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The SAP User Experience

April 9th, 2012 by
SAP User Experience

SAP User Experience

Over a decade ago SAP embarked on a journey to revamp their outdated user interface.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.

[FN2]

SAP Application Components

like SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure, SAP BOBJ Spend Performance Mgmt, SAP CRM, SAP ERP, SAP SCM, SAP SNC, SAP SRM, …

SAP Best Practices

SAP Best Practices packages are available in different country versions for various industries

SAP BusinessObjects portfolio

like Address Directories & Reference Data, Crystal Reports Viewer, SBOP Data Federator, SBOP Enterprise, SBOP Extended Analytics, SBOP Text Analysis, …

SAP Business One

like SAP Business One 8.8, SAP Business One 2007, Crystal Reports for B1, Remote Support Platform for B1, …

SAP Connectors

like Business Connector, …

SAP Content

like BI CONT, SAP Business ByDesign CONTENT, …

SAP Cryptographic Software

like SAP Cryptographic Library, …

SAP Development Projects

like customer-specific development projects software, …

SAP Education Products

like Acrobat Con Learning by Adobe, Knowledge Acceleration, RWD Info Pak Suite, SAP Productivity Pak by RWD, SAP UEM by KNOA, Training Content for SAP KW, …

SAP Frontend Components

like NetWeaver Business Client, SAP GUI for Windows, SAP GUI for JAVA, SAP ITS, SAP IGS, …

SAP In-Memory (SAP HANA)

like SAP HANA Enterprise Edition, SAP HANA Enterprise Ext. Edit., SAP HANA Platform Edition

SAP Mobile Solutions

like MOB ACCAPROVER INT, MOB HR APPROVAL INT, MOB MGR INSIGHT IPD, …

SAP NetWeaver and complementary products

like SAP NetWeaver, SAP NetWeaver CE, SAP NetWeaver Mobile, SAP NW Identity Management, SAP MDM, SAP Content Server, …

SAP On-Demand Solutions

like SAP Sales OD Integration

SAP Rapid Deployment solutions

like SAP Business Communication Management rapid-deployment solution, SAP CRM rapid-deployment solution for Sales, Marketing, and Service, SAP IT Service Desk Operation rapid-deployment solution, …

SAP Solution Extensions by Partners

like BOBJ XBRL Publishing UBMatrix, SAP CPS Full (Scheduler), SAP Ext. Diagn. by CA Wily, SAP IncentivePayback by Vistex, SAP Quality Center by HP, …

SAP Solutions for Governance, Risk, and Compliance

like SAP Global Trade Services, SAP GRC Access Control, SAP Process Control, SAP Risk Management, SAP Nota Fiscal Electronica, …

SAP Technology Components

like LV for Solution Manager, Remote Support Component, SAP Landscape Transformation, SAP Solution Manager, SAP Support Enablement Package, SAP TAO, …

Adapters

like Informatica, IWay, Seeburger, for SAP NetWeaver 04 (EP Edition), for SAP XI 2.0, …

Composite Applications

like Industry Composites Applications (SAP COMP App for BOP, for E-Tax) SAP DOCB, SAP CQM, SAP XIEP, SAP XLPO, SAP SOP, …

Country-specific Add-Ons

like HR-CIS, SAP Core CEE, SAP E-Recruiting – LOCFR, SAP HR-CEE, SAP IS-U/LOCIN, SAP IS-UT CEE, SAP Real Estate CEE, …

Fuzzy! Products

like Fuzzy! Analyzer, Fuzzy! Bank, Fuzzy!Boykottcheck, Fuzzy! Double, Fuzzy! Post, Fuzzy! Umzug, …

Industry-specific Components

like Banking Services from SAP, SAP Bank Analyzer, SAP CFM, SAP Deposits Management, SAP Discrete Industries, SAP Insurance, SAP IS-U, SAP Mill Products, SAP Oil & Gas, SAP Patient Management, SAP Retail, SAP Trade Industry Demand Mgmt, …

Miscellaneous Components

like AppServer LINUXx86 64 on 6.40, Convergence Tool, SAP Kernel, …

Plug-Ins

like SAP Plug-In, SAP Enterprise Portal Plug-In, SAP Solution Tools, …

Supplementary Components for Cross Industry Solutions

like Project Management, Life-Cycle Data Management (SAP PLM Integrations), SAP Railcar Management, SAP Test Data Migration Server, SAP Visual Basis, …

Sybase Products

like AFARIA, Sybase Mobile Sales, Sybase Mobile Workflow, Sybase Unwired Platform, …




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Where SAP is Missing a Key Business and Market Opportunity for Leadership

February 10th, 2010 by

Cloud ComputingIn reading through a post on the CIO Magazine blogs (“ERP Costs: 3 Signs Companies Are Wasting Less Money” [FN1]) on Panorama’s comparison of Saas with tranditional ERP it would appear that Saas is not all it is cracked up to be.  SAP has completely missed the boat here on not capitalizing on the GENUINE shortcomings of Saas ERP compared to on-premise ERP solutions like SAP.

Saas ERP is implemented over 35% quicker (11.6 mo v. 18.4), but cost only 10% less to implement (6.2 v. 6.9 ann. rev), and even though CEOs may be slightly more satisfied (< 3% difference, may be margin of error?), business is more disappointed (23.5 sat v. 42.9) and Saas is more often over budget (70.6% vs. 59%).  If this were a head to head comparison by the SAME measures on premise ERP applications have been measured by, the Saas cloud computing results would be considered an utter failure and an unmitigated disaster.  But the technology trade publications tend to be eerily silent on this.  Where is SAP’s market leadership in pointing this out?  And on top of that, what about the security issues involved as well?

  • It is implemented over 35% faster but only costs 10% less?
  • CEO satisfaction difference is marginal so that unless the sampling size is massive (which is doubtful) it falls within a margin of error.
  • Businesses are about HALF as satisfied with Saas solutions as they are with on-premise solutions?
  • Saas blows the budget about 17% – 20% MORE often than on-premise ERP?  (The % difference between 59% and 70.6% as a proportion of the 59% on-premise budget score).
  • Off site (off premise) access and security troubles plague Saas and “Cloud computing” models.
  • Another layer and level of contracts and service level agreements which must be correctly navigated.

When you look at the facts and strip away the hype on-premise ERP solutions win hands down.  Even with the on-premise ERP results, by comparison to Saas they look wonderful.

And SAP has done nothing to address this in the marketplace.  SAP has also done little to really address the usability of their software other than to provide a technical toolkit (GUI XT) to allow customers to create their own front ends.  MUCH more could be done. I’ve written about some fairly “easy” ways SAP could innovate their application environment with little cost or difficulty as well.  That article, entitled “Opportunities for INNOVATION SAP, HELLO?” provides insight from what I believe is a customer perspective on application usability and simplification. 

SAP could today “apple-ize” their user interface and end user experience to be more intuitive and more responsive to end users.  I’m not referring to an IPod, or IPad touch interface, but more of an intuitive look and feel that would make a user’s daily tasks simpler and less confusing.

What Does the Future of SAP Look Like?

  • SAP will need to define and articulate to the marketplace a clearer message about its value proposition and its differences. 
  • SAP should focus on end-user experience and a more intuitive user interface to help reduce the change management, adoption, and transition pain.
  • SAP should refocus its application landscape messages, its sales messages, and its strengths on business solutions rather than package solutions.[FN2]  Too much time and attention is spent on application features by the SAP literature and sales force and not enough on what those features mean to business.
  • SAP MUST develop an internal reference database of EVERY consultant who has ever taken a course, or been certified with them.  For far too long the company has allowed fakes, frauds, and cons to lie about certifications or training and SAP has not provided any way to verify these claims.  It is long past time for SAP to provide a “transcript” of courses and certifications for end-customer use when a potential employee or contractor comes to them.

This last issue of having some type of transcript or other reference service for consultants who claim to have taken SAP training can not be underestimated.  This has a direct impact on the quality of the implementations and the marketplace perceptions of the application.  Because of the widespread fraud in the marketplace and the constant claims of “certification” or training classes by those with fake resumes the value of the training is destroyed, and the quality of implementation solutions is damaged.  No wonder so many companies are frustrated with a lack of ROI. 

These and many other straight forward solutions would help to generate marketplace buzz about SAP’s enterprise application suite and provide customers reasons for a purchase or upgrade.

[FN1]  http://www.cio.com/article/531863/ERP_Costs_3_Signs_Companies_Are_Wasting_Less_Money

[FN2]  Over the years I have heard so many SAP sales reps and sales presentations that focus on this or that SAP application rather than addressing a business need or actual business requirements.  This is a classic sales No, No.  All these sales people do is describe features rather than explaining to the business what these features mean to the business in terms of benefit.  For way too long many in the SAP sales force have relied on the SAP name.

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