What’s what? – A short tour through the world of SAP

You can sometimes overhear some interesting things being said in the corridors at conferences and the terms SAP S/4, SAP HANA and SAP C/4 are often used synonymously. In this article, I will explain not only that there are indeed technological differences between SAP products but also that some of them are actually built on each other.

What is SAP R/3, mySAP ERP and SAP ERP?

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: R/3, mySAP and SAP ERP are in fact one and the same product. Looking back over the time, SAP ERP was first referred to as SAP R/3 until December 2003. It was then known as mySAP ERP until 2007, after which it was simply baptized SAP ERP. To keep the distinction clear, we will refer to it as SAP R/3 in what follows.

The main objective when using SAP R/3 systems is the digitization of work processes. The system is based on a system structure that is divided into clients and servers. The client requests a service from the server that answers the client’s request. It adapts best practices in the handling of processes and follows all generally accepted standards. The R in the software name stands for “real-time data processing” and the 3 for “3 levels”.

An SAP/R 3 system consists of various modules that work multifunctionally and flexibly. Among the most widespread are accounting and controlling, personnel management, materials management, sales and production planning. Each of these modules handles a specific work process and is linked to other modules when necessary to facilitate the work process.

The SAP R/3 system is compatible with all possible platforms (databases such as Microsoft and IBM) and operating systems. It can be used collaboratively by several companies, even if they use other platforms [1].

What is the HANA DB?

The HANA DB is a pure database with in-memory technology. For processing, all data is stored in the main memory, which makes the database capable of performing extremely powerful analyses and calculations, thus making it particularly suitable for a big data environment.

The data can (optionally) be available in a relational database but is stored in full in the working memory for processing (in-memory technology) and processed there column by column. Data requests are made to the memory. Analyses are also generated from this memory.

If data has to be changed and written, this is done in a column-based way in the working memory. This data is not stored in the database until later, line by line. Storage snapshots are taken at regular intervals to back up the data in the working memory.

The abbreviation HANA originally stood for “High-Performance Analytic Appliance”.

The advantages of fast access and the possibilities of predictive analytics are offset by the following disadvantages [2]:

  • In the event of a system failure, the data in the main memory is lost and may not have been backed up at this point.
  • Comparatively expensive hardware is required

What is S/4HANA?

S/4HANA is the successor to SAP’s previous core product – following on from SAP R/2, SAP R/3, SAP ERP and SAP R/4, you could say – but under the name S/4HANA. The S stands for simple, the 4 for the fourth product generation and HANA for the underlying database technology.

The most important characteristics of SAP S/4HANA are:

  • Completely re-developed solution based on HANA in-memory technology
  • New user interfaces based on the SAP Fiori standard with the aim of making the system easier to use
  • Simplification of the data model as a prerequisite for streamlining and accelerating business processes

SAP S/4HANA can be operated from its own data center (on premises), hosted by SAP as a separate instance or used in the public cloud as a pure software-as-a-service solution. The migration from an SAP ERP 6.0 solution to S/4HANA is usually initiated by migrating the database to SAP HANA DB. However, this is only a technical requirement. The actual migration process lies in evaluating the individual business processes of the new S/4HANA solution (referred to as “innovations”) in comparison to the one actually used by the company at the time [3].

With SAP S/4HANA, processes are consistently supported and the need for manual re-entry of data is avoided. The switch to a business warehouse, for example, to create a report, or manual steps outside SAP are no longer necessary. In addition, there are functions for forecasting and decision support and the provision of business information in real time. According to SAP, the SAP HANA platform can cut hardware and software costs by up to 37% [4][5].


As already mentioned, SAP also offers a cloud-based version of S/4HANA. This includes solutions for finance, accounting, controlling, purchasing, sales, production, plant administration, project planning and product lifecycle management. Full integration with other SAP products is also offered. The cloud variant is currently available in English, German, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese. All productive customers using the cloud solution will receive one update per quarter that includes new business features and/or bug fixes [5].

The following components are supported:

  • SAP S/4HANA Marketing Cloud – Marketing (No country restrictions)
  • SAP S/4HANA Professional Services Cloud – Industry Services (Countries: USA, Germany, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom)
  • SAP S/4HANA Enterprise Management Cloud – Complete ERP solution for all industries; cloud solution in this case is equivalent to the Enterprise Management On-Premise solution (Countries: USA, Germany, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom)
  • SAP S/4HANA Cloud for Finance


C/4HANA is the current SAP product for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and goes hand in hand with S/4HANA.

The digitalization of acquisition, sales, distribution and marketing places much higher demands on a modern solution in the customer management process than in the past. A solution isolated from the other processes in the value chain no longer meets expectations. Today, a contact management system uses an omnichannel process to perform customer relationship management tasks.

Comprehensive functions and a central database are the basic prerequisites for keeping CRM and customer relationships up to date. Customer relations cannot be managed – they have to be developed and maintained and do not simply end once the sale has been completed. This requires a central platform – nothing is possible anymore without an interlocking of marketing, sales, commerce and service. These processes require direct interaction with the backend ERP system. A subdivision between frontend (SAP C/4HANA) and backend systems (SAP S/4HANA) is the best precondition for the support of the above-mentioned comprehensive processes.

The former CRM view is transformed into a comprehensive overview, with all information from S/4HANA (for example, from finance, service, online trade, logistics, supply chain management, etc.) being taken into account. CRM thus becomes a part of the smart company – and that means more than just “sales automation”.

Source: “Aus SAP Hybris wird SAP C/4HANA – was Sie wissen müssen” [SAP hubris becomes SAP C/4HANA – What you need to know] by Torsten Goldbecker, Germany Marketing – Team Lead, itelligence AG-

Further sources:

[1] https://www.it-talents.de/blog/it-talents/was-ist-eigentlich-sap-r-3

[2] http://www.datenbanken-verstehen.de/lexikon/sap-hana/

[3] https://erlebe-software.de/sap-hana/

[4] https://news.sap.com/germany/2017/01/10-fragen-zu-sap-s4hana/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAP_ERP

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