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R/3 Release 4.5
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Release 4.5 was announced in 1998; with it SAP continues its process of introducing new functional components for logistics, financial, and human resources modules, many of which are based on a new open standard provided by the Business Framework architecture. Strategically, release 4.5 is the strongest SAP bet to introduce and enhance industry solutions. In this version solutions for automotive, distribution, and consumer products are especially strong. Among new and enhanced technological features of this release, special mention must be made of the new extensions for centralized systems management; new GUI components for integration with PC applications, including new ActiveX controls; more BAPIs; more enhancement and ease of use and configuration of the Business Workflow; enhanced features for object oriented ABAP; and the capability of accessing archived documents from the Internet using an enhanced Web ArchiveLink Interface. There are also some major changes in the programs and utilities used for systems installations as well as for upgrading. By using the architecture provided by the Business Framework, release 4.5 introduces new possibilities of extending the system using third party solutions via BAPIs in many R/3 areas: enhanced system administration and control with CCMS, human resources management, enhanced global supply chain, report generation, and so on.
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EnjoySAP: R/3 Release 4.6
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EnjoySAP was an initiative announced by SAP at SAPPHIRE'98 in Madrid, targeted to receive as much feedback as possible, mainly on R/3's usability that is, on enhancing the system from an end user point of view. Customer and user feedback, together with new strategic and marketing campaigns such as the New Dimension Solutions and the Next Generation, have established the cornerstone for release 4.6, known as EnjoySAP. Previous R/3 releases included hosts of new components, functionalities, add ons, industry solutions, and technology advances, and also new but not revolutionary user features. EnjoySAP has dramatically changed the user interface, going beyond just designing appealing and colorful features to fundamentally distinguishing between different types of users by delivering a role based user interface. One of the features included in EnjoySAP more demanded by users is the ability to tailor the interface, so that now users can add their own icons for their most used functions to the application toolbar.
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SAP Transformation: From a Single Product Company to a Global Business Solutions Company
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The evolution of information technology systems from the beginning was quite similar in all industries and activity areas. In the 1960s and 1970s companies chose a hardware provider, and from there and basic software development products (programming languages) they started to develop their business applications. Most companies started with critical areas, like accounting and financial applications, that were somehow 11
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R/3 Release 4.5 easier. Later, these companies advanced and introduced applications in other, more complex areas like distribution, production, and others. In any case, they always made their own development using the previously chosen hardware and software. Already in the 1970s there were some companies that realized the possibility of developing business software that could be used by different companies, creating the opportunity to develop the applications only once and then sell the software to other companies. Among these companies was SAP AG, created in 1972. Obviously the development of "standard" software was more viable in those business areas that were more "standard," like the accounting and financials. There were also more "standard" processes common to companies from the same or similar industry sectors (like manufacturing or financial industries). At the beginning there we many problems with and obstacles to selling these systems in important quantities. One of these problems was the dependency of the hardware and software platforms in which the systems were developed. At the time, it was not possible to use the same software in different hardware platforms. Another problem was that companies did not behave as standardly as initially thought. For instance, payroll calculation was quite different between companies, and even more different between countries, since each country has its own laws and legal rules, agreements, contract types, and so on. In late 1970s and during the 1980s, these problems led to companies developing standard applications to follow a strategy to enrich their systems toward a standard product that had to be flexible enough to provide functional features to different types of companies and in different countries. During the 1980s, with the emergence of PCs and the massive deployment of computing and computer networks in companies, it was the time to make applications independent of hardware platforms, and also to make those applications portable among platforms. This was the open systems wave, when different hardware vendors were designing computers that could work with (nearly) the same operating systems (UNIX flavors, Windows NT) and with the same database engines (Oracle, Informix, and others). This technological advance also enabled the development of standard applications that could be independent of hardware and software platforms. At the beginning of the 1990s, SAP AG had a product, SAP R/2, that covered reasonably well the needs of different types of businesses in different countries and in different areas like financials (accounting, accounts payable and receivable, controlling, and so on), logistics (materials management, warehousing, distribution, sales and production), and human resources (payroll, time management, personnel development). This system was installed in approximately 3000 companies around the world. The logical and natural evolution from R/2 to an open systems environment led to the birth of R/3 in 1992. SAP R/3 was developed through SAP AG's 20 years of accumulated experience in solving the business problems of its customers, along with experience in computing and managing complex networks. The company had experience and enough technological background for R/3 to succeed. In a few years, the growth in the number of customers of the R/3 system was exponential: 900 installations at the end of 1993, 2,400 in 1994, 5,200 at the end of 1995, and 20,000 by the middle of 1999. In the middle 1990s it was clear that the standard business software (commonly known as ERPs or Enterprise Resource Planner applications) was mature enough that many companies decided for standard software and could abandon the traditional strategy of local and custom development, which was often more costly in the middle term. At the same time, SAP AG started to gain enough critical mass to take a new step in the development of standard software. This was to start developing software for those company areas that were less standard and more dependent on the business or industry area. These were, for instance, the upstream and downstream systems of oil companies, the call center and customer care systems for telecom or utilities companies, the selling of advertisement in the media sector, and so on. It was necessary to make a move from the back office applications (financial, logistics, human resources) to the front office in the different industry areas. It was 12
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SAP Industry Solutions also necessary to transform a company selling a product (SAP R/3) independently of the target customer to a company offering specific solutions for the needs of its customers. SAP AG had enough customers in many different industries to think that the development and selling of specific industry solutions could be profitable. Figure 1 4 shows the percentage of R/3 installations according to industry as of December 31, 1998.
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Figure 1 4: SAP R/3 customers' installations by industry. (Copyright SAP AG.)
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