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SAP user interface technologies

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 🙂

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  • Hi Steve,

    As someone in pretty much the same boat as you, you have hit the nail on the head.  We have some ITS transactions, we have some WD4A applications, we have some GUIxt applications.  We don't have Personas and I don't know if we will.

    Jocelyn Dart wrote an excellent blog about Which Inbox which is definitely worth a read (or two) and she mentions 'SAP Approve All' - about which we will learn more at ASUG/Sapphire.

    Of course, this may only solve the workflow issue, but then again, that's probably the most important one, right??


  • Hi Steve,

    I am sure you are expressing the dilemma of many a SAP customer. As someone who specialises in SAP user interfaces I too have to be continually evaluating - and re-evaluating - the available options.

    Your move to ERP6 has opened up a lot of new possibilities in this area so the choices for you are even bigger than they ever were before. And let's not even mention the unbelievably fragmented mobile options.

    I don't believe there will be one UI technology to rule them all. That is because there is no one type of user so the varying needs of different audiences means that they will be satisfied with different technologies.

    I do think the single-page web model will become more and more prevalent. NW Gateway and SAPUI5 fit nicely into this category - and importantly lots of other UI technologies do as well.

    You may also be interested in this blog about Changing perception of usability at SAP . I am very much looking forward to see how Sam Yens' team is progressing with this initiative. Amongst other things they have promised to completely redesign and rewrite some of the most commonly used SAP transactions.


    Graham Robbo

    • Thanks Graham. I remember seeing your blog when it was posted, but I was mid-upgrade at the time and didn't really read it in depth. There are no easy answers here, and it makes taking that first step very difficult, especially if it is a step that requires a significant level of investment (infrastructure or licence costs) even to get started. Start-up cost is the main reason I'm not likely to get very far with Personas.

  • In your list I believe you miss Microsoft Integration through Gateway (DUET Enterprise).

    People can argue but Microsoft is still the primary User Experience in most of the enterprise. To be able to expose SAP data and processess in the Microsoft world will be key to increase User Experience acceptance by some users.

    • You're right on all counts. I did forget it, and it would probably work quite well here. We are a Microsoft/Exchange/Outlook based organisation. Thanks!

  • Great thoughts Steve. Of course on the CRM side you missed a few but you are not running CRM so that's not surprising.

    • Plain old BSP
    • CRM Web UI (BSP in a CRM framework with full WD architechure )
    • PCUI Old People Centric UI ( taken out by an meteor with the dino's )
    • New WCEM Java Server Faces based Web Channel Experience Management

    and I am sure that is still not a full list.

    For UI there are different applications that need different UI experiences. While it would be nice to have one ring UI to rule them all not every customers needs will be met by that. Hopefully for your user base you will be able to find something that you have the skills to develop and will be embraced by the users.

    All the best with UI journey and blog more as you keep learning.



    • I do appreciate the reason so many different techniques and technologies exist. Even within one organisation there are many different types of users and contexts of use, and I could probably make a case for using most of technologies here, including all the ones I've forgotten:-)

      My problem is simply that each needs a different skill set, and often a different technology platform, to support it. As much as I could, in principle, use WDA, Personas, Duet, Workflow, SAPUI5 in different parts of the organisation, in practice the investment in technology and skills is just impractical. It is very frustrating!


  • Thanks Steve for the summarized views on various UI paradigms associated with SAP. I see some overlaps (at least at the surface) and completely echo your dream of "one-for-all" UI framework.

    By the way, here's another if it adds to your list...

    I have observed several companies use Microsoft SharePoint in the ecosystem of SAP, as custom UI, or is that what Duet is?



    • Yes, that is Duet, or more precisely Duet Enterprise. For some areas of functionality it would work quite well. I've been impressed by the demos I've seen of it.

  • The author has covered various dimensions in bringing forth an important aspect of the advancements in SAP UI world. The discussion is not only useful for a layman, but also to the experienced player - who has had a specific experience and lacks a competitive landscape.

  • Hi Steve,

    As you stated in the blog you did not look at third-party dev tools.. so I'll add another item to your list. The Neptune Application designer. Sorry about that 🙂

    Here is a blog about how to utilize it for the new SAPUI5 mobile framework. The solution will also provide you with SAPUI5 and Wijmo framework for the desktop... it supports ABAP installations down to 4.7 and you don't need other skill sets than ABAP.

    As a disclaimer I need to inform you that I work for the company providing this tool.