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During the recent SAP TechEd in Madrid, I participated in several sessions and discussions on the NetWeaver Business Client (NWBC). One of the most interesting discussions I had was during (and after J) an Q&A expert session with Peter Barker, Felix Hoefer and Claudia Binder from NWBC product management. The discussion was really focusing on the level of adoption of the NWBC at customer sites. With ‘level of adoption’, obviously was meant a (let’s be careful here) “somewhat disappointing” adoption of the NWBC as SAP’s new UI technology at customer sites. The question raised by SAP product management was basically ‘what is holding back customers to adopt this new UI technology?’  Here I would like to summarize some of the arguments that were put forward by several participants, including myself.

Let’s make clear that we are talking here about the perception of customers, so the arguments do not necessary have to be true, but they do describe how customers evaluate the product and are therefore key arguments for the (non)adoption of the NWBC.

Uncertainty on SAP’s UI strategy

The User Interface has never been SAP’s strongest offer, and customers have seen a lot of initiatives from SAP to improve the user experience. The past couple of years SAP has delivered a broad scale of UI Clients (GUI client, GUI WebClient, Portal, Business Explorer, …), UI Technologies and Tools supporting the development and maintenance of these different clients and technologies.

NetWeaver Business Client is put forward by SAP as a new User Interface but does not replace any of the existing alternatives (GUI, Portal), which confuses customers. Furthermore new initiatives are presented as the way forward including mobile applications, SAP UI5 (HTML5), free UI development based on integration through Gateway and during TechEd we even saw the Microsoft Silverlight based SAP Personas making its entrance. This confuses the customer even more on the direction SAP is taking with their UIs.

All these initiatives claim to be targeting another user group, with specific characteristics, but for partners and customers it seems more like different product teams are developing UI technologies in parallel whilst proper alignment of these initiatives is missing. No clear goal or overall strategy seems available that ties these different initiatives together. They have their own roadmaps, their own tools, their own technology and no clear joint target they are aiming at.

So, customers sit back and wait to see which client, technology and tools will prevail before making an investment.

Implementation effort

Anyone who has been implementing NWBC (whether for evaluation, life or demo scenarios) will recognize the hardship it takes to get the ‘out-of-the-box’ NWBC content working. The implementations we went through show different areas of hardship, which are recognized widely by customers and partners alike.

  • Role and profile maintenance: Presented as a new UI Client for improved user experience, implementation of the NWBC turns out to be a core User and Role (authorization) maintenance project (in combination with an implementation of required backend functionality). Based on the promise of re-usability of existing roles, the dismay of customers can be understood when the impact of an implementation goes way beyond that. Of course the existing roles can be used, but none of the perceived improvements (work centers, business context content) will then be available. Getting those improvements in place requires a much stronger effort from the user management and authorization teams.
  • Content availability: The general availability of required content for implementing and developing the NWBC roles is perceived as (to say the least) problematic. Technical requirements for content availability are fulfilled at few customer sites and when they are met, the activation and configuration of all relevant business functions (sets), data sources, services and so on are sometimes difficult. This (combined with the limited and scattered documentation, see below) definitely limits the availability of sidepanel content, work centers and POWLs for usage in the customer scenarios.
  • Documentation: A commonly noticed problem is that documentation on the implementation of NWBC roles and the related backend functionality is really scattered around multiple areas. For the basic configuration of the NWBC and related backend functionality the documentation is fine. The issues with regard to NWBC documentation are however related to the content required for a proper implementation. The information required for
    • finding relevant POWLs and Chips,
    • activation and configuration of backend functionality,
    • identifying dependencies between POWLS, Chips and backend configurations
    • required configurations to get Chips and POWLs up and running
    • ….

is sometimes ‘somewhat hard to find’. To get the information required for the implementation of a single end-user scenario, you have to go on a journey through documentation of best practices, business functions (sets), implementation and upgrade guides, Chip catalogs, SAP Notes and so on. Just when you think you are almost there, a small sentence in the documentation will make you shiver: “Configure systems as described in the SAP Standard documentation for SAP ERP EHP6″. This will basically mean to go through another implementation effort in activation of business functions, struggling through implementation guides, finding relevant SAP notes and configuration the backend system.

Having to deal with several implementations and configurations when implementing the end-user scenarios for NWBC is understood since new backend functionality is required, for customers this is however  a non-expected challenge when what they perceive as the introduction of a new UI client.

The available Rapid Deployment Solution for Sidepanel content in SAP NetWeaver Business Client v2.0 should address several of these needs. Our experience (which I will write about in another blog) is that after implementation of this RDS there is still a lot of work to be done for customers (or partners) to incorporate the NWDS roles and profiles in the existing user management and to configure the backend systems properly.


Added value

Although customers are usually impressed by the looks of NWBC and see real added value in the workcenters and business context related content in the sidepanels, they struggle in making the business case.

  • How does NWBC fit into their current UI landscape which usually includes SAP GUI and Portal implementations?
  • What features are offered by NWBC that cannot be achieved with existing, available technologies and tools?
  • What clients, technologies or maintenance activities are being replaced with the new product?
  • Will NWBC offer end users simplified access to their activities and tasks?

These are very valid questions which are heard often when showcasing NWBC to customers and usually the answers are somewhat disappointing.

Added value is perceived mainly from the workcenters, the sidepanel (business context content) and the look and feel. The (implementation) effort and (technical) requirements for the realization of this added value are however high and usually one step too far for the customer.

Expectations Management

SAP is really missing the spot in marketing the NWBC. It promises a lot that cannot be achieved easily and shows ‘out-of-the-box’ content that is hardly representative for the customer’s needs or environment. Furthermore SAP fails to mention the effort and impact the implementation of NWBC will have on the User and Authorisation Management within the customer’s environment. This leaves the customer with high expectations and wrong presumptions on what NWBC can do for them. Expectations encountered at customers regarding NWBC are:

  • NWBC will replace the SAP GUI (since we don’t see the SAP GUI in the demo)
  • NWBC can be implemented as thin client (yes, but not when we want to provide any added value such as sidepanel content)
  • NWBC will allow me to simplify the UIs used (no, although this is commonly shown during demos, this is not a feature of NWBC. Nwbc only shows the simplified WebDynpro application (usually custom build))
  • We can use our current SAP roles (sure, but that will only show SAP GUI dynpros in an NWBC frame, probably not what you intended)
  • After installing NWBC on the desktops we are good to go (no, definitely not. You still have to design the NWBC specific roles, define (business context) content, determine relevant POWLs, workcenters and Chips, configure backend systems, activate new functionality,  ……)
  • NWBC provides additional content such as NWBC roles, POWLs, Chips and workcenters to improve the user experience (no, this is actually provided with support packages, upgrades and activation of business functions (sets), NWBC can only use them from the backend configurations.

So, many expectations that customers have from presentations, sales meetings and showcases are not fulfilled. This is not necessary a problem, since all the expected can be realized. This will however require a much bigger effort and have a bigger impact than the customers had perceived.

In short, a lot of customers are delighted to see the NWBC being showcased (demos) and find the new look and feel, the workcenters approach and the business context functionality i n sidepanels very promising. However, when the customer starts to realize what the implementation effort (including role redesign and technical prerequisites) should be, how much dependencies there are on activated and configured backend functionality and how many expectations cannot be fulfilled, they back down and remain at the current UI solution (usually the plain old SAP GUI).

In my opinion, the issues mentioned above should be addressed by SAP and its partners before a better adoption rate for the NWBC can be realized. The technology is there, the available business content is growing every day as is the understanding of the NWBC. It’s actually a good concept, build on available technology and available expertise within customer organizations.  It is however eminent that the delivery of content and documentation must be improved before the NWBC can deliver on promise.

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17 Comments

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  1. Fred Verheul

    Hi Caspar,

    I’m very glad to see you sharing your knowledge and insights with the community. This topic and especially the somewhat hidden obstacles for customers certainly deserve more attention than generally given. I hope SAP can chime in here and make clear how these pain points will be addressed going forward.

    Excellent blog post!

    Cheers, Fred

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  2. Simon Kemp

    Hi Caspar,

    Thanks for sharing this with the community. The comments you make regarding the documentation made me smile 😏 … I often think there should be training course provided that teach people how to find all the relevant information and bring it all together – it is an art in and of itself.

    As for the UI strategy, I think SAP will probably counter saying they have a very well thought out UI strategy and while that arguably is the case I would propose that it is too complicated for the majority of people (who aren’t involved with it daily) to easily understand.

    I myself have struggled with the business case for NWBC (esp. if the customer already has a NW Portal in their landscape) – perhaps SAP is best off “forcing” customers down the NWBC route by not having a standalone SAPGUI installation in the future…

    This is a great blog that I think highlights some of the “Elephants in the room” when it comes to NWBC ๐Ÿ˜€ … good on you for sharing.

    Simon

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    1. Former Member Post author

      Hi Simon, I absolutely agree that SAP probably knows where it is heading with its UI strategy, but for customers and partners I think it is still a bit like looking into a crystal bowl. This is exactly one of the reasons why a basically good product like NWBC is not easily adopted.

      As for the business case: I think it is all in the available content. It is not a coincidence that most customers really enjoy the NWBC. There must be some good things in there! The focus should be (IMO) on specific scenarios, documented end to end, including required functionality and customizing. But then again: that’s also where partners can make a difference!

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  3. Micky Oestreich

    Hi Caspar,

    thanks for pointing out these ‘ short comings’ of the NWBC. I was actually looking into this for my current customer. They are using a standard Web Dynpro embedded into a regular SAP GUI screen. The business didn’t want to have yet another UI (IE) just for displaying the Web Dynpro, which is understandable. Therefore I wanted to take a closer look at the NWBC. But this analysis (especially the implementation effort) surely puts it into a whole new perspective which, from what I read, should not be underestimated

    Thanks again,

    Micky.

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    1. Former Member Post author

      Hello Mike. It will definitely be hard to make a business case for implementing NWBC based on a single application or user (group). On the other hand, showing the NWBC might already start triggering some people in the organisation. Another option would be to start rolling out the NWBC as part of a SAP GUI update (it is understood by a lot of people when packaging the NWBC rollout with the regular SAP GUI update). When people start using the NWBC, even without speicifc NWBC roles, they often keep using it. Just because it looks good, it differentiates them from other users and along the way they start using stuff like the embedded search functionality. Add the RDS for NWBC Sidepanel content and things start flying!

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  4. Former Member

    Thanks for sharing and writing such an informative article Caspar.

    Sums up the situation accurately.

    When the SAP UI Roadmap presentation (2012Q1 ) as presented under http://service/sap/com/roadmaps is 79 slides long it is a good indication of how complex and confusing an issue this crucial success factor is for SAP and customers.

    It has become even more difficult and complex for SAP to manage and articulate a clear direction, given the ever increasing number of acquisitions (mostly with their own UI layer and technology) as well as all the disparate UI technologies within SAP’s core suite itself.

    Again, well done and thanks for sharing.

    Cheers, Phil G.

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  5. Sergio Ferrari

    Thanks for the blog Casper.

    I’ll have even less expectations and I would be happy to see general NWBC adoption even with the simpler scenarios.

    In the first step (maybe an year), It would be already enough to see NWBC replacing SAPGui without applying any improvements and I’m with you about the documentation and the effort to be spent even for this first step.

    Now, the worst, is that Web Dynpro for ABAP applications are there but SAPGui doesn’t support embedding them and eventually it happens that we see a lot of new windows opening around the desktop.

    Indeed SAPGui can embed WDA but it is not supported (as stated in some OSS notes) basically due to double sessions management (chack in SM04 what I mean).

    Step-by-step, if NWBC will be installed, I’m sure we’ll be able to slowly rearrange menus and introduce the very interesting staff that is supported.

    Keep us updated and let’s hope 2013 will be the year of NWBC, if the Maya prophecy will not be true

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  6. Tom Van Doorslaer

    Hi Caspar,

    I agree on many of what you say, but would like to add my own opinions none the less.

    I think a lot of the dissapointment is indeed in the perception. But then again, perception is everything.

    a) NWBC is not a UI technology. It’s simply a client, in which you can create a cockpit to access your transactions and certain webscreens, or your portal application and other webscreens.

    b) Yes, you need to redesign your roles. But if you have a portal, you should’ve redesigned your roles already. The problem is that many companies have neglected their role design for way too long, and are still running very generic roles, aimed specifically at SAPGUI use, instead of “daily-work” roles, which contain more than just “transactions”.

    c) I can’t comment on what the SAP promises, because I have never attended such a sales meeting, but let’s not be naive about sales meetings in general. They’re like political speeches. A lot of words, and very little (reliable) content. If something is free, there’s always a catch.

    The pain points about transparency (documentation, component overview, business functions overview,…) are all true. SAP should really do something about that.

    The perception that SAP is just flinging around UI’s may be true, but the attitude of many businesses (wait and see which one wins) is so very wrong. But it’s a typical business reaction, because they are still looking for that one magical solution that fits all their users. That one tool that fixes all of their problems and has a “Work-for-me – button”.

    And that’s the problem! Such a solution does not exist!

    Did SAPGui work for all users? I don’t think so.

    Every type of user may require a different type of UI. Some will need mobile UI’s. Some will need Web UIs. Some will require SAPGui for fast data entry and access. Some will require a cockpit…

    It’s like those “one size fits all-pants”. They exist, but would you really wear one to an expensive dinner?

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    1. Former Member Post author

      Hi Tom, absolutely true that one of the key elements for NWBC is the focus on redesign of the end user roles. And yes, many customers have paid little attention to addressing the daily work routines in their role design and used role administration primarily for the implementation of authorization concepts.

      Role design in portal environments (esp. in the PCD) was better understood to be focusing on end user’s activities and was granted more freedom in the role design since they did not necessary conflict with those authorization roles.

      For NWBC however, it is much more perceived to be conflicting since we want to change (enhance) the existing user roles. Even when we design separate NWBC roles which can be implemented and maintained in parallel to the existing authorization roles it is likely to run into conflicts and/or procedural barriers in usage of PFCG.

      Futhermore, the ‘wait and see’ attitude is not commendable, but at least understandable since most businesses have limited budgets these days and can only spend those budgets once. Establishing a good business case for NWBC will therefore be important and highlighting the ease of use, the search functionality, the user friendliness and realizing out-of-the-box context aware content definitely improve NWBC’s business changes!

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  7. Former Member

    This is an informative, thought-provoking blog. Thank you. 

    Some of the issues raised have already been addressed in the documentation, SCN material and blogs. However, we need to make sure that customers and partners can find this information.

    On the other hand there are questions that are still open; we will be publishing more articles in the near future to answer some of these questions. A step in this direction
    is the blog about NWBC and the side panel at TechEd published this week on SCN:

    http://scn.sap.com/community/netweaver-business-client/blog/2012/12/10/nwbc-and-the-side-panel-at-teched-2012–faqs

    However, I must correct one misconception: The adoption of NWBC has not been “disappointing”. Last month we conducted a survey of a large number of customers and partners interested in NWBC. When TechEd took place we had not yet finished analysing the survey results. Now the analysis phase is over and it turns out that the
    adoption of NWBC greatly exceeded our expectations!

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    1. Former Member Post author

      Hi Peter. Good to hear that the survey showed good adoption of the NWBC. I really hope this will be broadcasted widely including some fine (customer) use cases for NWBC specific appliances. Also, thank you for the Q&A blog on some of the ‘burning issues’ discussed during SAP TechEd, which really helps in clarifying some of the obstacles mentioned during these discussions (and reflected in this blog). I look forward to discussing these topics in more detail shortly!

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  8. Julie Plummer

    Thanks for this insightful and constructive blog Caspar. Just one point:

    “How do I find out which business functions to activate for each side panel?”

    At present, the business functions you need to activate are documented in the Chip Catalog itself (separately for each Chip). However, for the future, we are in the process of creating an XLSX with all side panel chips, their availability (by SP), plus the business functions they require. This will be made available to admins and partners as soon as possible (probably by SCN).

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    1. Former Member

      Hello,

      I am a consultant and I would like to say that before starting a new client with NWBC, we would like to handle it very well. One issue today is the sidepanel. I am pleased to read that in a short futur an XLSX will be available to list CHIP and busines functions. That is a very good idea !!

      Of course we can find many topic in SCN.

      It is cleat that NWBC 4, POWL and sidepanel are a promising step in the usage and the global ergonomic. Now we have to handle it in the best way.

      Best regards

      AAX

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    2. Simon Kemp

      Hi Julie,

      Would you be able to point me to that XLSX file? I am struggling to find one place where I can get a good overview of what is available for the NWBC side-panel.

      Thanks,
      Simon

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      1. Julie Plummer

        Hi Simon,

        As I suspected, we didn’t actually collate this information as an XLSX. Instead there are 2 options:

        1. Transaction BSSP_CONTENT. This allows you to enter eg a transaction, and then find the roles and side panels associated with it. Or the other way round – what roles contain which side panels, and for what transactions are they suited. (This transaction is only available from EHP6 – like the side panel itself.)

        2. 

        For NetWeaver Chips: SAP Library : NetWeaver Chips

        For Business Suite Chips: Chip_Catalog.pdf  or SAP Note 1718873  – scroll down to the “Attachments”. (Note: This list covers only the first 74 Chips, released for EHP6, SP01. That is, there are now approximately 30 more Chips available, which are not included in this note. Documentation for these Chips is available by selecting them directly in the Chip Catalog. However, this SAP Note provides a useful introduction).

        I actually pasted this from the blog: Web Dynpro-based UI Innovations and SAP NetWeaver Business Client  – is this what you need, or do you need any other info? I have checked with the Business Suite – we did not in the end publish an XLSX.

        HTH Julie.

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  9. Former Member

    Hi Casper,

    Thank you for this well informed blog.

    If more focus was given to the NWBC HTML version(incorporating
    Side Panel, bring more applications and their features into the html version)
    from SAP it would have been a much more sensible strategy from the customers
    point of view.

      Imagine having to deploy two “thick” clients, SAPGUI and the NWBC win client. The support cost!

    Also, how NWBC fits in with Mobile technologies and strategy of a customer is still very sketchy.

    Best regards

    TK

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