A huge software company based in Walldorf, Germany, SAP (Systeme, Anwendungen, Produkte in der Datenverarbeitung) opened for business in 1972 as a financial accounting solution. Since then it has grown into the third-largest software vendor in the world with nearly 30,000 customers in 120 countries. Software revenues for 2005 totalled 2.78 billion, an 18% increase from 2004. Total revenues for 2005 were €8.51 billion, 13% better than 2004. (Reference: http://www.sap.com/company/investor/Press.epx?PressID=5571)

SAP is truly the hive brain of a business. There is practically no aspect of a business the software does not encompass. Some of the base modules are Financial Accounting (abbreviated FI... all modules have two or three letter abbreviations), Controlling (CO), Materials Management (MM), Plant Maintenance (PM), Project Systems (PS), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Human Resources (HR), and many more. In addition, they sell what are called Industry Solutions tailored for a particular market: Aerospace, Retail, Public Sector, and Utilities being just a small sample. So the breadth of this system is considerable. However, each module is also incredibly complex giving nearly endless detail to about every conceivable aspect of an organization.

An organization? SAP can crunch the numbers for multiple companies across continents in one instance without breaking a sweat. From enterprises as large as the U.S. Navy and Microsoft to local government organizations, like the one I work for, SAP has something to sell you. Their motto is "The best run companies run SAP," which may or may not be true, but they do have an impressive list of customers.

This might sound like me making a sales pitch, but that is not my intent. I provide technical support within my company for SAP's Controlling and Project Systems modules. I also do ABAP programming. While I wouldn't call it hard to work with, from a technical perspective, it is absolutely impossible to master unless that is your sole vocation. I am unusual among SAP techies in that I wear many hats. Most people -- technical and functional (users) -- only do one thing, like just Asset Accounting within Finance. If you ever hear someone say "I know everything about SAP...," rest assured, they are full of beans.

In 1972, SAP released their system named R/1. Back then it was just a real-time financial accounting system. Later, as computing grew more sophisticated, in the 1980s, R/2 was released. A mainframe system, R/2 introduced, among other things, multi-currency processing. In the 1990s, R/3 took SAP into the client server realm, fully employing a three-tiered architecture, relational databases, and more user friendly GUIs. The number of modules also exploded in R/3, and Industry Solutions were introduced. Also, R/3 began SAP's dabbling with web technologies with their Web Application Server. This was the precursor of NetWeaver, their current platform.

The 2000s brought mySAP ERP (the capitalization is accurate), representing a revolutionary redesign of the system from the ground up. Architecturally, the design became much more modular, independent, object oriented, distributed, and complex. Web services, a built in Java application server, enterprise portals -- these innovations have given SAP customers the ability to make their implementations extremely customized, personalized down to the user level.

hours of thankless labor