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I’ve been following the design-related developments in SAP’s OnDemand offerings with great interest – especially the recent emergence of a people-focused design philosophy. Yet, despite the emergence of this new focus, other OnDemand offerings still remain with a different focus: the process. In my attempts to better understand the nuances of SAP’s OnDemand strategy, I’ve been looking at both design philosophies and trying to discover whether there are inherent conflicts or rather potential synergies between the two.

Note: This blog doesn’t provide a value judgment on whether process- or people-centricity is better or worse than the other. That is largely a subjective analysis and varies on a case-by-case basis.  The distinction between people and process is not arbitrary or specific to SAP. Salesforce’s Chief Scientist JP Rangaswami also describes these two tendencies with great elegance. I recommend reading his blog for more details on this topic.

In this Corner: Process-Centric

This design philosophy is best illustrated in the BusinessByDesign (ByD) product. In thisProcure to Pay in SAP Business ByDesign, Jim Daddario describes the Procure-to-Pay process in BusinessByDesign.

As a follow up, I thought I’d walk you through the Procure-to-Pay process (or at least most of it) in a step-by-step description of how this is accomplished in SAP Business ByDesign. Before I dive into the details, I want to say what is unique about Business ByDesign is its process-centric approach.

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For those who haven’t experienced AP processing first hand, you’ll notice that this automated process avoided a lot of manual checking, looking for original POs or checking them in a separate system or spreadsheet. We’ve also avoided having to chase down the purchaser by email or phone calls to get the “OK to pay” and of course, the real advantage is every step and who completed it is documented in Business ByDesign. This is just one example of how ByD’s process-centric approach can streamline accounting processes and ensure that proper internal controls have been followed

I’ve cut some of the description of the particular process mentioned in the blog but the focus on the process as ByD’s competitive advantage is obvious. If you look at all the processes currently offered or in planning by ByD, and the marketing emphasis placed on this coverage, you will see that this focus is justified.

In The Other Corner: People-Centric

This new design philosophy is best illustrated in the SalesOnDemand product which is the first of a series of OnDemand LOB applications developed on the BusinessByDesign Functional Core.

Prashanth Padmanabhan describes one of the main principles for these next generation people management applications as follows:

People centric thinking puts the person first and process next. We realized that, but for some special cases, meeting the needs of a person and providing instant value for a person is more important than ensuring the integrity of a process. While we will strive to ensure the integrity of all processes, we will address the needs of the person first and make our tools useful for the person and make it work the way they work, when they want it and where they want it.

In an interview with Dennis Howlett, John Wookey has the following comment about this design philosophy:

Previous applications are narrowly designed around the enterprise view of the business process – we tried to broaden it tremendously. We still want to support the business process but we also want to support the way people interact and work together in the context of meeting that business objective. So it wasn’t just social networking so the people could collaborate and be social – but how do they work together in order to achieve a business objective.

Note: This blog isn’t going to look at this design philosophy in detail. For more information on it, I suggest looking at the Padmanabhan’s blog.

The quotes from Padmanabhan and Wookey describe a more symbiotic relationship between the two tendencies. Others have a more critical assessment of this relationship. Kai Petzelt in hisOn demand solutions are person-centric, not process-centric “OnDemand solutions are person-centric, not process-centric“ describes this relationship in SAP’s OnDemand applications in a more antagonistic fashion:

The on-demand solutions that we are building here at SAP are not merely new deployment models for old solutions and strategies; instead they represent a fundamentally different way of looking at the world.  We tore everything apart and rebuilt a brand new solution from the ground up; one that embodies a core philosophy of creating solutions that revolve around people as opposed to processes.

Although SAP’s product marketing for Sales OnDemand can’t ignore the process-relevance, there is an obvious focus on the social aspects of this tool and the suggestion that these new more consumer-oriented aspects represent the competitive advantage of the tool.

Selling today is about more than following the process. It’s about selling more efficiently, quickly finding relevant customer information and effectively collaborating with the right people across your business network to get things done. SAP Sales OnDemand is designed for the way you sell today, giving you everything you need to work smarter, sell better, and win more. [SOURCE]

Meet the Other Contenders

There are other applications in SAP’s OnDemand palette. Where do they fit in?

I’ve created a scale measuring relative centricity and placed applications from SAP on it. I’ve also included offerings from other vendors as points of reference.

It is critical to understand that there is no pure people-centric or process-centric application. There is a sliding scale in which the degree of centricity varies between applications. For example, some applications have more people-centricity than process-centricity. Each application covers various use cases – the use cases covered obviously determines what functions are included in an application. Indeed, most applications have a mixture of both worlds. For example, the ActivityStream in SalesOnDemand  shows more of a people-centric approach while other parts of the same application (for example, the screen dealing with ERP data in SalesOnDemand) might be more closely related to the fundamental business process.

Why is there no pure people-centric application? We are discussing enterprise applications here – so there must always be some process-relevance that is present. Even in the current desire for The Gamification of SAP – there is still some fundamental business problem that must be solved regardless of how fun the means involved are.

It isn’t the technological foundation of a particular application which leads to one centricity or the other. For example, Sales OnDemand and BusinessByDesign are both built on the same foundation – the ByD core. As mentioned above, the use cases that these applications cover and the audiences that they serve – have the greatest impact.

Pimp my Enterprise Application

There is often the desire to transform applications that are at the top or bottom of scale towards the middle of the scale. The decision to Pimp my Enterprise Application by adding ratings or activity streams is often linked to the yearning to have cool applications – to appeal to Gen Y users just entering the corporate workplace.  

An initial step before making such changes must be to determine if they are really warranted. Are there new use cases that must be implemented or can existing features be covered more effectively by either more people- or process-centric applications.

Retrofitting existing people-centric applications with process-centric functionality: Is it possible to add structure to such applications with losing its social heart? Such ruminations are often present in applications that exist in the consumer space and now wish to move into the enterprise arena.

Conclusion

As I mentioned before, this blog assumes that a mixture of people- and process centricities is the ideal. The individual mixture can and should be application-specific. If we make an assumption that applications will contains features of both centricities, then it is the touchpoints between these particular features that are the most interesting. For example, “How do you move from an activity stream to a form filling out a purchase order” or “How do I integrate a rating into the analysis of a potential supplier?”.  The two aspects don’t exist independently from one another but must be interact with each other to achieve their maximum effectiveness.  A recent blog by Sigurd Rinde entitled “Social Media – Nouns but no Verbs” describes the critical importance of the interaction between these two tendencies.
I must admit that I started this blog with the slightly malicious intention of exposing discrepancies in how SAP portrays its OnDemand offerings. However, as I started digging deeper, I began to notice the fine distinctions between the individual products and how their unique characteristics (especially regarding the use cases they met) influenced their respective design strategies. However, the ability of SAP to portray these distinctions effectively still leaves something to be desired.

Suggestions

  • SAP should be emphasize that there is no monolithic OnDemand offering but rather a variety of products that exist in this space. Lumping all these products together just confuses the marketplace and does a disservice to the attempts of the various product teams to create an unique identity.
  • What developers and partners need are publicly available design patterns – originating from SAP –  for both people- and process-centric features which could help other application developers decide when to use which tools.
  • The OnDemand Core LOB applications should follow StreamWork’s example and support the activityStrea.ms standard.
  • Make people-centric UI elements (such as the ActivityStream in Sales OnDemand) part of the ByD Core so that other LOB OnDemand applications and other partner applications can easily re-use this functionality. This would assure that integration patterns and UI elements would be standardized across SAP’s OnDemand (Core) offerings.
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