What is it?
SAP is the market-leading enterprise resource planning suite, with a worldwide customer base that dwarfs those of competitors such as Oracle, Peoplesoft, Baan and JD Edwards.
SAP has greatly expanded the coverage it offers from the classic core modules (manufacturing, logistics, financial and human
resources) to include customer relationship management, business intelligence and other applications which were formerly the domain of best-of-breed suppliers such as Siebel.
Where did it originate?
SAP was founded in 1972 by five German IBM engineers who acquired the rights for a real-time finance and materials management system they had designed for ICI.
The original SAP R/2 was designed for mainframes, whereas the current version, SAP R/3, arrived in 1992 and uses the classic three-tier client server architecture, divided into database, application and presentation layers.
In the past few years, SAP has extended its applications and services to the internet under the name mySAP.
What is it for?
The different modules that make up SAP are fully integrated, so once an order has been entered, the details flow through the manufacturing, delivery, billing, maintenance and aftercare processes.
What makes it special?
SAP R/3 modules are delivered in a vanilla form and have to be configured to meet the requirements of the business they are to be used in by turning optional processes and features on and off, and by adjusting the parameters of thousands of tables. The software can be customised using SAP's proprietary programming language, Abap.
A typical SAP roll-out takes between nine and 18 months, but some global projects are scheduled over a number of years. Project creep is not unheard of. Abap programmers and SAP "consultants," who specialise in the different modules have a choice of lucrative, long-term work as contractors, or as members of in-house teams maintaining software and implementing upgrades.
How difficult is it to master?
First, you must choose a module then decide which of the specialist areas within that module you will focus on. Up to six weeks' training will be needed at a cost of about £1,600 a week to become certified. Trainees should have enough industry experience to apply what they learn to the real world.
Where is it used?
SAP now claims to have been deployed in more than 19,000 user organisations around the world. R/3 spread from its roots in manufacturing long ago: the customers who have bought the latest version, SAP R/3 Enterprise, include MGM and Sony UK.
What makes it hot?
The number of job advertisements seeking SAP skills rose by 53% last year, according to the SSP/Computer Weekly survey. The rise is partly due to the release of SAP R/3 Enterprise. In the first 60 days, SAP claims to have delivered it to more than 1,500 companies.
What systems does it run on?
Most kinds of Unix, NT, AS/400 and IBM mainframes using Oracle, Adabas, DB2, SQL Server and other databases.
Not many people know that...
SAP stands for Systeme, Anwendungen, Produkte in der Datenverarbeitung (Systems, Applications, Products in Data Processing).
What is coming up?
In March, SAP unveiled mySAP ERP, a significant step towards a web services model which uses Microsoft .net and IBM's Websphere.
A range of online SAP training courses for individuals or "virtual classrooms" for larger groups can be found at www.sap.com/uk/education
Jobs and money
Computer Weekly recently ran an advertisement offering £1,000 a day for a SAP consultant. More typically, an Abap programmer or SAP human resources consultant can expect to be paid £35,000-£45,000.
However, employers are looking for experience, usually two or three years, or involvement in two or more complete lifecycle implementations.