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Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder

Very common and easy way to criticize SAP R3 System is to complain about its Lousy UI, Complex Screens, Pathetic User experience etc. I would argue differently. When you go out on a look of a MUV, you typically give importance to a powerful engine, ruggedness in the build, easy handling, adapt to difficult terrains and beat the dirt. The challenges faced by an ERP system are nothing less as compared to a MUV.

It is amazing to see the completeness and the perfectness of the R3 system and seamless integration it offers with in its modules. You think of a business need or change in the business process, you have it in it. Of course it does not look cool like an aesthetically designed windows application or Mac application but one must understand that these are applications meant for different purposes. A blue hued R3 screen is no comparison with the look and feel of the MS word where I am typing this blog. But how many times one wanted to change the way they want to make documents or customize MS Office application.

Generally people confuse the terms UI and Usability. All the applications with good UI are not necessarily have good usability. Very impressive feature in the R3 application in the F1 and the F4 helps which are so powerful and makes life easy for the end users. A user just needs to know the business process to understand the fields and what they meant. The context based help offered by the application is one of the powerful and just tells what is required, rather than dumping a lot of information in a colorful way. The value of the F4 help lies  makes it easy for the user to find his input values avoids data integrity issues which is very essential for an sturdy business application. 

With the new age UI technologies like Silver Lite, Adobe Flex, and few from SAP too, using which application with killer looks and rich user experience are made, one would like to have a error free and powerful application. Beauty fades away over a period of time and no one will like a beautiful looking car which breaks down every now an then.

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  • For the type of people like me, who grew up with Atari’s and Commodore Vic 20’s; we are used to learning new applications and pretty quickly learn that F1 and F4 can be very valuable.  I even found SAP pretty logical even if it still seems pretty weird why I would press return when I get a warning to proceed. 

    But there is an even larger population out there now who are really getting the hang of the web (no matter what age or skill demographic) and are now expecting this type of experience with their business applications.  i.e. Intuitive and not easy to buy stuff accidentally.

    When you get it right, it’s brilliant (Google maps or iPhone as an example); but when you get it wrong, as so many do; I agree that you’re better off training users to use the more “clunky” but reliable sapgui screens.

    The main issue I see today with developing new intuitive and useable UI’s is although some of the fancy UI technologies are quite mature (Portal, AJAX/GWT, Flex, Web Dynpro for example); the maturity of the developers from a combined UI design and a coding/service design aren’t optimal and are often segregated.  Now throw in the typical limited understanding of the J2EE stack from a basis perspective; and a few system crashes and thread dumps later; people are begging for their old SAPGUI screens back.

    Luckily, Web Dynpro for ABAP and more advanced BSP programming has alleviated at least the perceived “flaky” J2EE part of the equation for many, and as an added bonus means we no longer need an ABAP’er and a JAVA person to build a simple web app to an ABAP back-end.  Small note – Composite applications are not necessarily solved by this approach unless you see your ABAP stack as your composition environment.

    So to wrap up, rather than me also complain about the SAP UI, I think we should do things like encourage SAP to port a GWT implementation into ABAP to simplify Web 2.0 style development which is reliable, or alternatively, we as customers/consultants, focus on breeding a small handful of expert dialogue programmers with appropriate UI design, UI tool and core-ABAP skills who can get it right the first time (especially for the occasional user).

    In terms of seamless functionality and integration, SAP definitely deserves Kudos and I agree this is not nearly mentioned enough.

    Thanks for your blog,

    Ps. Sorry about the length of my reply but UI experience is a passion of mine. I even care about getting SAPGUI screens right!

  • As a consultant, i love SAPGUI.
    When web was not an option, I have trained several users to use SAPGUI and once they get a hang of it, they really liked it. SAP was sold on integration strengths alone those days. Almost all GUI concerns were allayed by GUIXT and other screencontrol techniques.

    web 2.0 style is brilliant, but you still need to train users to use a new application. Expert users like and need speed and predictability, and web screens have some way to go before they get widely accepted.

  • First , I have to say SAP has taken UI very seriously and has implemented a lot of improvements which would be released soon. !

    Coming back to the UI , any good designer would say UI and Backend should be different layers. So why are we comparing the complexity of the underlying system with UI.

    What wud we buy ? An MUV that has a wonderful engine but looks bad or an MUV which has a wonderful engine and looks good too !

    As quoted in the comments , times are changing . Ppl have had different UI experience and dont want to settle for anything else. They wud eventually get it. Sooner the better!


  • I would say that the beauty of SAP is on the inside! When you do a new SAP implementation the users scream and moan about how difficult SAP is to use, how all the transactions have a different look and feel, how the error messages are confusing or misleading, and how the same ICON does different things on different screens (e.g. the “refresh” ICON in MIRO actually means “delete” ). I msyelf have seen people actually burst into tears due to the frustration with trying to get their head round the new system. For some reason you never get similar complaints about outlook or excel. Even for a SAP developer the tools are often hideous – e.g. contrast the SE24 transaction with Eclipse.
    If the nature (usuablity) of SAP transactions really was not a problem then companies like GUIxt would be out of work.
    In my company the bulk of the ABAP work is to create custom front ends to hide the underlying complexity from the end users, so pressing a button on the custom application can call several underlying SAP transactions and if one of these gets into trouble give back meaningful messages rather than the usual SAP gobbledegook. You would not believe how much this saves on training effort and increases user satisfaction.
    SAP itself seems to be concentrating all new UI efforts into the portal, but I would guess a large number of companies still use the SAP GUI for transaction processing. I have my fingers crossed that the “Muse” product will bridge that gap.