SAP R/3 Releases and Fundamentals SAP BASIS

SAP R/3 technology was the natural evolution of the SAP R/2 system, and it is the product that has really fueled the expansion of SAP since its introduction in 1992, establishing itself as the leader and de facto standard in the industry. SAP R/3 was the first solid ERP standard client/server system, with a high degree of technological complexity and application functionality.

SAP explains the implicit complexity of R/3 systems by reasoning that the business world is complex, and for a standard system to cover it, it had to include a large number of functions. SAP not only includes business functionality, it also includes efficient implementation tools, a comprehensive development environment, and a full-featured set of tools to monitor and manage the system efficiently.

In the 1990s, SAP R/3 became the system of choice for those companies anchored in character-cell legacy applications wishing to downsize their centralized mainframe class computer system to newer and cheaper client/server technology.

The following sections introduce some of the features of the main R/3 releases, since release 3.0, showing some of the areas where SAP concentrated its strategic efforts and directions.

R/3 Release 3.0

R/3 release 3.0, introduced early in 1996, was a major step forward for SAP, both in starting to build the Business Framework architecture and in making customization tools easier. Some of the most important features introduced in 3.0 were as follows:

  • Application Link Enabled (ALE) technology. With these interfaces to link different SAP systems and external application systems, SAP overcomes the problem of having a unique centralized database server and allows big companies to distribute their business processes without losing integration. ALE is still a major component and technology within the Internet Business Framework architecture and even SAP NetWeaver.
  • Integration with standard PC applications, mainly the Microsoft Office suite. With this release, SAP included standard links to interact with MS-Excel, MS-Word, MS-Access, and others, using OLE technology.
  • Enhanced graphical user interface (GUI) with lots of new options, buttons, captions, and images. There was also a set of utilities for interacting with SAP, such as the SAP Automation, RFC interfaces, and so on, included in standard Desktop SDK.
  • Technological enhancements in the architecture of the system, such as new memory management features and easier installation and upgrade procedures.
  • New APIs and standard calls for software developers, further opening the system and broadening the spectrum of functionality, with add-ons like Archiving, EDI, forms management, external workflow, plant data collection devices, mail and fax solutions, and so on.
  • First steps to a more business-object-oriented system with an enhanced SAP Business Workflow and the introduction of the business objects, which are components of a business workflow.
  • The introduction of the Business Framework architecture with the goal of making it faster and easier for customers to introduce new functionalities into the system, as well as making the system even more flexible and open.

R/3 Release 3.1

By year end 1996, SAP announced the availability of release 3.1. This version was known as the Internet release because the main new features and capabilities related to the possibility of expanding the capacity of the R/3 systems, using the Internet for doing business while preserving the functionality and support of the core R/3 applications.

Users would be able to make transactions with the system directly using their Internet browsers. Release 3.1 allows for efficient communication in the business world among companies, customers, and providers. SAP R/3 release 3.1 was the first to broaden the typical three-tier client/server architecture to a multitier one by introducing a new layer, known as the Internet layer, located between the presentation and application layers. With this approach SAP increased the potential access to the system of thousands of users (better known as business partners). To support this new architecture, SAP introduced several modifications to the application level, based on the thin client concept, which is in turn based on making a very reduced data transfer between the presentation and the application levels. This is a very important concept considering the limited bandwidth that was often found on Internet connections. And it made available the Internet Transaction Server (ITS).

R/3 release 3.1 offered the same functionality as the previous 3.0 release but enabled the ability of business processes using both intranets and the Internet. Some of its features were as follows:

  • Java enabling, with the possibility of avoiding the code for the presentation server in clients and making presentation software distribution easier.
  • Introduction of Business Application Program Interfaces (BAPIs), which can be used as a mechanism to communicate R/3 with external applications using the Internet. BAPIs are object-oriented definitions of business entities. The concept behind BAPIs was the key in the Business Framework architecture as well as in the overall SAP R/3 Internet and electronic commerce strategy, as the objectoriented interface to integrate external applications. Based on business objects, such as company, vendor, employee, material, and so on, a BAPI defines the methods that can be used to interact and communicate with those objects. Release 3.1 included more than 100 predefined BAPIs ready to integrate R/3 with thirdparty solutions and applications.
  • Internet Application Components (IACs) were the new components on R/3 application servers that allow the use of software modules to support business transactions through an Internet layer. Initially SAP provided a small number of IACs (around 40), including components for human resources applications. IACs were based on ITS.
  • Initial support for Web browsers, including Java-enabled components that became a new user interface (a new presentation). Most typical browsers, such as Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer, were fully supported.
  • Internet Transaction Server (ITS) is the component located at the Internet level in the architecture and connects the Web server with the SAP Application Server and enabled running the SAP Internet Application Components.
  • SAP Automation was the programming interface that allowed Internet components and other applications to interact with R/3.

Besides total support for the Internet layer, within the business engineering tools, release 3.1 incorporated a new process configuration based on models. This feature allowed for a quicker and more dynamic configuration of the business processes, oriented to the processes, and the system included several "industry" models that could be used directly by customers, thus reducing the time needed for configuring and customizing the system. With the introduction of the R/3 solutions for supporting business processes through the Internet, it was possible for companies to widen their businesses by providing a new communication channel between companies and between customers and companies.

Standard with release 3.1 of SAP R/3 was the possibility of using three different types of Internet and intranet scenarios for supporting electronic commerce:

• Intranet corporate applications
• Intercompany applications, extending the possibilities of the supply management chain
• Applications from consumer to companies, enabling final customers with a simple
Internet browser to communicate and trigger transactions with an R/3 system

R/3 Release 4.0

With the introduction of release 4.0 in 1997, and in the context of the Business Framework, SAP's strategy for enterprise computing was to develop R/3 into a family of integrated components that could be upgraded independently. Following a well-known study by the Gartner Group, SAP closely watched the strategy depicted for the survival of the Enterprise Software Vendors and put the corresponding actions in place well before 1997. The four actions indicated were as follows:

  • Move toward componentization, both in products and sales force. This move can be clearly seen with the emergence of R/3 release 4.0.
  • Add consulting content. This is another step that SAP has added to its overall business, although in a more silent way, in order not to provoke the legion of consulting partners. SAP figures showed that 1997 and 1998 have seen a percentage growth both in revenue and people from services and consulting.
  • Develop industry-specific components or templates. This was not a new strategic direction for SAP. With release 4.0, some industries, such as retail and the public sector, can find some additional and specific business processes; however, some other industries were not yet ready to go the SAP way.
  • Focus on fast implementation: methodologies and solutions. ASAP and TeamSAP were excellent examples of SAP's reaction to the continuous criticism of implementation times and overbudgeted projects.

In addition to the logical evolution of technological aspects and the increase in functionality on release 4.0, there are two features that should be highlighted: componentization and inclusion of industry solutions. To these features, from a strategic and pragmatic point of view, we should also add the increased accent on the use of solution sets for rapid implementation, such as AcceleratedSAP or ASAP. Componentization is a practical consequence of possibility enabled by the Business Framework architecture. When SAP introduced release 4.0, it explained that R/3 had evolved into a family of distributed business components. Among the new components and functional add-ons to the kernel R/3 application modules are the following:

  • Introduction of new distributed scenarios using ALE and its integration using BAPIs.
  • Enhancements for the management of the global supply chain (from the provider of the provider to the customer of the customer) together with the New Dimension products within the Supply Chain Optimization Planning and Execution (SCOPE) and SAP Advanced Planner and Optimizer (APO) initiatives.
  • Introduction of new specific functionality for particular industry solutions, starting with retail and the public sector.
  • New Business Framework architecture components. With these new components customers could add new enhancements to the system independently of other R/3 functionalities. For instance, there was a large group of new Internet scenarios that could be used to fulfill some business processes.
  • Some of the new business components within New Dimension were introduced at the time of the release of R/3 4.0; for example, Product Data Management (PDM), ATP Server (Available-to-Promise), the Business Information Warehouse, and the system of catalog and purchase requisitions using the Internet. These products were installed separately and were release independent.

It was SAP's goal to include substantial improvement for implementing R/3 more quickly, making it a business solution that is easy to use and easy to upgrade. With new R/3 Business Engineer components, the system includes an advanced mechanism for model-based configuration (business blueprints) and for continuous change management. Technologically, the programming language ABAP/4 also evolved toward a completely object-oriented language based on the so-called ABAP objects, and from release 4.0 on it is called simply ABAP. These new objects allow interoperability with other types of external and standard object architectures. There were also enhancements in security and data integrity by means of using authentication and electronic signature techniques.

There was also the extension of the SAP Business Workflow via the addition of new wizards for rapid workflow scenario configuration and deployment as well as the possibility of launching Workflows from the Internet using HTML forms.

R/3 Release 4.5

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 the 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 introduced 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.

EnjoySAP Release: R/3 4.6

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, established the cornerstone for release 4.6, initially known as EnjoySAP release. Previous R/3 releases included many new components, functionalities, add-ons, industry solutions, and technology advances, as well as new but not revolutionary user features. EnjoySAP 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 was the ability to tailor the interface, so that now users can add their own icons for their most-used functions to the application toolbar.

The enjoySAP interface has been used ever since and it's still used in most SAP Solutions, except in those ones not based on the SAP Web Application Server. Besides the completely new graphical interface, release 4.6 brought the actual foundation of the Internet Business Framework, with support for most standards meant for the integration, with the Web applications such as HTTP, XML, Directory Integration with LDAP, and so on, thus creating the technological foundation of mySAP.com, and just one step ahead and currently, SAP NetWeaver. The last functional release SAP R/3 4.6C brought additional performance and functionality to many of the application modules of R/3. Figures and show the difference between the classical SAP graphical user interface and the new SAP GUI that came with release 4.6.

Classical SAP GUI (Copyright by SAP AG)

Classical SAP GUI (Copyright by SAP AG)

enjoySAP GUI (Copyright by SAP AG)

enjoySAP GUI (Copyright by SAP AG)

Enterprise Release: SAP R/3 4.7

SAP R/3 Enterprise is the next version of SAP R/3 after functional release 4.6C, which was codenamed Mercury as the internal project name. Although the mySAP.com strategy provided the collaborative e-business platform for intracompany and intercompany processes, it is equally important that SAP R/3 evolves and integrates tightly into the whole strategy. For this reason, SAP R/3 Enterprise, the new release of SAP R/3, was designed and intended as the platform for providing the optimal integration into the complete mySAP.com picture, and now into SAP NetWeaver. SAP R/3 Enterprise initially was a part of the mySAP.com solutions and, as such, should be considered an extension of mySAP.com. For instance, if a SAP customer is using the SAP R/3 logistics applications and would like to take advantage of the advanced functions provided by mySAP SCM, the customer can still use those back end functions while integrating them with the Business Warehouse, APO, or the Enterprise Portal. Exactly the same happens now with mySAP ERP or mySAP Business Suite. One of the main changes with SAP R/3 Enterprise is the delivery strategy for new functionality by implementing new methods of application upgrades.

Therefore, besides the enhancement to business functions and applications, SAP R/3 Enterprise provides a new core technology for supporting these new delivery methods. SAP R/3 Enterprise consists of two main components: the SAP R/3 Enterprise Core and SAP R/3 Enterprise Extensions (or Add-Ons). Both components interface with each other in the so-called nonmodifying fashion.

The SAP R/3 Enterprise Core contains new enhancements in the areas of legal requirements, performance, infrastructure, and continuous improvement. The SAP R/3 Enterprise Add-Ons contain primarily all new functional enhancements. These components are built in the SAP R/3 Enterprise system around the concept of separating developments in technology and in functionality. Therefore, for instance, new developments in application functionality will no longer be mandatory, so the customer can choose which ones to use and install. The SAP R/3 Enterprise Core is necessary to operate the SAP R/3 Enterprise Extensions (Add-Ons). The functionality of the SAP R/3 Enterprise Core is very similar to that found in release 4.6C of R/3, but customers can upgrade to Enterprise from releases 3.11 and above.

SAP R/3 Enterprise Core

The Core component of SAP R/3 Enterprise focuses on enhancing areas such as performance, quality, legal changes, and requirements, as well as specific infrastructure. This is particularly possible and improved with the new Basis release, now called the SAP Web Application Server. The SAP R/3 Enterprise Core has integrated the Internet and Web technologies into all areas of the system, which previously required additional systems or components, such as ITS. The SAP R/3 Enterprise Core will be maintained separately from the Add-Ons, and the upgrades will be performed with specific service packages.

Regarding the benefits and improvements of the SAP R/3 Enterprise compared to release 4.6 of SAP R/3, the fundamental change in the Basis system must be noted. This change provides Web enablement to all the areas of the system and makes it easier for integration with other mySAP Business Suite components on top of SAP NetWeaver, as well as for universal access through an Enterprise Portal. Additionally, the separation of the functionality represented by the SAP R/3 Enterprise Extensions benefits the system especially when considering upgrade strategies and thus will influence systems availability, stability, and performance. This is particularly important because it was one of the main concerns voiced by many SAP customers in the past.

SAP Web Application Server

The SAP Web Application Server, also known as SAP Web AS, is the evolution of the SAP technological foundation based on SAP R/3 Basis. In addition to the traditional runtime environment for ABAP programs, SAP Web Application Server also has a runtime environment for J2EE-based Java programs, known as the SAP J2EE Engine, although it must be specifically installed. The SAP Web AS and its platform abstraction layer, with the OS and Databases, form the Application Platform of SAP NetWeaver. As a further development of SAP Basis, the SAP Web AS support all the Internet-based protocols and standards such as HTTP, SMTP, XML, SOAP, SSO, and WebDAV and very importantly support Unicode format, which facilitates technically the deployment of different languages, traditionally with different code pages.

SAP R/3 Enterprise Extensions

The Enterprise Extensions or Add-Ons are the components that will provide functionality, normally in a nonmodifying fashion. In case of the same functionality in more than one Add-On, SAP will incorporate such functionality within the Core. According to SAP, normally an Add-On, does not depend in any way on other Add-Ons, which allows for an easier and more flexible upgrade strategy. In the case that two or more Add-Ons would interface with each other, they would do so in such a way that they do not become dependent on each other; rather they are dependent on the release of the SAP R/3 Enterprise Core. The SAP R/3 Enterprise Extensions application packages will have their own release schedules. Functional changes will be made in the Add-On components.

Integration Technology

The SAP R/3 Enterprise is based on a new technical architecture, the SAP Web Application Server, which will enable developments specific to an application area to be encapsulated. There is a clear goal in Application Integration Technology for improving heterogeneous applications and landscapes, specifically in collaborative Web-based processes. The SAP R/3 Enterprise Core incorporates an Application Integration Technology, based on what SAP calls a Collaborative Service Architecture, with the goal of supporting new types of interfaces and integration with other systems or applications. The Core will have a special component, known as the Interface Layer, which will be responsible for the management of interfaces that might be required for the connection between application components or with other systems. These can be, for example, the case of BAPIs, BADIS, RFC, or others.

SAP NetWeaver integration layers

SAP NetWeaver integration layers


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