In December I announced a delay in the timing of the release of our new platform for the SAP Community Network (SCN) and the reasons for this delay. To put it simply: the platform was not yet ready. But since many of you asked for more info, I cited numerous technical and logistical issues behind the decision to wait and launch in early-2012 instead of late-2011. I also hope I adequately underscored what matters most to us: the quality of the SCN platform and the desire to do what is right for the community and its ~2 million members. We were thrilled with the initial positive comments of support from you on that decision, and we continue to appreciate gestures of encouragement and patient support from our friends in the community.
Since then, while all of us have been working on the new platform, I’ve been publicly quiet on the launch topic, since the news changed daily as progress was made on one front, and new issues were uncovered on other fronts, and I didn’t want to set a new date or new expectations and not be fully confident of living up to them. And frankly, I’ve been waiting for questions and requests for an update to start bubbling-up from members of the community. I think it’s time now to provide you an update and to explain what you can expect, and when.
Immediately following the announcement of our launch delay, in the spirit of putting quality first, we launched a beta community in December. Several hundred individuals (topic leaders, moderators, SAP Mentors, and top contributors) were invited to participate in a beta space on the new platform with the purpose of providing qualitative feedback and helping us identify critical bugs and issues. They provided feedback from mid-December until today, and continue to do so on a regular basis, from every angle. Thanks to the overwhelming support by the beta participants, the beta program has been a success. We did identify many bugs and other issues, all of which have been documented and addressed, or scheduled to be addressed.
To give you an idea of the amount of work completed already:
- 116 blocker/showstopper and critically important items have been resolved
- 163 high-priority items have been resolved
- 201 medium-priority items have been resolved
- 11 low-priority items have been resolved
More than 500 “issues” of all priority levels have been resolved since we began testing the full system in its full configuration:
In addition to the beta program (which continues 24×7 even now), we also conducted formal user testing in our lab here at SAP in Palo Alto, California. Individuals were given various tasks to perform on the new platform, and their navigation and feedback were videotaped, screen-captured, analyzed, compared, contrasted, and prioritized. Many of the problem items these testers identified (clarity of labeling, navigation, page designs, content taxonomy, flow…) we were able to immediately improve, and others that are more complex will be improved over time.
In the past eight weeks we have managed to overcome a series of technical, functional, and design challenges. As most of you know, SCN was not built in a day, (more like 8 years!), and getting the new platform to offer functionality and to perform at the level of our expectations is a mighty task. Here are some of the highlights:
Search — Both the front end search application as well as the back end indexing systems have been reworked and streamlined. Search is such a critical component of any platform, is especially important in SCN where the content and capabilities are deep and broad, and on our new system will be especially important during our “getting re-acquainted” phase, so we have been working on search non-stop with the highest priority in order to insure that it functions and performs well.
Performance —The stability and overall performance of the system have been dramatically improved. Every part of the system has been analyzed to insure that it will perform with speed and responsiveness, and scale to meet the traffic and consumption needs of our massive community.
Recognition — The points and recognition program has been improved. We’ve enabled points for new activities, broadened the ability for any SCN member to easily participate in the recognition program by sharing their experiences and insights, and we’ve put in place some member features (“like” buttons to help us identify top quality content) and administrative capabilities to discourage negative “point-hunting” behaviors which no one appreciates.
Bugs — A myriad of minor annoyances and not-so-minor bugs in all areas have been identified and corrected. Some of this was in the custom code we developed to extend and stretch the base system. Some were just quirks we wanted to improve in the interest of user experience.
Here is a breakdown of the types of issues we’ve addressed, by component:
What to expect next
In these past two months we have resolved countless bugs, improved system performance, smoothed the user experience, and we are confident that the platform is just about ready to launch. We’ve flown experts from San Francisco to Germany to work side-by-side with our architects, developers, QA team, and others. We’ve flown our primary architect to the Bay Area to work directly with a key vendor. We have daily status calls, workstream calls, an active behind-the-scenes testing and feedback loop, ongoing migrations from development to test/QA to production systems, load tests, performance tests, weekend migrations of new content and features. Everyone is focused on quality and speed. But there still remain 8 blocker or showstopper items that don’t meet our standards and without fixes we won’t launch, and another 18 critically important items we’d really, really like to see addressed before we “flip the switch” to light-up the new SCN platform publicly.
Without full confidence I won’t set a launch date (learned that lesson already). But look for signs in the coming days as we cross the big items off our list and hone-in on a solid date to go-live.
In the meantime, we’ve put together a ton of information, video blogs, tips, and more on how to get the most out of the new site. I encourage you to dig into that content and prepare yourself for the new SCN because it really is coming soon!
Also, I want to again thank you for your patience, and especially express my deep appreciation for the support you’ve shown the team during this brief delay. We have an extraordinary community with its own special culture, and the folks working hard behind-the-scenes on the new SCN notice and appreciate the overwhelming support and expressions of friendship we’ve received from our loyal community members as the core team puts the new platform through its final pre-launch shake-down phase.
More To Come, Later in 2012
Don’t think that we are going to ride out the rest of 2012 in comfort after having launched the new platform. The launch is simply a “new beginning” from which we continuously improve, evolve, and build. We are just getting started, although on a modernized foundation, and we have a big roadmap already in place ahead of us. Here are some of the areas we see evolving beyond the launch day through the first half of this year:
Mobile — Mobile access has been one of the top community requests. About two years ago we started toying-around with a mobile friendly blog page, and this year we will explore a set of dedicated mobile applications that provide enhanced access to our community. The basic functionality of new SCN will satisfy about 80 percent of our members’ needs without a dedicated mobile module, but the currently available full-mobile approach doesn’t meet our requirements for data privacy, security, and other criteria, so we’ll work with our vendor/provider to improve their mobile offering to meet our needs, and then launch it later.
Search — All aspects of search, basic site indexing, federation of search results from other SAP system like help.sap.com and support notes, and the front end application will continue to evolve and mature. Search is important enough that it will never be “finished” or complete. The key goal is to provide an application and web experience that enables you to find what you are looking for quickly and easily. This will get ongoing attention.
Recognition — Ongoing enhancements to the recognition program are planned throughout 2012 and will include technologies and capabilities that employ game mechanics, also known as gamification. Our points system evolves as we learn what works and what doesn’t, as new activities are possible or rise in importance, and we test new ways of identifying quality, recognizing contributors, and establishing reputation within the community.
Integration — Tighter integration with other solutions like Idea Place and other SAP web properties is planned. Again, the focus is on enabling you to access and to find what you are looking for quickly and easily. We’re also looking to provide a holistic experience so you don’t have to experience the abrupt changes in design, UI, new logins, or other bumps when jumping from site-to-site or to disconnected islands of content or value.
And much more — We have a very extensive collection of “must do” and “want to do” items on our list for 2012 and beyond. We have a prioritized roadmap that will take us until year-end. We have budget and agreements with our IT team for the full year. And we never cease to test, try, envision, and experiment with new improvements to make your experience on SCN more beneficial and rewarding.