We’ve been an “R/3 shop” for quite a while now – live almost 14 years. We started with 4.0B, upgraded to 4.7 and finally to ERP6 just a couple of months ago. In all that time, the majority of our users have interacted with the system via SAPgui. As you’d expect, those of our users that use SAP all day every day are pretty happy while those that use it just occasionally find the SAPgui interface more than a little frustrating. We have some functionality in Service Management, specifically the creation of Service Notifications, exposed via custom ITS transactions, and we’ve recently mobilsed some inventory management functionality via software from Sky Technologies. Otherwise, it is SAPgui all the way.
The upgrade to ERP6 (EHP5) has presented us with some opportunities to improve our user experience and over the last few weeks I’ve been looking at these to see which, if any, are worth pursuing.
- WebDynpro – 4.7 didn’t support WDA so until the ERP6 upgrade we had no access to this. It provides a way of delivering custom-built SAP functionality via a web interface. Getting started with it seems fairly easy. I went from knowing almost nothing to having a working “PO Release” app in a couple of days. We might even use that one for real sometime soon!
- ITS – We have some simple ITS transactions live already. We could build more.
- SAP Personas – This is a new technology that takes existing SAP transactions and allows you, using end-user friendly (i.e. not too techie) methods, to radically redesign the look and feel, creating things that my not look anything like SAP. The results of this are delivered via the web (currently using Silverlight, but hopefully that will change)
- Custom ITS templates for standard transactions – during a conversation on Twitter about Personas it was suggested by John Moy that you could do much of what Personas does using custom ITS templates. I’ve had a quick play with this and it does seem like a lot of work. I’ve not yet got anything working satisfactorily for a non-trivial transaction. I’m sure I’d get there with time. John did offer a blog bout it – that might help me a lot 🙂
- GuiXT – I’ve known about GuiXT for years now, and have played with it a little. GuiXT, like Personas, lets you take an existing SAPgui screen and redesign it by removing and re-arranging fields and other screen elements. In contrast, to all of the other technologies, though, the result is delivered back through SAPgui rather than via the web. This has pros and cons. It is pretty easy to get started with, though, and the basic functionality is already included in SAPgui for no extra charge. Extra capabilities are available for reasonable (in SAP terms) licence costs from Synactive.
- SAP User Interface Addon (aka SAPUI5) – I haven’t looked at this at all yet, but is yet another way of building web-based interfaces to SAP systems, this time using modern HTML5-based technologies.
- Workflow – I originally started looking at workflow as a process automation technology, but fairly obviously can make a big difference to the user experience if done right, so it really does belong on this list.
I know there are SAP technologies I haven’t looked at – we don’t have, and would probably rather not have, an SAP portal, for example. I haven’t looked at using Gateway to build web apps either. And I’m not even considering mobile technologies. And it wouldn’t surprise me if there are SAP technologies I’ve completely overlooked, let alone 3rd party technologies.
The most frustrating aspect of this process has been that there are so many ways of doing similar things. They all overlap to some extent. They all have pros and cons. They all have different licensing models and costs, from free to too expensive (for me, anyway). They all require differing amounts of effort, and different skill sets, to develop custom UIs. I’d like to be able to pick one technology as our preferred UI enhancement technology, and invest in the infrastructure and skills to develop it knowing that we’ll be able to use it for everything for years to come and so get good value from that investment. Of the technologies listed above, the only one that comes close, in my mind, is WDA. The others all have too many limitations, or cost too much, or both. Although, of course, all WDA developments are custom and so have internal costs.
Is there any chance that in the near future there’ll be one UI technology to rule them all? I know, I’m dreaming…
If you have any alternatives, advice, or a completely different take on this issue, do please share in the comments 🙂