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After spending years working on different SAP UI technologies still the basic question which hounds me sometimes is that “Am I in the right field”? “Where is SAP positioning UI to other technologies like ABAP”, “Should I stick to UI or move over to the favorite arena like BASIS, ABAP”.

The question kicks in because of many reasons:-

1. SAP’s strategy (or lack of it) to have one uniform UI technology and framework for support. Currently there are plethoras of options Portal, Web Dynpro, Adobe Forms, Adobe Flex, BSP, PDK, Visual Composer, NWBC. I agree all have their own roles but then there is always a heated argument when it comes to which one is better when compared to the requirements? Is WD Java better or should I do the same in WD ABAP or can I have a BSP or implement an Adobe form for it?

2. The UI strategy has been evolving at a rapid pace when previous versions/technologies have not found their foot either.

3. SAP UI technologies lacks what an end user wishes. Take up any UI technology and I am sure you must have faced or come across with statements like” Oh Is this not possible, what’s use of SAP then” or “SAP wants me to do things in a way I don’t like” or “You say it’s possible but why is this so complicated”

Why has this happened? If I look back 5 years and verify SAP came out with NetWeaver. While the NW “products” are still finding it’s place among customers, there is hardly time for customers and partners to adapt to new technologies.

With NetWeaver 04 there was Portal Development Kit, then came in Web Dynpro and people got excited about it. Customers wanted everything under the sun to be implemented in Web Dynpro but over a period of time soon realized that many things were not possible. So what happens? SAP came in a new “improvised” version NetWeaver 7.0 (changed the naming convention at very end….which again confuses everyone….let me leave it for some other time).

Just when things looked bright for Java folks, SAP did not want to leave it’s ABAP folks lagging in the race either. So out comes Web Dynpro ABAP where you can build nice Web applications and use the “power” of ABAP infrastructure. No overhead of installing and maintenance of NWDI as case with WD Java.

Should I start with ABAP, well hold on here comes CE 7.1 with new functionalities for Rich Internet applications. Around same time SAP started pushing (or may be customers got excited about using ) SAP Interactive Forms By Adobe as the “next” big thing. Customers wanted to have whatever their Internet applications could do inside a form failing to understand the basic goal of Adobe forms was to replace the paper based processes and not replace the Web based applications.

Cut to today, what we hear is that CE 7.2 is on its way and there are plans to release NetWeaver Business Client as well which again is being referred to as next level of GUI experience from SAP.

My question is why do we have so many versions especially in field of User Interface coming out every year, should not SAP have a release strategy like MS where an new version comes out only after 3-4 years and in between occasional Service Packs.

Does SAP expect that every customer understands the benefits of switching to latest version and technology so easily?

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17 Comments

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  1. Otto Gold
    This is a nice summary of the feelings of customers and SAP guys (wel… us:)) The problem is to pick a GUI and to stick to it, yes, that is a problem.
    But there is another one: if you can pick a GUI, there is a technology, there is a guy who can implement it for you… why the customers don´t let their users benefit from the all available GUIs?
    Maybe it is a problem in my country and not in the other world. But everybody here is using SAP GUI and BEx, less NW Portal, few Adobe forms and thats all.
    I am going to write an article about how can a company get an important outcome back from the investments in GUI – if the used GUIs respect the needs of the users (my grandma would be able to use Adobe Form but definitely not SAP GUI).
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  2. Sergio Ferrari
    I know many people that will agree on your rant.

    I would suggest to study the UI technologies selected by SAP for its standard Applications, not tools, and take advantage of the same UI technologies.

    Sergio

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  3. Sharad Agrawal
    This is a very interesting article. You wrote exactly what I have been thinking all along.  Too much tools in your toolbox sometime complicates the choice.  In a dynamic organization, sometimes the UI decisions (one versus other) are made by the customers who are influenced by the hype of new UI tool. Sometime IT ends up using a particular UI tool which may be particularly suitable for that purpose.

    We faced the similar situation when we started developing one form in Adobe Interactive Form. Initially it was supposed to be a simple form but it ended up being a full blown web application. Now when I look back, I feel it has been much better had I developed that in WDA.

    I completely agree with you that SAP is introducing new UI technologies at very fast rate but it is not maturing the existing technologies. I still find myself wondering why I need to use Theme Editor to change the colors in Web Dynpro for ABAP application. Why can’t SAP make those things as UI element properties? Why can’t I invoke an event on change of focus (without pressing enter)? There is so much room for improvement over there.

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    1. Manas Dua
      “I still find myself wondering why I need to use Theme Editor to change the colors in Web Dynpro for ABAP application. Why can’t SAP make those things as UI element properties”

      I felt the same when i moved from ASP.net to WD4A, but then later on i relaized the big prupose behind it which is termed as UI haromonization.
      Imagine 100 different applications developed by a company by different set of developers and all using different fonts, background themes, text sizes, different logos etc…
      So I feel it is right to take away some flexibility for the sake of UI harmonization and hence force a consistent look and feel for all products being rolled out…

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  4. Manas Dua
    With so many technical disruptions happening around ( in field of UI as well ) and that too at a very fast pace, SAP has to keep pace with them.
    WD4A is the preferred UI technology and is also recommened by SAP.
    Indeed we have seen good amount of advancements in WD4A in recent times like support for Flash Islands, Silverlight and other cool controls.

    ADOBE Forms as such are intended for specific purpose and it is our duty to check and convince that not every screen should be converted into Forms.

    NetWeaver Business Client is a thin desktop client, you can call it as a place holder for WD4A applications, R/3 screens and it offers role based access.

    So, according to me the focus will be on WD4A and its just the technologies surrouding it that will evolve.

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    1. Chintan Virani Post author
      NWBC is supposed to be “thick” desktop client if I am not wrong.

      Also while you go on about your “duty”, you face challenges with questions like “Any harm if we do it this way, may be we will get some performance issue but we are okay with it”.

      Regards,
      Chintan

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  5. Christopher Solomon
    I have seen this same conversation revisted SOOOOOOOO many times now over my time with SAP. SAP’s public statements always seems to come down to “hey, we built this great stuff…and you can put ANY UI on top of it…most any UI of your choice so have it!” So on the one hand, yes, they keep it very nice and open with so many options. But on the other, they give no good direction (and worse yet, clear examples!) of what to use, where and under what conditions (ie. don’t use an Adobe form to duplicate a complext dynpro!). Based on what I saw in TechEd 2009, this “pull back” from any sort of UI is the path things are going (ie. “Timeless” software as described in the keynote as well as a private Mentor meeting we had). So if you thought it was confusing before, I have a feeling it’s about to get a whole lot more “interesting”.

    Again, great blog! Nice work.

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    1. Chintan Virani Post author
      Hoping it would be “interesting” for customers as well. As it stands today I feel consultants get excited whenever a new EHP,SP comes out, not the customer. I missed your “haha” this time in the comment 😉

      Regards,
      Chintan.

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  6. Yariv Zur
    Hi Guys,
    I understand your ‘pain’ here and some comments from my side:
    1. I do not think that one size fits all. The assortment of UI technologies has (for most part) good reasons, per different use-cases.
    2. That being said – I agree that we can and should do a better job in explaining and educating on which UI technology to use when.
    3. A first step in that direction can be found here – SAP Guidelines for Best-Built Applications
    This is work in progress but I think that you will see it is trying to address exactly these issues.
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    1. Nikhil Dhairyawan
      Hi,

      I cannot agreed more with Yariv, SAP offers a palette of UIs, to meet a wide set of users e.g. expert users, low tech users, casual users etc. with different needs and in different roles in an enterprize. There is indeed no one size fits all.

      When to use interactive forms? and when WebDynpro? I see this question coming up quite often as well.
      SAP Interactive Forms by Adobe(IFbA) is a cool forms based UI offering which brings added value in many quite a few usage scenarios. The value add of forms UI is sometimes misunderstood and forms are used to replace Web Dynpro UIs. SAP Interactive Forms is in no way a replacement to SAP Web Dynpro. In fact SAP Web Dynpro is SAP’s primary UI and SAP Interactive forms should be used in scenarios where the added value of a forms UI can be leveraged.
      Here is a link to an interesting blog from our former Product Manager providing guidance on the usage of SAP Interactive Forms.
      A PDF form or not a PDF form – that is the often the question

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    2. Joerg Nalik
      This is a really interesting blog together with all its comments. As we wrote the UI/UX chapter in http://bestbuiltapps.sap.com I became aware of at least 2 more dimensions to the zoo of UI Technologies:
      – UI technologies are invented at a faster pace than they expire, at least at SAP’s customer sites. SAP has a 7+2 year support promise and some customers are extending even that time. So as a consultant you’d be confronted with all UI technologies of the past decade or even longer. As many others said: It is important to understand the indvidual implementation project you are working on and choose the most appropriate UI technology for it.
      – A second aspect are cost, performance and security. Both are impacted by the client technology and global infrastrucutre being used. Reducing costs and enhancing UI performance and security for more and more far away remote users are often contradicting goals, which one has to deal with.

      It will be interesting to see what the future brings as business applications get extended to mobile devices with their own UI requirements.

      On a personal note: If you have read our new Best Built Apps (BBA) guidelines and have some ideas on what else to cover, please let the BBA team know (bestbuiltapps@sap.com).

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  7. Prabhakar Lal
    All these UIs have evolved over period of time and catered to the needs of the customer. As per my understanding, SAP as a product company wishes to provide various options to its customers to choose what they want to use depending upon scenario / product they use. For example, WD4J could be technology of choice when you are trying to orchestrate a business process across multiple systems from different vendors whereas WD4A is good option when you are working with Data in SAP system itself.

    Prabhakar

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  8. Muthuraman Govindasamy
    ITS –> WEb Dynpro . SAP also not sleeping .they are taking lot of initiatives to improvise their product.

    for ex. there are many UIs used ITS, BSP,WEB Dynpro.

    SUS?ROS  – supports only on BSP. SAp has to harmonise and make statement every thing possible.

    One of my ABAPER said last week to me in ITS screen , i can debug very well .It is PORTAL . very difficult for me to debug very fast.

    Technolgy should help every one not only end user . think of abaper too to find out the problem in the code.

    work is very fast..SAP has to staisfy all customer needs .
    Keep critising others, People realise the mistake.It helps SAP to improve the product also.
    muthu

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    1. Chintan Virani Post author
      I am not criticizing SAP for sake of it so that they can make better product. I know SAP is taking lot of initiatives and that’s whole point if my blog i.e why too many… can’t we have one?

      Why would an ABAPer want to debug a Portal screen?!!

      Also remember one thing, its customer (end user) who is paying SAP for its licenses and not folks like you and me.

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  9. Anurag Chopra
    It is very suprising to read the misconception people have about the various Technologies offered by SAP for creating User Interface.

    One should actually select based on their requirement. I would like to reply to each point which Chintan has written on this blog.

    1) We have plethoras of options to meet the wide requirement of this dynamic market, i could not identify one particular reason why you are comparing webdynpro with NWBC, One is a development platform and other is a client to render application created out of one of those development platform.

    Is Webdynpro Java better or Webdynpro ABAP…that is something similar to which technology to use for given business requirement. Many technologies have flourished in the market coz no single technology would be suitable for all the business requirement in the world.
    May be Machine language would meet all the requirements ļ

    2) We have come up with Different User Interface technologies like SAP Dynpros, BSP, Webdynpro over the time,,,the level of abstraction with webdynpro is much more than BSP but you lose some flexibility. So you choose accordingly. And if you could find the framework class in webdynpro you could achieve greater flexibility as well.

    3) Definitely our applications doesn¡¦t have best of User Interface that¡¦s why we have started leveraging the Rich Client Technologies, we are best at functionality offered by our solution and to use it we need Business User who understand the business and we are continuously improving the user interface too.

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  10. Interface XMII/XI
    Gr8 Gr8 point to SAP.

    SAP has given rich UI and gr8 variety of flavours w.r.t UI.But there is no one point limitation or capabilities of each UI to carry on with client.

    Let me give one best scenario , in a set of developing environment if we need to decide Java or ABAP among few java and More Abap then it wud be ABAP , case wud be vice versa , what if doing this wonot meet up the requirement ?

    Today as a consultant we need to put our hands in all UI tech a part and come with decisions with self experience for not getting jacked by client.

    Hope SAP needs to work this UI use case and educate among developers of UI or else consultants wud be frustrated and stick to his own traditional way 🙂

    Note: Just my thought , if any thing wrongly judged plz update …let me get in sync with u guys tackling in this area :))

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