Over a decade ago SAP embarked on a journey to revamp their outdated user interface. Enter “nJoy” SAP with all of the new “N” transactions. But it has been over a decade now and other than some nice refinements to the GUI not much has changed. A decade in the technology space is like a century in other areas. Isn’t it time to take a hard look at the application suite again?
So you have the cute “Netweaver Business Client” but there hasn’t been a lot done to change the user experience for SAP applications.
Features, Functionality, Usability, and Performance Directly Translate Into User Experience
SAP Features, Functionality, and German Engineering
Let’s look at SAP’s years of leadership in the features and functionality area of Enterprise applications:
- No matter what any other enterprise software vendor claims they can not come close to the depth of enterprise application experience SAP has. A recent SAP fact sheet claims more than 183,000 customers in more than 130 countries (retrieved 4/8/2012).
- SAP supports at least 22 major industry vertical solutions [FN1] covering such diverse areas as Automotive, Banking, Chemicals, Governement (Public Sector), High Tech, Mining, Pharmaceutical, Retail, etc. Each of these areas has its own specialized process nuances and the application additions require specialized support.
The SAP application suite is massive as well. If you’ve ever looked at an SAP price list you’ve probably been thoroughly confused and overwhelmed. The SAP enterprise application footprint is gigantic. SAP R&D spend for 2011 was about 13.5% of gross revenue (or about 1.9B Euros) and with a few exceptions SAP R&D spend is generally in the double-digit area of gross revenue. Think about that, 1.9B Euros in R&D spend is more than the gross revenue of most of their competitors enterprise application sales.
Consider the depth and breadth of application functionality in the context of the various solution options available (see Footnote 2 below for a SMALL sample from ONE Application Component area) [FN2]. If you’ve ever had to deal with an SAP price-list trying to develop enterprise solution architecture, or license requirements, you may quickly become overwhelmed by the massive feature and functionality landscape.
SAP Performance Options
Many of SAP’s products are hardware and database agnostic. I don’t mean that it will run on any hardware, or any database, but it will run on most major platforms. Because of the way the applications are structured they will also run in what SAP callls “2 tier” or “3 tier” landscapes. This means the applications are scalable, in both size and performance, to whatever level of hardware investment you decide.
With the introduction of SAP’s HANA in memory computing solution(s), performance within the application is changing by orders of magnitude. Massive amounts of data and programs are now loaded into, and then read from memory rather than from hard drives.
Whether you want to scale up or use HANA system performance should never be an issue.
Usability, Usability on the Wall, Who’s the Fairest of Them All?
Now we get to the heart of the matter. As demonstrated SAP is a GREAT engineering company with huge R&D spend, a comprehensive industry solution portfolio, and a mountain of enterprise application options. They’re German, what did you expect? Scalability and performance are not issues so the only area left is usability.
The “nJoy” program is about a decade and a half old. In technology terms that is like the difference between the Stone Age and the industrial Revolution.
Unfortunately on the user experience curve they are in the IT Stone Age. While there are great functionality enhancements coming out in the various enhancement packs at the same time the ability to use the application suffers. Each major version of the SAP GUI offers a more pleasing screen, but it is still the same underlying data entry requirement–, the same fields, the same tabs, the same screens, the same old everything with a little bit of “lipstick” added. But it is still the same fat, bloated, over-engineered user experience.
SAP User Experience Customizing Pain
Please, don’t tell me about GUI XT or any of the other “customizing” options for screen layouts. The starting point stinks and then you expect a customer to pay (consulting time, employee time, system integrator time, etc.) to enhance or modify the screens. The SAP enhancement or modification option is not simple either — a simple screen enhancement is a significant engineering undertaking. Unlike several modern “drag and drop” applications SAP requires development work to add new fields, change field labels, populate data in those fields during transaction run time, screen development is needed to “build” a new screen layout, and then you have to reassign a new “Z” transaction with copies of the modified underlying programs, adjust security, etc. It takes a major engineering effort to make SMALL changes to the user experience. SAP you have GOT to change this! Your customers should be able to focus on the user interface without having to worry about all of the underlying engineering.
A Model for the SAP User Experience
Recently I offered The PERFECT SAP Acquisition Target in a CRM application called “SugarCRM.” As an SAP consultant who wants to see SAP continue to do well there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from them. They are a cloud vendor who has set their target on Salesforce.com. They provide a great navigation and ease of use experience. And best of all, you can alter field labels, hide fields, add custom fields, completely change the layout of screens, and a whole host of other things without having to do any coding at all. Even if this isn’t an acquisition possibility for SAP it might help some of those German engineers in the SAP CRM space to download the opensource version and explore it. Maybe they will learn a little something from a scrappy upstart who recently received $46 million in venture capital. And this was from several VC organizations so a number of investors are betting millions on SugarCRM’s marketplace viability–, even in a marketplace saturated by salesforce.com and Microsoft.
Apple has Proven that User Experience Can MAKE the Market by Addressing Customer Pain Points
It’s been a long time SAP since you have seriously considered a remake of the user experience. Since then Apple has proven that addressing customer “pain points” is a market winner. It’s about time to take another hard look at the user interface and user interactions because SAP “usability” has always been a customer pain point. The “nJoy” program is about a decade and a half old. In technology terms that is like the difference between the Stone Age and the industrial Revolution. Don’t you think it’s time to get really serious about the user experience paradigm?
[FN1] Retrieved 4/8/2012 from http://help.sap.com/industries. Along with this there are “sub” solutions within several of the industries and across industries.
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