What is it?
Long the enterprise resource planning (ERP) market leader, SAP offers the classic combination of multiple applications - logistics, manufacturing, financials, human resources - linked to a single database, providing end-to-end routing from the moment an order comes into a business to the time it is delivered.
SAP has now added the bits that fall outside the enterprise walls, including supply chain management, and has forged links with the likes of Broadvision and Siebel to take care of the customer relationship management/personalisation side of things.
Where did it originate?
SAP was founded in 1972 by five IBM engineers who acquired the rights to a real-time finance and materials management system they had designed for ICI. R/3, the current version, arrived in 1992 and uses the classic three-tier client-server architecture, divided into database, application and presentation layers.
What is it for?
SAP has moved on from the classic ERP model, and - like everyone else - calls itself an e-business solutions company. The goals are now true virtual integration, global collaboration and personalisation. SAP's Internet-Business Framework uses XML and Webflow technology to enable complete collaborative business processes within companies, involving SAP and non-SAP applications.
The Internet-Business Framework also enables collaboration outside the company, allowing seamless links to external Internet services and integration with applications at other companies.
What makes it special?
SAP says customers need invest almost nothing in hardware to use SAP, and can get up and running in a matter of days, by using the mySAP.com application-hosting services.
No maintenance effort is required because all updates and patches are delivered over the Web. Customers are shielded from hardware and software obsolescence. This takes care of some of the biggest concerns people have about SAP - the length, complexity and expense of implementation.
Once universally established, mySAP.com will knock the lucrative market for SAP consultants on the head. However, large corporations will continue to host their own implementations at least until the model is proven.
How hard is it to master?
Once you have mastered the basics of SAP - a five-week course at the SAP Academy is the usual route - you will go on to specialise on one of the modules, such as logistics. Previous experience of the application area is helpful.
Where is it used?
Having exhausted the large corporate market, SAP, like other ERP suppliers, turned to SMEs, and now says more than half of its revenue comes from small and medium-sized businesses. SAP long ago spread beyond manufacturing to include finance, utilities, retailers, telecoms companies and broadcasters.
SAP's programming language, Abap, with a soft roll, ASP - that's next week.
What does it run on?
Unix, NT, AS/400 and IBM mainframes.
Few people know
What happened to the SAP skills crisis, the justification for escalating rates and job churn. Suddenly there were enough people to go round.
What's coming up?
SAP-based Web trading exchanges - these are booming.
Rates of pay
Salaries for SAP have continued to fall, and far fewer jobs have been advertised recently. One recent post wanted a project manager with two years' SAP experience for just £37,000. But different SAP modules attract different salaries. The hot skill at present is supply chain management, with rates of £60,000+ being offered.
Analyst programmer £30,500
Senior analyst programmer £34,500
Systems analyst £30,000
Source: CW/SSP Salary Survey, July 2000
The SAP Academy provides training for newcomers and advanced training for experienced consultants. Consultants who have sufficient SAP experience or have completed the training program can sit an examination for certification as R/3 System consultants. SAP also offers online learning with live instructors, self-study materials and "Made Easy" guidebooks.
However, as we have said before with ERP products, don't be misled by stories of skills shortages and high fees into investing in training on your own account. Without experience you will not find work.