Basics of SAP – Five most important elements

Dear friends,

When it comes to my blog and the YouTube channel, the majority of my audience are students. They are either early in the process of learning SAP or have basic knowledge about SAP and are looking to expand on it.

Either way, I receive a lot of questions about some of the basic aspects of SAP. So I thought I will write a blog about it.

Whenever I want to teach someone about SAP, I start with the below five aspects which I consider to be important and at the same time covers pretty much all the basics that will help them kickstart their SAP career.

  1. Overview of SAP
  2. Products offered by SAP
  3. Types of jobs in SAP
  4. How can you learn SAP
  5. Free trials offered by SAP

Let’s get started with an overview of SAP

  • SAP stands for Systems, Applications & Products in data processing
  • It is the third-biggest software company in the world after Microsoft and Oracle (please don’t confuse software companies with technology companies)
  • It was founded by five ex-IBM employees. They were working on an enterprise resource planning software project only to be told by IBM that it’s no longer required. So, rather than abandoning the project, they decided to leave IBM and start a company on their own called S.A.P.
  • Christian Klein is the CEO and member of the Executive Board of SAP
  • As of 2020, SAP’s revenue was 27 Billion Euros
  • They employ 100,000 people in more than 130 countries including 20 SAP Labs, which are development centres
  • SAP serves 440,000 customers in 180 countries around the world and has a market share of 22% of the global ERP market, while Oracle, which is their closest rival in this space has a market share of 11%.
  • Some of the stats about SAP helps us to realise how crucial they are when it comes to running big organisations around the world. SAP claims, 77% of all business transactions worldwide touch an SAP system. For example, SAP’s customers produce 78% of the world’s food products and 82% of the world’s medical devices. Some of the world’s biggest and successful organisations such as Microsoft, Apple, Walmart, Nestle, Coca-Cola, DHL, Airbus, BMW, Reliance, and many such huge conglomerates run SAP to perform their day to day operations.

Now let’s move on to the type of products that are offered by SAP

SAP offers so many different types of products. Some of them are developed by themselves over the years and some of them were acquired from other companies.

You can find the list of all the products they offer in the following link https://www.sap.com/australia/products-a-z.html

I am not going to talk about each and every product in this blog as it is impossible to do so but let’s take a look at the five most commonly used business processes by an organisation and what type of SAP products are available to cover those five business process.

  • ERP & Finance – It covers all the required software to run an enterprise.
  • SAP S/4HANA
  • Finance
  • Accounting & Financial Close
  • Treasury Management
  • Accounts receivables, billing & revenue management
  • Governance, risk, compliance and cybersecurity

I have made a video about S/4HANA on my YouTube channel before if you are interested in learning more about it

  • CRM & Customer Experience – This category consists of software that can be used to provide support and manage customer experience
  • Customer data cloud
  • Marketing cloud
  • Commerce cloud
  • Sales cloud
  • Service cloud

All the above-mentioned products fall into the category called SAP C4HANA. I have made a video about it on my YouTube channel as well if you are interested in learning more about C4HANA

  • The third business process is spend management – Spend management is basically about managing all the expenses of a company. A company spends money on various things and SAP offers different types of products or functionalities that can be used to manage these various aspects where a company spends its money on.
  • Supplier management
  • Souricing & contracts
  • Procurement
  • Invoices & payments
  • External workforce & services
  • Travel & expenses
  • The fourth business process is Supply Chain Management or SCM in short. I have previously made a video about SCM. It is one of the most famous videos on my YouTube channel. It has got some great feedback so check it out if you are interested in learning more about SAP SCM. It basically contains products that help manage the end to end supply chain of an organisation
  • Supply chain planning
  • Supply chain logistics
  • Manufacturing
  • Product lifecycle management
  • Enterprise asset management
  • Transport management
  • Extended warehouse management
  • The fifth business process is Human Capital Management. It is all about managing employee operations, enabling and improving them.
  • Employee experience management
  • HR & Payroll
  • Talent management
  • HR analytics and workforce planning

These are the five main business processes and the products associated with them that are widely used by organisations.

On top of these products, another important category of products we should remember is the Business Technology Platform.

It is the glue that enables the integration between all these multiple products and offers a seamless end-to-end business operation for the organisations.

  • Database & data management
  • Application development & integration
  • Analytics
  • Intelligent technologies

Types of jobs SAP jobs

There are different types of roles available in the SAP ecosystems. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most common ones.

  1. End-user – An end-user is someone who specialises in a particular business process area like finance, procurement, sales, marketing and uses the SAP software on a day-to-day basis to perform their day job. For example, you could be a finance officer in a company. Your responsibilities in the job would include things like processing invoices, preparing balance sheets, managing records & receipts, reconciling daily, monthly and yearly transactions and much more. In order to perform these activities, as an end-user, you will use SAP’s ECC or S/4HANA product. More specifically, you will be using the FICO module within SAP ECC or the S/4HANA system. Being an end-user is a great way to learn SAP. Especially if you are just starting out your career.
  2. Functional consultant – A functional consultant is someone who configures the SAP system as per the company’s requirements. All SAP systems must be configured before they can be used productively. Configuring an SAP system involves activities like creating master data, setting up rules and business process flows. Additional activities of a functional consultant would involve writing functional and technical specs, performing testing, providing support and training end-users. If you are already an end-user of an SAP system, becoming a functional consultant can be the next logical step forward.
  3. Technical consultant – A technical consultant is someone who installs, upgrades, integrates, maintain and operate SAP systems from a technical perspective. They are also used to be called Basis consultants. Technical SAP consultants should have sound knowledge of operating systems, databases, networks, servers, and SAP technical settings.
  4. Developer – If you are good at programming then you can become an SAP developer by learning the ABAP programming language. ABAP is SAP’s native programming language in which all SAP’s on-premise systems are developed. SAP also uses a variety of other programming languages like JAVA, HTML5, mobile development languages, using which you can build applications that can be integrated with SAP products on the SAP Business Technology Platform.
  5. Other roles – On top of the above-mentioned roles, there are so many other types of SAP roles available such as testers, test managers, security consultants, business architects, solution architects, project managers, trainers and support personnel.

The type of role you choose should depend on the type of education/skills/experience you already possess or planning to pursue.

Talking about training, now let’s take a look at the various ways through which you can learn SAP.

How can you learn SAP?

One thing a lot of people ask is how to learn SAP or what type of SAP course should I do?

I would start with a typical answer of “It depends”. It frustrates a lot of people, but to be honest, SAP is a vast subject. It contains hundreds of different types of products and thousands of submodules within them. It is really hard to suggest just one course or product in SAP that you should learn.

My recommendation is always to ask yourself the question of what exactly is your interest? Are you good at Finance, or do you like supply chain management, or do you like marketing, sales or are you a technical person who likes to work with networks, servers and databases?

Or are you someone who got no idea what you actually like? Then you got some research to do in order to understand what you might be actually interested in before pursuing that area.

Once you have decided on your area, you can use the below-mentioned resources to start learning.

  • Open SAP coursesopen.sap.com is a free online academy established by SAP. They conduct online tutorials on various topics related to SAP products and business processes. Their courses are designed in a way to suit everyone from a beginner to an experienced professional. You also get an opportunity to take part in an online exam and receive a certificate once you pass it.
  • SAP.com – Now this might look pretty straight forward but a lot of people are not aware that SAP’s website has got a lot of information about each and every product they offer. The following link contains a list of all SAP products arranged in alphabetical order. https://www.sap.com/products-a-z.html Click on the product that you are interested in and you will find information like key benefits, capabilities and that particular product’s brochure.
  • SAP Help Portal – SAP Help Portal is the place where you can find product documentation, learning journeys and much more. Product documentation is free and can be accessed by anyone but in order to consume the learning journeys, you will require a learning hub subscription. I have provided more info about the Learning Hub in the below section.
  • SAP Communities – As the name implies, it is an online community for all topics related to SAP. It has more than 3 Million users. They have posted more than a hundred and thirty thousand blogs and the community has collectively answered more than one million questions. On top of this, it contains webinars, tutorials and invitations for upcoming SAP events. It is free for anyone to register.
  • YouTube videos & Blogs – There are plenty of YouTube channels and blogs that you can make use of to learn about SAP and its products. SAP themselves have got some YouTube channels where they make content specifically for students. The channel names are SAP, SAP TV, SAP Technology, SAP Developers, SAP HANA Academy, Service & Support SAP, SAP Ariba, SAP FieldGlass and many more. On top of this, of course, there are so many other YouTube channels and blogs created by individuals like me who provide learning content. These are all free and I always recommend students to start learning using freely available content first before paying money for any type of course or tutorials.
  • SAP Learning Hub – SAP Learning Hub offers online learning content that can be used to prepare for SAP certification exams. The learning journeys are tailored specifically to your role and learning goals, so it is suitable for everyone irrespective of whether you are a student or an experienced professional. As I mentioned before, you need to subscribe to one of the learning hub editions in order to access it. The different types of editions are discovery edition which is free for 14days, professional edition, solution edition, business edition and student edition.
  • SAP Training & Certification Shop – This is the SAP official training and certification centre. SAP offers training and certification exams both online and in person. SAP official training and certifications have got a great reputation worldwide. My recommended path is to learn as much as you can using the freely availably resources first. Choose an area of SAP where you would like to further pursue. Then subscribe to one of the learning hub subscriptions to enrol in a proper SAP course before doing the certification in that chosen area.
  • SAP Books – There are hundreds of books about SAP that are published by both SAP themselves and as well as reputed consultants/subject matter experts around the world. Once again, before purchasing any book, choose an area you would like to concentrate in, then learn as much as possible in that area using the freely available resources before purchasing any books. SAP also has got an official publication partner called SAP Press. It contains a variety of books starting from the introduction to deep diving into many of the complex SAP topics.

Finally, free SAP trials

Theoretical learning is good but there is no replacement for practical experience. Especially when you are a student and looking to get some hands-on experience. When you register for any SAP course using the above-mentioned SAP training and certification shop, you will receive free access to the respective SAP software that you are learning about.

Additionally, SAP offers free trials for pretty much all of their software. For some, they offer a 14-day trial and for some, they offer a three month trial period. If it is on-premise software, you can download and install it on a small server or a powerful laptop/desktop. If it is a cloud-based software like Ariba, SuccessFactors, then you can just access them using your internet browser.

You can learn more about SAP free trials by clicking the link here

Hopefully, this gives you enough information about some of the most important elements when it comes to getting started with SAP.

If you have any questions or feedback, please leave a comment below.

What is SAP Solution Manager?

Introduction:

If you have been involved in the SAP ecosystem, then there is a good chance that you might have already come across one of their most famous products called the SAP Solution Manager. It is an Application Lifecycle Management tool that can be used to manage the technical operations of an organisation’s SAP landscape. Not just technical aspects, but It has also got some functionalities that can be used to monitor and improve business processes. Primarily it is designed to manage SAP applications but non-SAP applications can be managed using Solution Manager up to a certain level as well.

Customers do not have to purchase licenses for Solution Manager. The usage rights for Solution Manager is included within their SAP support contract. So, as far as a customer is subscribed to SAP support, they can use Solution Manager. But the type of functionalities they can use within the Solution Manager might vary depending on the type of support a customer has got. If you would like to learn more about what you can use and not use, please click here.

Once, SAP Solution Manager was the second most installed SAP product in the world after SAP ECC, but at the same time, the utilisation rate of the product has always been less than what SAP has hoped for. There are few reasons for that which we will discuss further in the blog.

I am not going to convince you if the Solution Manager is a good or bad tool. The intention of this blog is to provide you with as much information as possible so that you can make up your own mind.

History:

SAP Solution Manager has been there for a while now. It was first introduced in 2001 as Solution Manager 2.1. Since then, the versions have evolved to 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 4.0, 7.0, 7.1 and the latest version is called Solution Manager 7.2.

Initially, it was only able to perform some basic system monitoring functions. But the latest Solution Manager 7.2 has come a long way since then and can run on the HANA database, uses FIORI, contains advanced technical and business improvement functionalities.

Functionalities:

A lot of customers use Solution Manager for its core purpose only. Which is to send data about their SAP landscape back to SAP. The below diagram explains that process.

Sending system data to SAP using Solution Manager

When SAP applications are connected to Solution Manager, it collects different types of information about the systems like license consumption, business process KPI’s, usage data, technical performance data, information about integration, database growth, custom code, security, ABAP dumps and much more.

That information is then sent to SAP which categorises them into individual customer profiles. The data in the customer profile are linked to a particular customer with the help of their “S” user-id. So when a customer uses SAP’s support tools like Early Watch Alert Workspace or Maintenance Planner, the data that is stored under their customer profile is automatically retrieved.

The is the core functionality of Solution Manager. Without this, customers won’t be able to send information about their SAP systems to SAP and won’t be able to use tools like Maintenance Planner. Which in turn will stop them from performing a support pack, enhancement pack, version or release upgrade of their SAP system.

Apart from the core functionality, Solution Manager has got plenty of other cool features.

Application Operations:

Applications Operations contains functionalities such as System Monitoring, Integration Monitoring, User Monitoring, Root Cause Analytics, Exception Management, Analytics and Dashboards.

Basically, they provide functionalities that can be used to monitor, operate and improve technical aspects of SAP systems.

Business Process Operations:

It contains tools like Business Process Monitoring, Business Process Improvement, Data Consistency Management and Job Scheduling, that can help you monitor and improve core business processes across your SAP systems.

Business Process Monitoring – The business process and interface monitoring is used for the central automatic monitoring of a company’s core business processes. According to the business requirements, critical situations in the business process execution are identified and automatically alerted.

Business Process Improvement – Allows customers to monitor business process KPI’s and provides recommendations on how to improve them.

Data Consistency Management – Data consistency management ensures correct and up-to-date data at all times. As business decisions are based on this data, data inconsistencies can lead to increased costs, and business processes that include inconsistent data can lead to downtime of your solution until the root cause is identified and the data is corrected. You can protect your daily business operations by preventing and detecting data inconsistencies, as early as possible, using defined error handling procedures.

Job Scheduling – Job scheduling management manages your background operations centrally. It comprises several applications to establish standardized, formal processes in order to support the management of centralized end-to-end solution-wide background operations. It can also be integrated with external scheduling tools.

Data Volume Management (DVM):

DVM functionality in Solution Manager provides information on the size of the database and individual tables of an SAP system. It provides recommendations on archiving and deletion of unwanted data from your database.

Change Control Management:

Change Control Management or also known as ChaRM, helps controls changes in your system systems in a comprehensive workflow. In technical terms, changes are basically moved from one SAP system to the other in a virtual container called ‘Transport‘. ChaRM functionality in Solution Manager helps you manage the creation and movement of those ‘Transports’ among multiple SAP systems in a controlled way so that they do not disrupt or overwrite any already existing functionalities.

Change Control Management component consists of the following capabilities: Change and Transport System, Enhanced Change and Transport System, Transport Analytics, Change Diagnostics, Dual Landscape Synchronization (Retrofit), Quality Gate Management, Change Request Management and Release Management.

Custom Code Management:

This functionality helps you manage all the custom codes that exist in SAP systems. A custom code is basically a non-standard program that is created by the customer or a standard program that is altered by the customer in their SAP system. You can use this functionality to monitor and manage the complete lifecycle of custom developments from the requirement to retirement. You can also continually optimize your custom developments, monitor the implementation and track usage and quality.

IT Service Management:

This component offers functionality to deliver IT services like incident management, handling service requests, problem management and change management. With IT Service Management, you can connect to an external help desk, set up service connections, and access SAP Service & Support, If your IT system landscape also contains SAP solutions.

Change Control Management component consists of the following capabilities: IT Service Management, Change Request Management, Interface for the help desk of a third-party provider, Global Service & Support Backbone.

Process Management:

This functionality helps you document and manage your end-to-end SAP business processes. You can store them as documents and as well as define them in a modelling environment using drag and drop virtual boxes. This way, you can manage your business processes in a holistic way: you can describe both business and IT perspectives on processes, applications and system landscapes in one place. So business documentation and system reality are always synchronized.

Project Management:

This component borrows some of the functionalities from SAP’s Project and Portfolio Management (SAP PPM) product. Using functionalities like project time management, resource management, status updates, Project preparation, scoping, scheduling, etc. you can manage any project, whether it is SAP or non-SAP.

Test Suite:

SAP Solution Manager provides a comprehensive test suite full of functionalities that can be used to perform end-to-end testing of SAP and non-SAP applications. It has the capabilities to perform both manual and automated testing. You can determine the scope of testing required for cross-system business processes, manage the tests centrally and execute the tests. The test management has the following phases: determining the testing scope, test planning, testing, and transferring the changes to production operation.

Focused Build:

Focused Build is an add-on that can be installed on Solution Manager 7.2. It offers standard, out-of-the-box functionalities to manage requirements and software development for large, agile projects. In other words, it offers pre-defined templates which can be used for managing SAP and non-SAP projects.

Focused Insights:

Just like Focused Build, Focused Insights offer pre-defined, out-of-the-box templates and dashboards. So that customers do not have to spend time and effort building dashboards from scratch.

Advantages of using Solution Manager:

  • One integrated tool that offers functionalities to perform end-to-end application lifecycle management, from monitoring the technical aspects of the systems, improving business processes, managing projects, managing changes, ITSM, custom code till sending the required information to SAP, it can perform everything.
  • It does not require additional licenses. The usage rights for SAP Solution Manager is included in the SAP support contract. So, it saves license costs of using multiple third party ALM tools and reduces the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of SAP systems.
  • It can be used to manage both SAP and non-SAP applications.
  • It can also be used to manage both cloud and on-premise applications.
  • Solution Manager 7.2 can run on the HANA database and can be hosted on any of the Hyperscalers like Microsoft Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, etc.
  • Solution Manager 7.2 uses FIORI as the front end, thus providing a much better user experience than the previous versions.

Challenges of using Solution Manager:

  • Implementation effort can be very high. As mentioned previously, SAP Solution Manager contains hundreds of functionalities that enable customers to perform end-to-end application lifecycle management, but that in itself can get complex and cumbersome. Especially when customers try to implement a lot of functionalities in one go.
  • Maintaining a Solution Manager can be time-consuming. Similar to the implementation efforts, maintaining a Solution Manager to ensure all of its functionalities work optimally might require significant effort and resources. Since it has got a lot of moving parts, dedicated resources are sometimes required to just keep the lights on. Especially if you got a huge SAP landscape.
  • End-users will require significant training in order to use Solution Manager’s functionalities.
  • If the Solution Manager is not set up properly, then there is a high chance that it might send incorrect information to SAP’s customer profile, which in turn will cause issues while using SAP’s support tools like Maintenance Planner and Early Watch Alert Workspace.

Conclusion:

SAP Solution Manager is a great tool. It contains everything an organisation could ever need to manage their SAP and non-SAP IT applications. But at the same time, it can get complex while trying to implement, maintain and operate its functionalities. So the best strategy to implement Solution Manager for your organisation is to start small. Implement something like Technical Monitoring, which is easy to implement and maintain. Then slowly look into other functionalities based on your organisation’s requirements.

Training the end-users in parallel is vital as well. If the end-users don’t see the advantages, then Solution Manager will always be considered as just an IT tool.

If you like this blog post, please share it with your friends and community who might benefit as well.

If you have any questions, please feel free to send me an email or post it as a comment.

An introduction to SAP

SAP stands for System Analyse Programmentwicklung (System Analysis and Program Development). It is a multinational software company, headquartered in Germany. According to Forbes’s 2019 list, SAP is the third largest software company in the world after Microsoft (1st) and SAP’s fierce rival, Oracle (2nd).

SAP was founded by five ex IBM employees, namely Dietmar Hopp, Hans-Werner Hector, Hasso Plattner, Klaus Tschira and Claus Wellenreuther in 1972. While they were at IBM, they were working on an enterprise resource planning software project only to be told by IBM that it’s no longer required. So, rather abandoning the project, they decided to leave IBM and start a company on their own called S.A.P. Hasso Plattner is still involved in the company who currently serves as the chairman of the supervisory board, but other founders are not involved in the company anymore.

By the time of writing this blog in 2020, Christian Klein is the CEO, COO and member of the Executive Board of SAP. He joined SAP as a student in 1999, held various positions within the company over the years and on April 20, 2020, was appointed as the CEO of SAP.

SAP’s initial years

None of the enterprise software used by organisations during the 1970’s provided the blend of real-time data processing, standardisation and integration. In an era of reel-to-reel tapes and punch cards-based systems, founders of SAP had a vision to create standard enterprise software that integrated crucial business processes and enabled data processing in real time. They knew a software like that would massively improve the operational efficiency of organisations across the world.

To make their vision into a reality, SAP’s founders and its early employees, worked closely with customers – often sitting side-by-side with employees in customers’ offices to learn their business needs and processes. Using the information and experience gained by working with the customers, SAP were able to come up with a software that included those crucial elements which helped them transform from a small German software company into a global leader in the business software.

Evolution of SAP’s product portfolio

1975 – 2000

By 1975, SAP’s founders and their initial employees were able to build applications for financial accounting, invoice verification and inventory management. This version was called as R1 and based on a single tier architecture where application, database and presentation layer all installed in one server.

In 1979, SAP started developing R/2, the second generation of its software. What made R/2 stand out from the rest of the enterprise software was its ability to process in real-time on a mainframe computer. R/2 took advantage of mainframe’s time-sharing option and integrated all of an enterprise’s functions, such as accounting, manufacturing processes, supply chain logistics and human resources.

SAP developed R/3 in 1992. While R/2 was mainframe based, R/3 was based on the client-server architecture. In R/3, “R” stands for “Real time data processing” and “3” stands for “3-tier architecture” which is database, application server and the presentation layer (SAP GUI). This client server-based architecture enabled their software to be compatible with multiple platforms and operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows and Unix which was made it as an attractive option for a lot of huge organisations around the world.

2000 – 2020

In 2004, SAP launched a new version of R/3 software with a revised architecture called SAP ECC (SAP ERP Central Component).

In this time period, SAP started to acquire and develop multiple cloud products, in-memory database called SAP HANA, analytical applications, User experience applications such as FIORI and more recently their flagship product called SAP S/4HANA which runs only on their HANA database.

SAP, what has it become now?

Today, SAP has become a massive name in the software industry. They are the market leader in business software. According to research firm Gartner, SAP has a market share of      22% of global ERP market, while Oracle, who is their closest rival in this space has a market share of 11%.

Some of the stats about SAP helps us to realise how crucial they are when it comes to running big organisations around the world. SAP claims, 77% of all business transactions worldwide touch an SAP system. For example, SAP’s customers produce 78% of the world’s food products and 82% of the world’s medical devices. Some of the world’s biggest and successful organisations such as Microsoft, Apple, Walmart, Nestle, Coca-Cola, DHL, Airbus, BMW, Reliance, etc run SAP to perform their day to day operations.

SAP serves 440,000 customers in 180 countries around the world. They employ 100,000 people in more than 130 countries including 20 SAP Labs which are development centres.

Disclaimer:

This post is not endorsed by SAP and does not represent/replace their documentations

Pictures are from OpenSAP course materials