), Ariba (4.3B$ – 2012) and lastly Concur Technologies (8.3B$ – 2014).

In addition to dozens of new technologies and programming languages, also the whole enterprise application domain has changed and it has also migrated from on-premise to cloud. Programming and software development has been outsourced to a large extent and SAP no longer relies only on itself to come up with the coolest innovations.

Being an SAP expert nowadays or speaking SAPanese is no longer the same. On one hand, SAP is just an umbrella brand for a plethora of solutions and deploying the entire suite requires a super-wide range of varying expertise. Traditional SAP expertise can even be regarded as a fading minority. On the other hand, a lot of the business logic and business processes needed to execute front-end-based applications still reside in the “old SAP backend”. SAPanese is still needed in most cases even when we try to disguise SAP with consumer-grade user experience.

Even in SAPanese, there are new dialects and one must understand different contextual interpretations, hidden meanings even body language. But more importantly, the number of different and new languages has increased and to succeed on planet SAP, one needs to become fluently multi-lingual – just like in any business.

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Mika Tanner

Bilot Alumni