As a former CIO, one of the biggest and most consistent complaints I heard from my line of business partners was the complexity and difficulty of the SAP user experience. It was one of the things I would apologize about the most, yet I knew there was little I could do about it.
Then, in January, I found I couldn’t even escape those complaints in my own home. In a “straw that broke the camel’s back” kind of moment, I recall my wife, who is a tax consultant, spinning her MacBook Air screen around to face me, and with an exasperated and forlorn look on her face exclaiming, “Really?”
What do you think I saw? You got it, an SAP screen anxiously waiting for input from another befuddled user.
A great user interface is no longer a nice to have. It is an expectation. It must just be. (I believe the late Steve Jobs would back me up on that point.)
SAP has responded with a UX strategy in Personas and then Fiori that of course recognizes that reality. In today’s day and age, that user experience functionality and those enhancements should just be included as part of SAP’s maintenance agreements. If you follow the Twitter feeds of some of the most vocal SAP analysts (and read this recent article on ASUGNews), you’ll see that the debate can be termed this way: “Fiori should be Freeori.”
I couldn’t agree more. And think it’s perhaps the first step in a necessary SAP UX “revolution.”
Breaking Out of the Age of Antiquated Interfaces
SAP’s UX strategy is two-fold. Fiori exposes the most widely-used SAP transactions on any device through a consumer-grade UI. There are 200 plus Fiori-enabled applications now. On the other hand, Personas is a tool that allows customers to simplify and modernize SAP GUI transactions.
Let’s give SAP some credit: It has come out with solutions in Fiori and Personas. But as I see it, the whole experience, from the ground up, needs to be refreshed. Actually, it’s more accurate to say overhauled. And corporate technology teams should not have to install new servers and separate software to make this happen. And creating a great end user experience should not require loads of customization.
PeopleSoft had it right more than a decade ago, when it launched a simple user interface that required only a lowly web browser—instead of the traditional client/server interface. Dave Duffield and Aneel Bhusri nailed the interface again when Workday debuted with a web-based user interface back in 2006. Recently, the company took it one step further by announcing that Workday was moving its customers off its Flash-based UI to HTML5—for free.
Here we are in the golden age of the web, and the vast majority of our ASUG community is stuck using antiquated and oh-so-tired, fat-client user interfaces. A user interface so complex that it requires megabytes of hard disk space to install locally.
For many large enterprise customers, the thought of this is so unbearable that they have leveraged solutions like Citrix and VMware to lessen the administrative overhead.
Perhaps if the consumerization of technology had never happened, we would never have known any better. But it has. And now the end-user community is using great iOS and Android interfaces, and wondering why they have to dedicate large swaths of their days to SAP’s retro-interface. If my wife’s experience is indicative of a trend, then I don’t think they are either happy or amused.
As an experiment, take a millennial fresh out of college, sit her at a desk with a computer and happily show her the job duties accomplished via SAP’s UI. She will look at you like you are from another planet, and she simply won’t get it—and why should she when she’s been immersed in Facebook, Twitter and simplified mobile applications for years?
Build a Good UX, and They Will Come
The time is here to aggressively modernize. And this can’t take years. There is no patience—from users, from CEOs, or from business partners.
SAP, if you want the line of business users to love your products, it has to start with them loving the user experience. Give your maintenance-paying users a simple, easy and cost-free way to revolutionize the user experience.
They’ll love you for it, and so will the end user community.