Decoding the SAP Buzzwords

Decoding the Buzzwords:
How SAP's Terminology is Changing 
(And How it Will Impact Your Career)

Unabridged and Unadulterated Edition, Never Before Released

by Jon Reed


I've been making my living in the SAP field since 1995. Over the years, I’ve had many a chuckle trying to keep track of SAP’s constantly changing terminology. It seems like every letter in the alphabet soup was used by SAP at one point or another. Joking aside, I’ve always taken SAP’s buzzwords as very serious business. Why? Because when SAP stops using one phrase in favor of another, there is always a reason. And if you don’t take the time to understand that reason, you can find yourself out of a job.  

A couple historical examples: for a time in the mid-90s, ALE-EDI-IDOC was the hottest technical skill set going. When I noticed the slowdown in ALE jobs, I thought something was up. One ALE consultant I knew agreed with me. He started pursuing hot EAI technologies like WebMethods, which eventually led him into XML and then into NetWeaver XI.

By paying attention to what terminology SAP was emphasizing, he was able to stay marketable. I know some other ALE folks who weren’t so lucky. They stuck with the technology after SAP stopped emphasizing it.

We can point to numerous other examples, perhaps none more prominent than the so-called "New Dimensions" products which we all once thought of as the future of SAP. When SAP stopped using the "New Dimensions" term, it was a high-level indication that the post-Y2K strategy of focusing on branding add-on components was not working.

SAP has reclaimed its market position by refocusing on innovating with the core ERP release first and foremost. Sure, SAP’s terminology choices can be a little wacky sometimes ("New Dimensions" always seemed like a better name for a new religious cult than a new product line) but the usage is always intentional.

Upon return from this year’s ASUG/SAPPHIRE in Atlanta, I combed through my notes and studied which terms SAP is emphasizing and which they are downplaying. Some of the results may surprise you.

While this is a fun and useful game, there is speculation involved. We can’t always be certain of SAP’s exact motivation, but the frequency of usage is almost always a good indicator. Even a subtle shift, like the one from "Enterprise Portal" to "NetWeaver Portal," has a reason.

In this case, we are probably attribute the change to SAP’s focus on the NetWeaver brand. However, SAP’s efforts to distance itself from the 4.7 "Enterprise Edition" of R/3 might also have something to do with it.

With that in mind, let’s look at some buzzwords and rate them on a scale from "boiling hot" to "ice cold." We’ll also consider the underlying market conditions that are influencing these changes.

One note about the methodology I used here: in addition to the interviews I conducted with SAP product managers, I also compiled all the press releases issued during the conference into keyword-searchable format. Then I did searches on certain phrases to determine their relative popularity.

We’ll take this press release analysis with a grain of salt, because SAP *always* tries to tone down the use of proprietary terms when they issue big press releases. But we can be safe in concluding that the buzzwords emphasized in these press releases are the key terms SAP is branding at this time. I’ll be referring to this data during my examples.

Hot: "NetWeaver"
Ice Cold: "Basis"
Why? Almost any terms linked to the "R/3 era" are being phased out. "Basis" is high on the list of terms no SAP executive is willing to use in public. The only problem? Many companies still need Basis specialists, and a similar term to describe NetWeaver skills has not yet taken hold.

I’m not sure that there can be a "NetWeaver specialist" because NetWeaver encompasses so many tools and technologies, NetWeaver also includes development environments. The term "NetWeaver Administrator" might be the logical transition from "Basis Administrator," but we haven’t seen it used much.

Regardless, "Basis" is out, and all Basis folks are on notice that NetWeaver is the future. Perhaps it’s for the best - the term "Basis" has many non-SAP uses, so there was always the potential for confusion. Proving the point, in the batch of conference press releases, the term "Basis" was used twice, but for other purposes.

Meantime, NetWeaver was used a whopping 57 times. Since you can only brand so many terms on a massive level, the heavy branding of "NetWeaver" means some other term has to take the back seat. That term is "mySAP."

Hot: "SAP"
Lukewarm: "mySAP"
Why? Rewind to the year 2000. ERP suites were being mocked as monolithic dinosaurs, unable to keep up with the speed of the Internet. ERP vendors were getting hammered for their awkward "user-unfriendly" interfaces. Best-of-breed darlings like Siebel and Ariba and Commerce One were the industry darlings.

Even the term "SAP" suddenly had "legacy" connotations. The solution? The "New Dimension" product line, and also slapping "mySAP" on virtually every SAP product name. At the time, the use of "my" before a term implied an "Internet-readiness," an ability to customize an application or web site for the individual user. These were the years before NetWeaver; the era of mySAP was upon us. Any consultant looking to stay on the cutting edge was trying to get some type of "mySAP" experience.

Now, "mySAP" is on the way to semi-retired status. Yes, it is still prominently used as part of the name for SAP’s main releases, "mySAP ERP" and "mySAP Business Suite," but often, you’ll now see these applications referred to simply as SAP ERP. And instead of mySAP CRM, it’s now usually just SAP CRM. The term "NetWeaver" was used 57 times in the press releases, the term "mySAP" only once.

Why does this matter? This terminology change points to the rejuvenation of the core SAP release. In the age of SOA, ERP is cool again - as long as it can talk to the outside world and doesn’t require a team of coders to make something work. No coincidence that most of the jobs we see these days involve core SAP release and upgrade work - classic financials and human resources projects with some Internet-based bells and whistles thrown in. "mySAP" is still a welcome term, but like a great racehorse, it’s run the hard laps and now it’s heading out to pasture.

Hot: "PI" (Process Integration)
Lukewarm: "XI" (Exchange Infrastructure)
Why? XI, we hardly knew ya. Just last year, XI was the hot term for NetWeaver’s integration and messaging hub. Now you’re supposed to call it "PI," as several high-ranking SAP product managers emphasized to me during the conference.

Of course, there is some awkwardness here, as "PI" is still SAP’s abbreviated name for "Process Industry" functionality. I talked with a Process Industry executive who didn’t have a real good explanation as to how the "PI" term would be shared. But make no mistake, it will be shared. It’s about NetWeaver PI now, and XI is on the way out.

But why the term switch? It’s all about emphasizing business process management. The guts of the functionality might be the same, but "XI" gets across a technical vibe, whereas "PI" is about making SAP friendly to business managers who can run the technology instead of having the technology run them.

I don’t see the name change having much impact on the XI or PI specialists out there, but I do think that SAP functional consultants should take these term changes as a sign: the successful "SAP Business Process Consultant" of the future will need to understand how to manipulate tools like PI that automate development and integration tasks. Functional consultants didn’t need to know "XI," but "PI" sounds like something they might need to have a handle on.

Hot: "Process Modeling"
Fairly Warm: "Java"
A Little Tepid: "Information Technology"
Not Warm but Not Cold Yet: "ABAP"
Why? Wait a minute -- Isn't Java in? Isn’t ABAP out? Well, not really. In the SAP of the future, all coding is out. In Chairman Hasso Plattner’s keynote, his main point of emphasis was "no more coding." Of course, what he really meant was: once companies upgrade to mySAP ERP, they won’t have to code in order to customize and upgrade their core functionality.

The message is still the same: coding is for the team holed up in Walldorf, not for SAP customers. SAP users will get the functionality they need through Service-Enabled "plug and play." Is this a fantasy? Perhaps to a degree, but SAP is making strides, and at this year’s conference, they could point to actual customer examples who have used SOA to build new apps and fill functionality gaps.

Yes, Java will still come into play with SAP development. The latest example? A press release on the NetWeaver Composition Environment (CE), which emphasized that the whole platform is Java EE 5-based. But that’s less about Java and more about SAP opening up its architecture and adhering to open standards. And as for retiring the ABAP term, not so fast. Yes, the ABAP marketplace has been forever altered by global offshoring, but ABAP is still around.

The virtues of ABAP for high-volume performance have convinced SAP to continue to offer ABAP-based development environments - even within NetWeaver. In reality, all coding languages are being downplayed by SAP in favor of "Process Modeling."

In its press releases, SAP doesn’t get specific about the tools customers will use in NetWeaver to accomplish this (such as the Visual Composer), but there’s no question that SAP wants to streamline development by empowering business users to take over more of the process and ensure that IT is in the service of business objectives rather than the other way around.

So from here on out, we’ll see lots of references to SAP as a "Business Process Platform." In this collection of press releases, Java was only referenced twice, and ABAP not at all. But the phrase "Business Process" was mentioned 37 times, and the Enterprise Services Repository, SAP’s name for the "container" that will house a company’s web services, was referred to nine times.

Yes, despite SAP’s emphasis on modeling, companies will continue to invest in SAP development. But we can be sure that functional *and* technical skill sets will change to accommodate this emphasis on process modeling over pure coding. To illustrate this point, in comparison to the 37 uses of the "Business Process" phrase, "Information Technology" was only used three times in the SAPPHIRE press releases.

Even as the strategic importance of IT increases, SAP doesn’t want executives to have to look under the hood, or to hear horror stories about what it took to make modifications to the core. The choice of the technology engine is now subordinate to the performance. The sexiness is no longer about how powerful the IT engine is in theory, but how easy it is to use and adapt in real-time.

To cite one more example, think back to when NetWeaver first came out. At the time, SAP frequently referred to the NetWeaver technology engine, the Web Application Server, in its marketing literature. WAS even had its own release schedule. Now the WAS has quietly been renamed the NetWeaver Application Server, and despite its importance as the engine behind NetWeaver, it rarely gets a mention.

If I were a NetWeaver Application Server expert, I would not be concerned, but I would also want experience in the more "outward facing" NetWeaver components SAP is emphasizing such as NetWeaver PI.

Hot: "NetWeaver BI"
Cooling off Rapidly: "Business Warehouse"
Ice Cold: "Business Information Warehouse"Why? Rest easy, BW folks. The strategic importance of BW is only increasing. This is one name change that has nothing to do with product obscurity. The reasoning behind this is similar to the IT-versus-Business Process example: SAP wants BW to sound more business-friendly and less technical.

I actually had a high-level SAP BI manager admit to me that SAP has renamed the BW product to avoid the inference that BW is just a data warehouse, which is perceived as a "techie geek" kind of product that requires a staff to manage. SAP wants users to think of real-time analytics and intelligent reporting as part of their daily world.

The image of having to call a tech person to explain how to run a query is not what SAP wants to promote. Nor does SAP want folks to think they need to crack open a data warehousing book in order to make use of BI. So, with the NetWeaver 2004s release, we have BW built right into the NetWeaver engine, but of course it is now called NetWeaver BI.

To reinforce this point, there were five references to NetWeaver BI in this batch of SAPPHIRE press releases, with no mentions of BW. There were also three additional references to "intelligence" as pertains to intelligent systems and networks. "Smart systems" are in, wasting time trying to get different databases to talk to each other is out. For BW professionals, these BI trends are very positive.

We can now go further: every quality SAP professional needs to have some level of BI awareness. Certainly Hasso would agree; in his keynote, he used the BI Accelerator as the prime example of "in-memory databases" that he believes are a crucial technology going forward.

Boiling Hot: "Enterprise SOA"
Colder than Expected: "ESA" (Enterprise Services Architecture)
Why: When SAP launched its own version of Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), they decided to call it ESA. Subsequently, the "ESA" phrase was marketed heavily. Less than two years later, we see the ESA term fading. SAP now relies on the phrase "Enterprise SOA," and "ESOA" is starting to appear also.

So why would SAP drop "ESA", which seems to be a more efficient abbreviation? Perhaps SAP realized that the buzz around the "SOA" phrase was too entrenched to compete with. The likely thinking is, "if you can’t market against it, hop on the SOA marketing train and let it carry you." More evidence of this decisive terminology shift: this URL, a fact sheet on ESOA, has ESOA in the URL itself: http://www.sap.com/company/press/factsheets/esoa.epx.

Notice there is no mention of ESA on this page at all. SAP’s own official page on the new SOA platform also has ESOA in the URL: http://www.sap.com/platform/esoa/index.epx. In the batch of press releases, SOA got 40 mentions while ESA had zero. By using the commonly-used "SOA" terms, SAP is making clear that it is not building proprietary tools, but outward-facing components that any company on any platform can talk to.

Despite the move from ESA to ESOA, one thing is certain: SAP is still going to emphasize SOA constantly. SAP’s head start over Oracle on a proven SOA platform may be its biggest competitive advantage. Terms don’t lie: every SAP professional in the field owes it to themselves to get their feet wet in this technology as soon as possible.

Real Hot: "Duet"
Hot but Cooling: "Portals"
Why? While NetWeaver Portals is still a big part of the SAP product line, SAP is not emphasizing Portals in its literature the way it once did. Meanwhile, the visibility of Duet, SAP’s "user friendly" partnership with Microsoft, continues to increase, with a couple of high-profile Duet announcements made at SAPPHIRE.

The numbers tell the story: the press releases use the term "Duet" 44 times. Meanwhile, NetWeaver Portals was used four times. So there’s a shift in emphasis, but why does it matter? It matters because when Portals was first released, SAP envisioned that corporate users would work primarily through their SAP Portal.

Basically, SAP wanted to control the corporate user’s desktop the way Microsoft controls the desktop of the individual consumer (you can never fault SAP for ambition). The Duet emphasis is SAP’s partial surrender to Microsoft on this matter. Yes, SAP is still pushing Portals as the interface of choice whenever possible, but if users prefer to work through Microsoft Office and access their SAP data through Office apps, SAP will make it happen.

The lesson? Don’t impose something on the market that the market will not accept. Fight battles you can win. SAP has a chance to be *the* leading "Enterprise SOA" innovator. It has no chance to beat Microsoft Office on the user’s desktop. The only real surprise is how cozy this partnership has become. I would guess that SAP’s Small-to-Medium Business (SMB) executives feel less warm and fuzzy about Microsoft than SAP’s Duet team does.

No, Microsoft is not going after SAP’s Fortune 100 ERP clients, but it’s going to be a formidable SMB competitor. How this will affect the Duet partnership remains to be seen. But for now, the image of one set of hands shaking and another set in a thumb war is an odd but accurate one to describe this "partnership."

As for how the Duet emphasis will affect SAP consulting opportunities, it’s hard to say. Portals consultants will still get a lot of work. Most SAP pros will want to have Portals in their tool kit, but it’s good to understand that SAP users will access SAP data from a variety of applications and platforms. It won’t be "all or nothing" either way. Many users will rely on Portals and Duet working in concert.

Hot at the Moment: "Innovation Without Disruption"
Cool to Most: "Disruptive Innovators"
Why (and who cares?) This one is an inside joke between me and myself, but I have personally gotten a kick out of SAP’s conflicted emphasis on the notion of "disruption." Before this year’s conference, I was told on more than occasion that "Disruptive Innovators" were on a list of SAP’s "job titles of the future."

There was even a SearchSAP.com feature on this a while back that I participated in. Perhaps that explains my surprise that a major theme of CEO Henning Kagermann’s keynote was "innovation without disruption." So what role does a "disruptive innovator" have in an SAP environment that promises "innovation without disruption?"

For emphasis, the phrase "without disruption" appeared in the conference press releases eight times. SAP’s point? Once companies upgrade to the latest SAP "foundation release" (mySAP ERP 2005), they will be able to add new components without the business disruption an upgrade typically causes. For this reason, I expect "disruptive innovator" as a job title to disappear as a whimsical idea that got stuck halfway up the flagpole.

There will continue to be some "technology conquers all" types who roll it off their tongues during PowerPoints. In fact, I ran into a couple of BI folks who used this term frequently. Since they worked for SAP, I asked them about this apparent contradiction. They provided me with a sincere but convoluted explanation that involved not disrupting the technology or core processes but "disrupting along the edges."

My guess is that SAP would not endorse this view, if only because any attempt to clarify this nearly-irrelevant point would result in more head-scratching and a muddier message. As for those who plan on continuing to innovate, SAP would surely say "go for it!" Just keep your disruptions to yourself until further notice. As one Basis consultant said to me, "I don’t need a disruptor on my project." We then drank a toast to "innovation without disruption," and thus ended my time at ASUG/SAPPHIRE 2007.

I hope you enjoyed this piece on SAP’s changing terminology. I knew when I wrote it that it would likely be a little dated within a year’s time, but who knows, if there is enough interest, perhaps I can make it a yearly feature. If nothing else, I hope this piece will convince others to become keen observers of SAP terminology. Decoding the buzzwords will give you a clearer product roadmap, and that’s a good map to have if your ultimate destination is a successful SAP career.

Site Manager's Note: This article originally appeared on SearchSAP.com in an edited format. What you have just read is the complete and unabridged version, released for the first time for readers of JonERP.com.