It was out of Germany, and it specialised in something called ERP – enterprise resource planning, which was also something many people had never heard of.
Now SAP is the third largest software company on earth, after Microsoft and Oracle, and people certainly have heard of it. It is in fact so dominant at the high end of the ERP market that it seems to be the company that everybody targets.
It was not that way 25 years ago. It is hard now to remember what the IT scene was like in 1989. The decade that was ending was marked by the PC revolution, but mainframes and minicomputers still ruled the corporate world.
The big computer companies were the hardware and systems vendors – IBM and its look-alike competitors Amdahl, HDS and Fujitsu. Digital Equipment Corporation was a clear number two. There was HP, still called Hewlett-Packard in those days. And companies like Data General, Prime, and Wang.
In 1989 Bob Hawke was still Prime Minister and the World Wide Web hadn’t been invented. Mobile phones didn’t exist. We watched TV when the broadcasters told us to, and they told us what to watch.
Much software was still custom written, but packaged software was becoming more popular. A dozen or more vendors competed for what was increasingly being called ERP - a new way of doing things in corporate IT.
ERP was a catch-all phrase that described the software used by large organisations – enterprises – to manage their core applications.. The term grew out of the manufacturing industry, but was increasingly being used to describe any mission critical software that looked after an enterprise’s finances and day to day operations.
SAP (from the German Systeme, Anwendungen und Produkte – Systems, Applications and Products) was founded in Germany in 1972 specifically to design software for large corporations. By the late 1980s it had become very successful in Europe, and it expanded into Asia. Largely to support the operations of European users of the software that also had operations in this part of the world.
The largest Australian user at that time was oil company Shell, but shortly after arriving in Australia in 1989 SAP landed a major contract with Medibank, which was the first time many people had heard of the company. It was in the right place at the right time, and rode the ERP boom of the 90s in Australia as it did around the world.
Now SAP has celebrated 25 years in Australia and Asia. It is expanding its Innovation Centre in Singapore, which it says is focussed on delivering innovations around smart cities, healthcare and digital consumers. SAP is moving way beyond ERP.
“This involves co-innovation with SAP customers and partners as well as research collaboration with local universities,” says Adaire Fox-Martin, head of SAP in the Asia Pacific region. “Asia Pacific is-growing quickly. We are now entering the era of Internet of Things with the rapid growth of smart, connected devices and systems to meet the changing demands of today’s consumers.
“As we embrace a networked, technology-driven innovative economy, we will focus on accelerating industry growth in public services, healthcare, financial services and retail,” she said. “Building on our 25-year presence in the region, we look forward to continued commitment and close collaboration with customers, partners, governments and universities throughout Asia Pacific, to drive innovation and skills development.”
Fox-Martin said SAP is also tapping into the IT ecosystem across the region to identify ideas at an early stage and leverage access to a large pool of the brightest young talent. Under the SAP University Alliances Student Entrepreneurship program, students can develop new applications across SAP’s technologies, leveraging SAP’s HANA in-memory database and the the SAP mobile platform and analytics capabilities.
“The students will gain access to these technologies, SAP experts, mentors and an entrepreneurship curriculum.” Launched globally in March, the student entrepreneurship program has now been extended to Australia, Singapore and India. It will be introduced in Japan and Korea later this year.
SAP says it is now much more than an ERP vendor. Its Singapore Innovation Centre, and other initiatives such as its new Institute for Digital Governance in Canberra, are signs of a company playing for a much larger role.
Disclosure: Graeme Philipson visited Singapore as a guest of SAP