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Business Solutions with SAP

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Over a decade ago SAP embarked on a journey to revamp their outdated user interface.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

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[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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Achieving Business Value from SAP Investment

February 27th, 2012 by
SAP Business Value & ROI

SAP Business Value & ROI

As a follow up to last week’s post on Sustained Business Value from SAP Business Software I did a little research on the study authors and discovered their continued focus on this issue.

Recently Peppard (one of the authors) and a couple of other colleagues provided real business value success findings in an upcoming journal article called “Factors Affecting the Successful Realization of Benefits from Systems Development Projects: Findings From Three Case Studies” [FN1].

While I read through and reviewed the draft 35 page study I couldn’t help but notice the striking similarity to my nearly 5 year old post on the subject of SAP as a Change Enabler. What SAP as a Change Enabler summarized in a few pages appears to have been empirically tested by comparing and contrasting a few case studies of live software implementations.

Following my personal experience around SAP since 1994 I’ve added additional insight on how to gain SAP ROI through Strategic Business Transformation by also Using SAP to Improve Revenue and Profitability.  The “how-to” instructions, and detailed guidance is starting to gain some traction. To amplify their initial research I’ve cross-linked many posts throughout this one.

Changing from SAP System Delivery to Business Benefit Delivery

Before anything else a benefits focus must be the guiding framework for your SAP project. Every major business software project must begin with some clear guidance on the “why” of the project.

Business Centered SAP Change Management is Required

The authors highlighted several key observations around organizational change management and the need for user participation but missed one of the key areas of success–, knowledge transfer (see Change Management and Knowledge Transfer Part 1, and Part 2). Not just end user training, but more holistic knowledge transfer about the new system, its capabilities, and how to maintain them.

SAP business transformation is an ongoing effort. To achieve this one of the goals of SAP projects has got to be to create a learning organization. An organization where knowledge exchange and benefits centered collaboration is key to SAP program success (see ERP III – Is the Integration of Collaboration the Future of Enterprise Applications).

WHY do an SAP Project?

So, what is the basic idea here? Their findings indicate that a large scale software program requires a business benefits focused approach. An approach which addresses the “WHY?” of the project.

[A] project might be successful in meeting its internal targets, yet not deliver beneficial business outcomes. [FN2]

For too long enterprise software vendors and SAP system integrators have focused on everything but the genuine business “WHY?” of the 5 W’s and the H of SAP projects. For too long companies have addressed:

  • “WHO” (who will implement, who will support, who will the core team be, etc.)
  • “WHAT” (what is the scope, what technology, etc.)
  • “WHERE” (both project logistics as well as the organization structure that is impacted)
  • “WHEN” (project timeline, business timelines, milestones, etc.)
  • “HOW” (use our custom methodology [i.e. make it up as we go], or use ASAP)

Few companies get down into the details of the “WHY?”

WHY is Management Engagement and User Participation Lacking?

It is the “WHY” which will engage the larger business community and senior leadership and that is The Real Reason Executive Participation Creates IT Project Success. It is the “WHY” that will bring about badly needed business process changes from the user community. Unfortunately it is my opinion that because the compelling “WHY” part of the business case has been missing for so long senior leadership and ultimately the user community is generally disengaged from the project delivery process.

Think about it, how many multimillion dollar investments, with such wide organizational impact, do management stakeholders and end users take such as “hands off” approach to?

If you want your SAP project to be a business project, GET THE BUSINESS ENGAGED! If you want it to be a technology project, nothing else is required. Just put the system in and when people complain tell them to shut up. It was never really about the business anyway!

Do Your SAP System Integrator Consultants Have Business Knowledge or ANY SAP Experience?

This leads to the next issue. If the business is engaged and you decide to bring in a system integrator then define BUSINESS expectations from your system integrator up front. If they only speak to the business in techie terms then get rid of them because do no one  needs “consultants” who can’t consult? (see Screening and Interview Methods to Find the Right Consultant – Part 2).

Think about this a minute and let it sink in. If you hired a system integrator for an SAP business application project then shouldn’t they be focusing on the business? If they can’t speak to you in business terms then why again did you hire them?  Are they really consultants? To gain real competitive advantage in the business marketplace you must Change How You Look at SAP to Create ROI because SAP Implementation is an Investment NOT an Event.

During the sales cycle you as an SAP prospective customer have GOT to ensure there is a clear business vision. Again I ask, if not, then why are you even doing this?

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[FN1] Doherty, N., Ashurst, C., and Peppard, J. (2011) Factors Affecting the Successful Realization of Benefits from Systems Development Projects: Findings from Three Case Studies. Journal of Information Technology (upcoming).

[FN2] Sauer, C. and Davis, G. B. (2010) – Information Systems Failure, Encyclopedia of Library & Information Sciences, Third Edition, pp 2643-2652.

Additional Resources for Successful SAP Implementation

Check out these posts for specific ideas, thoughts, and experience on achieving real results from your SAP project or other enterprise software projects:

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Sustained Business Value from SAP Business Software

February 20th, 2012 by
SAP Benefit and ROI

SAP Benefit and ROI

From time to time I review academic literature about the application of technology and offer my SAP experience based perspective.  Recently I was reviewing one of these studies from a few years ago when the authors made a key clarification: they recognized two types of implementations which are  problem-based (i.e. address your “pain points”) or innovation based.

Their suggestion was that some elements of both would be present on any large scale IT project, like an SAP implementation for example, but each type of application presented its own special set of challenges.

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Throughout the study (linked to at the end) the authors managed to clarify key points so they are easy to understand.  I have always considered the hallmark of genius the ability to take the complex and make it simple. 

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There are many situations where a strong business case has been made for an investment together with a well-considered ROI calculation, yet the business benefits sought never actually materialized, despite the fact that the project was delivered on time, within budget, and met the technical specification.

The benefits to an organization from IT-enabled change essentially emerge from three causes: either stopping doing activities, doing what [was] always being done but better (i.e., cheaper and/or faster), or doing completely new things. If organizations are to increase the likelihood of success from their IT investments, they must separate out the different sources of the benefits before developing an implementation plan.  (Peppard and Ward, pg. 53).

They warn against one of the most common hidden pitfalls of Enterprise Software (ES) like SAP turning into a technology project rather than a change lever for advancing corporate strategy.  It is sadly very common to lose sight of the purpose of the technology being applied.  The study authors’ description provides great insight around enterprise applications.  Read carefully how they describe CRM.  Substitute your favorite SAP application, whether it is ERP (ECC), HCM, SRM, SCM, APO, BI/BW, or any other product for their description of CRM and the message is the same.

CRM is not a product that can be purchased; it is a discipline, a framework, [an] integrated approach to managing relationships with customers that requires continuous improvement.  It is a strategy, not a tactic; and although supported by IT, it involves considerable organizational re-design, often changing the focus and culture of the organization.  CRM implementation is not easy and the evidence suggests that many companies are struggling with their efforts. (Peppard and Ward, pg. 54).

One of the problems they noted with the case study they used was at a retail bank they wanted inconsistent goals for their CRM system.  I run into these frequently and call them “mutually exclusive requirements.”  Or, as some say, they “want their cake untouched and want to eat it too.” 

The case study noted the company wanted to implement a CRM system for better customer management and servicing but at the same time wanted a quick payback.  The whole idea of developing customer relationships–, through gaining intelligence, aggregating customer data, and analyzing customer interactions so you can manage and service customers better takes time.  Not only that, one of the key goals of the initiative was to deepen customer relationships to reduce their servicing costs while selling them better products and services.  If they had that level of awareness of their customers to do this within a short payback time period they wouldn’t have been looking at the CRM project.  The company had set themselves up for failure by insisting that a business approach which naturally takes time should have an immediate payback.

Attempting to resolve the current and future business models often highlight a major disconnect between the strategic intent of implementing the system and the resulting actions that must be completed. One UK bank had difficulty in getting branch staff involved in defining requirements during their CRM project. Senior management’s vision of the project was built around customer retention and cross-selling. Branch staff, on the other hand, just wanted a system to process transactions speedily and to get the customer out of the branches as quickly as possible. Getting appropriate engagement and buy-in proved difficult and progress was laborious at times. Yet, after the system had been up and running for a year, staff began to see what was possible and became very active in making suggestions for further development.  (Peppard and Ward, pg. 59).

This point where I will leave off this week is critical.  Frequently companies purchasing enterprise software solutions like SAP are not aware of the capabilities or how to apply them.  Only after some period of time, or a shakeout period, users begin to see and understand how the functionality and information can help achieve strategic business goals.  That is generally when the second phase of implementation, or new functionality, or new enhancements, or even a reimplementation begin to gain consideration.

This study was really well written and easy to understand.  The authors offered tremendous insights into the world of Enterprise business applications which are important for every business software customer and consultant.  I’ve included a link below and it really is worth taking the time to read through. 

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Peppard, J. and Ward, J. “Unlocking Sustained Business Value from IT Investments,” California Management Review, vol. 48, 2005, pp. 52-70.

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