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After returning from Tech Ed, SAP’s new strategy is firmly cemented in my mind –  on device, on demand, on premise.  Having done lot’s of UI projects for clients where the user experience has been extremely important to success, on device has special meaning to me.  It means designing a user interface that hits the mark with users, is appealing and flexible, and is certainly anything other than out of the box.  That’s one of the things I’ve learned over the years in terms of designing great digital User Interfaces for clients – out of the box UIs are becoming more and more unacceptable

 

And its no different for SAP. 

 

Sure, everybody knows the power of the SAP backend, but can the SAP front end, the “true” user experience, match that power?  That’s what today’s digital users have come to expect – great UIs.  At Excellis, these are the kinds of things flowing through our mind daily, as we look for the best ways to make SAP simple and appealing across many different devices and many different platforms.  Its what we do all day, everyday – make SAP look great – and there’s lots of products to pick from – to name a few: Web Dynpro ABAP and Java, NW Portal, CRM Web Shop / ISA, Bobj / Webi, and now Sybase as well.  The thing is, all of these UIs are being rolled out to users to access the backend of SAP in some way.  We always ask, what if that accessing of backend SAP was easier – so users can have it their way, in terms of utilizing SAP data to do their work? 

 

And then I ran across some information on Project Gateway, and that’s when the juices started flowing.

 

Here’s what we learned – “Project Gateway enables UI-centric consumption of SAP Business Suite data by popular devices or platforms in an easy and standards-based fashion”.  

 

It’s not that connecting to SAP from these devices and platforms was a foreign concept before – it’s just that now it’s easier.  “On device” is really is a microcosm of reality.  There are so many devices and platforms today, which equates to all of the UIs being different.  Embracing the fact that customizing UIs are what users want, and making it easy to access SAP on top of that, makes touching 1 billion people with SAP a whole lot easier.  Project Gateway makes accessing SAP easier than pure web service consumption or with JCA, which was the way to do it in the past.

 

While the direct benefit of project gateway is open APIs to SAP (with standards), there is more of an indirect underlying message with all of this – UX design.   I think now UIs can be designed for SAP projects more from a traditional UX project perspective – around the users and how they work and what they need.  Project gateway places prominence on designing truly great UI’s on any device or platform. Because now the focus can be around improving the users experience on their platform of choice, and not on writing tons of custom code to access SAP or change it’s out of the box UIs.

 

With Project Gateway, we get a chance to see how SAP is recognizing this rise in the prominence of UIs, and how important it is to get the user experience right.  I believe Gateway will help SAP keep pace with users’ growing UI expectations in terms of creating UI flexibility and allowing clients to have their own UIs that consume SAP.  It’s a win-win situation.  SAP back ends will still be utilized, and users will still get the UIs that they want – exactly as they want it, without having to settle for constraints in flexibility or out of the box shortcomings.  This ultimately makes the role and craft of UX design much more prominent on SAP projects moving forward.  Now, true user centered design can prominently take place on sap based projects where things like wireframes and mockups are no longer dirty words and don’t produce eye rolls.  Instead the focus shifts from what can’t we do to what can we do.  Users don’t care about why something “can’t” be done, only that it “can” be done.  They want easy and they want fast.

 

So with Project Gateway – it looks like SAP has finally realized – that the power of the front end is just as powerful as the back end.   Times have changed.  Users want more.  And now with a focus on the UI, they’re in line to get it.

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11 Comments

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  1. John Moy
    Hi Pete, thanks for the blog.  It resonates well with me also.  One of the side effects of Gateway I believe is that SAP is relinquishing some control of the UI technology.  Instead of relying on proprietary inhouse UI technologies such as WDJ and WDA, enablement of lightweight RESTful services using Gateway effectively delegates the UI layer to ‘external’ technologies.  In recent years I dabbled in Flex and iPhone development, and it is clear that these technologies are far more user centric.  Working through the Apple User Interface Guidelines (for instance) was a real learning experience in placing the user first, even if it is at the expense of (more sophisticated) functionality.  The only thing that disappoints me about Gateway is that it did not exist years ago (although it is possible to custom code RESTful enablement in ICM using HTTP handlers).
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    1. Navin Vazirani
      Great blog Pete. John makes a good point that this capability was needed yesterday.
      On that note, I remember reading that some of the improvements in SAP’s flagship WDA UI technology that come with Netweaver 7.02 were completed internally by SAP a couple of years ago. But customers will not be able to use these until June 2011 when NW7.02 is officially released. Hope that for Project Gateway, SAP is using a shorter runway and that we will not be kept waiting till 2012!
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      1. Markus Klein
        As far as i know, Duet Enterprise, which is currently in Ramp-Up until Dec 2010, is already relying on “Gateway” to connect to the Backend-Systems.
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        1. Simon Kemp
          Hi Markus… yes I was told by SAP that DUET Enterprise uses what they call “an embedded Gateway” and that a standalone gateway will be available next year.
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  2. Harsha J
    Keep wondering what is in store inside ‘The Project Gateway’. Your blog gives an initial picture of where SAP is heading. Thanks for that.
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  3. Simon Kemp
    Hi Pete,

    Firstly I want to make it clear that I totally agree with what your saying and would like to thank you for taking the time to blog on the topic, to me it is a no-brainer; if the user is involved early, upfront and often in the UI design then the project is likely to me far more successful… The challenge I think is getting the money from the projects to focus on the UI and the UX, for too long projects have thought about that too late in the process, so when you actually say “Hey we need money to do this…” and “we need to do it right from the start…” that can be a challenge. Showing real ROI and building a business case around a good UX can be a challenge – esp. for internal users (e.g. not customers) since the response can sometimes be “they need it to do their jobs, so they will use it regardless of the UX…”

    This is a topic I am greatly interested in so thanks for starting the discussion.

    Cheers,
    Simon

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  4. Sharath A
    Hey Pete…. Thanks for your time for this blog, which made the new Bies to know abt Project Gateway.

    Few lines for SAP….
    There was the time, where bulks of Data to be analysed to take Important Decisions, SAP made his entry successfully and just changed the view of reporting….

    Now its the time to Integrate UIs, SAP decided for the entry and I am expecting the same change of View of the World….

    Project “Gateway” – The Rise of UIs…. Cheers….

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  5. Pete Lagana Post author
    Simon – thanks for your comment.  I agree that most projects, especially SAP based projects, don’t emphasize the UI early on.  But this is a mistake.  You see, for every dollar spent on usability there is a 10 – 100% return on that investment.  When we build business cases on budgeting for ux designers and developers on projects, we always use ROI stats that include pro-forma dollars and cents analyis.  Its hard to argue that NOT doing anything costs much much more down the line, especially after go live.  So, on SAP projects, we always include UX designers on the development team, to guide the user interaction and design, and all the web dynpro and other types of sap developers all blend together with the ux designers to help produce awesome SAP interfaces.
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    1. Simon Kemp
      Very good Pete… could you point me to the stats you use to support ROI? I would love to include that sort of thing in my own value propositions for our clients. Thanks!
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  6. Pete Lagana Post author
    Hi John and Navin.  Yes Gateway does indicate somewhat of a relinquishment (sp?) of UI control from SAP.  But, not totally.  SAP is still trying to improve out of the box, which is definitely a step in the right direction.  I think Gateway let the non-sap world interact with SAP much better.  So businesses can own SAP technology, but not be forced to use their UIs.  Duet coming later this year (in ramp up) will be a good example to start.  But I think true adoption of Gateway will be not behemoth releases like Duet, but when 1 or 2 designers and developers on an ad-hoc team leverages it to build great UX-based apps that run SAP backend only.  The more prevalent that scenario becomes, the more successful Gateway will become.
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