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I was fortunate to attend an SAP Screen Personas Customer Event in London on April 24, 2013 run by the SAP Imagineering team. This was part of my investigations into how we might improve the experience for many of our SAP users. I was expecting a demo of the capabilities of the software and the opportunity for some hands-on time to investigate its capabilities for myself. I got both of those and more besides. This blog is a quick summary of the content from the day that was important to me. For more information, including FAQs, how-tos and video demos, look at the SAP Community Network Wiki – SAP Imagineering – SAPScreenPersonas wiki.

The first few sessions of the day addressed not just Personas but UX issues more generally, and gave lots of good advice about how to approach a UX improvement project. A few interesting things from those sessions:

  • UI design is a design skill and not a technical skill. If you are embarking on a UX improvement project, make sure you have design skills on the team. This is no different from using PowerPoint, where you can do lots of clever things very easily with no real technical skill required, but you can just as easily create awful PowerPoint slides as nice ones. This certainly resonates with me. I’m not short of technical skills, but my design skills are almost non-existent! My PowerPoint slide decks are almost universally bad 🙂
  • Don’t focus just on the casual users. When you do surveys of user happiness with SAP, the casual users are generally less happy than professional users. If you use SAP through SAPgui day in, day out, not only do you get used to it, but you appreciate the power the comes from the UI complexity. If you use it once a week, you will always struggle to remember how a transaction works. It is tempting, therefore, to focus UX improvement effort on casual users, but that is usually a mistake. Not only are the overall productivity gains higher when you improve things for professional users, but if you neglect them the professional users feel neglected and end up less happy as a result! Casual users should probably be your first target, but don’t forget the heavy users also.
  • Speaking of productivity gains, while that’s an obvious thing to measure when looking at the success of a UX project, it isn’t the only thing, and maybe even not the most important thing. Think carefully about how you are going to measure the success of a UX improvement project.
  • You should have a long-term strategy for UX improvement, and not just a one-off project to improve the obvious few transaction and leave it at that.

So, to Personas itself. We were given a demo of the current version of Personas, version 1. We saw how to turn the standard SAP login screen (transaction SMEN) into something like a launchpad for users that need to use just a few transactions. We also saw how to take an existing transaction such as VA01 and greatly simplify it by removing unnecessary fields and tabs, and by merging content from multiple tabs into a single one. Alongside this there’s functionality for changing the visual appearance with different colours, backgrounds, images, etc. so that you can end up with a screen that looks nothing like the original starting point, and even nothing like SAP if that’s important to your users! There’s also a scripting capability allowing you to perform multiple actions with a single button click, including chaining transactions together. The wiki mentioned above has links to examples of all of this.

One thing that concerned me about Personas was its longevity. From what I knew of it technically, it could easily have been a product that would be around for 2 or 3 years to address a specific requirement and then quietly fade away. Investing in such a thing obviously isn’t very appealing. After hearing about the plans for future versions, those concerns have largely gone away. The current version has an architecture like this:

/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/screenshot_209789.png

In essence it takes the output of the ITS webgui as its input. It allows you to modify that, and then renders the result in the client web browser via silverlight. It feels very much like an afterthought, an independent layer that could go away as quickly as it arrived, and that’s what prompted my concerns over its longevity. A consequence of this is that version 1 of Personas does not affect the layout of screens in traditional SAPgui or the webgui. It is, in effect, a third gui. Note also that the Personas functionality exists almost entirely in a stand-alone ABAP add-on, although it does require a small amount of kernel functionality that exists only in the 7.21 kernel.

With subsequent versions, two major changes are happening. First, silverlight is being phased out as the presentation layer in favour of HTML5. Secondly, the screen re-writing functionality is being moved from the browser into the NetWeaver kernel. An interesting consequence of that is that it will then be able to re-write webgui and SAPgui screens! This moving of functionality into the kernel is what persuades me that this is a long-term product. This is a big change for the kernel and I don’t believe it would be made for a product with a short expected lifetime. Both of these changes should be available in a version expected to be shown at Sapphire 2014, but some may make it into version released later this year.

I haven’t mentioned the administration functionality for all of this. Tailored screens are knows as “flavours” “flavors” and you can control which users have access to which flavors, which flavors a user gets as a default for a given transaction, who can create their own, etc. We only got the briefest of demos of this aspect but what I saw seemed pretty comprehensive.

Overall, the event was a great introduction to what seems like a great product. I left with my head full of ideas for how I could use it back in the office. Now I just need to arrange to get access to it…


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16 Comments

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  1. Tammy Powlas

    Thanks for sharing, Steve, and let us know when you get access to it.  We saw this at an ASUG Chapter meeting and interest was high.

    Regards,

    Tammy

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  2. Paul Hardy

    I still clearly remember when I was in Tel Aviv in 1999 and we saw GUIXT demonstrated, a free add on, and the example they gave was changing VA01 so all the not needed fields were hidden, and you could have your own colours and images until it looked nothing like the original transaction. And this was endorsed by SAP itself.

    14 years later SAP has come up with what seems to be the exact same product, but this time you have to pay for it.

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    1. Steve Rumsby Post author

      I know what you mean. There’s a lot of overlap between Personas and GuiXT. The GuiXT runtime is still built into SAPgui and you can use it for free. You do need to buy the development tools separately from Synactive, but you can write scripts by hand in a text editor without them.

      I’ve done a fair bit of work with GuiXT over the last few weeks and there’s a lot of functionality there, and for free as you say. Personas is more capable, though, and ultimately can produce a much better UX. Whether that extra functionality is worth the cost remains to be seen. I haven’t seen official pricing yet.

      As far as I understand it, there are no plans to remove the current GuiXT functionality from SAPgui, so you can continue to use that if it does what you need.

      Steve.

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  3. David Clavey

    Nice blog, reading it a month later because I have only just interested in Personas from a 100% connected* mobility point of view.

    I think I need to wait for the HTML5 version. Roll on next year ….

    (I am aware that its impossible to get 100% connectivity with Radio technology!)

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    1. Steve Rumsby Post author

      Thanks. I’ve decided I like this product a lot, and I’m now desperate to get my hands on it and see what I can really make it do. Negotiations in progress…

      And as for the 100% connectivity thing, I know that problem only too well. Even in areas where there is good WiFi signal (like here at my desk) I do get occasional dropouts. That tends to disconnect any open SAPgui sessions. I’m guessing that since Personas is http(s) based it will be more tolerant of such dropouts. Don’t know for sure – Tobias Queck might know?

      Steve.

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  4. Paul Hardy

    Steve,

    I just had a six hour train trip, which is great in Australia there is so much to see out of thw window, it’s not just a big desert! Anyway i was re-reading your blog and one thing you said sprung out at me – if I am reading this correctly screen personas works in a web GUI as opposed to just altering your laptop front end like GUIxt does, but this will be fixed in a the ever popular “next version”? Please forgive me if I have mis-understand , but that is what it sounds like based on your blog.

    I know everyone says the web front end is the way forward, and I would be happy with that the exact instant it went as fast as applications that run from the desktop. Again people say “oh, a ten second round trip delay does not matter” and in some business context no it does not, but often it does.

    Nonethless if SAP screen personas can be embedded in the central ABAP core, and run within the SAP GUI then I would imagine people would indeed be willing to pay, willing to pay for SAP to give you permission to design a usable interface youself, because their one is so bad.

    They just need to be wary about competitors who might give a usable interface for free, and not make the customer have to pay to design it themselves.

    Do you reckon I could make people pay for a  car that did not run, and then charge them extra for a kit so they could fix it themeslevs?

    Does that sound cynical?

    Cheersy Cheers

    Paul

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    1. Steve Rumsby Post author

      You are correct – the current version delivers the re-written screens via the web only. The same screens in SAPgui are unaffected. This is because all the rewriting is done in the browser. A future version will move some of this functionality into the NetWeaver kernel so that it will be able to redraw SAPgui screens also. Only within the capabilities of SAPgui, though, so you won’t have all of the flexibility to change colours and add background images, and I’m guessing you don’t be able to do quite as much screen redesign. This is currently promised for a version that’s a year or more away, so there’s plenty of time for this to change. Don’t start making plans for it until much nearer the time!

      Steve.

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      1. Paul Hardy

        Thanks for the reply, I needed to be sure about this, I don’t want to start mouthing off until I am 100% sure of my facts.

        My understanding is now thus:-

        If I did not want my users running their transactions in a web browser, for the performance reasons I keep on about, and I desire to re-arrange the screens without custom development, then I have two options:-

        I can wait two years and then pay through the nose for SAP screen personas, and I need to be wary of limitations in regard to changing colours and adding background colours and the like.

        I could use something that does the same thing, and is free, endorsed by SAP, and came out fifteen years ago, and even fifteen years ago you could and still CAN change the colours and add background images and the like.

        That’s a tough one. I’ll have to think long and hard about that.

        Cheersy Cheers

        Paul

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        1. Steve Rumsby Post author

          As I said above there’s a lot of overlap between Personas and GuiXT. If GuiXT does what you need, go for it. It is free – it is hard to argue with that! As far as I know SAP has no intention of removing the GuiXT functionality – see OSS note 1825312. Personas is not a replacement for GuiXT.

          When I was experimenting with GuiXT I found some things I couldn’t do with just the free functionality, but needed one of the paid components – InputAssistant. Not that those extra components from Synactive are very expensive. I also found some things I couldn’t do at all, but that Personas can do. To get a good idea of what the current version is capable of, look through the demos on sapscreenpersonas.com.

          When I talked about restrictions on changing colours, adding images, etc., it was in the context of “within the capabilities of SAPgui”. If GuiXT can do it, I don’t see a reason why Personas wouldn’t be able to do it also. Not that I have any idea if it actually will when it is released. We’re talking about a product version that’s not due for a year or so – speculating on detailed functionality doesn’t make sense just yet.

          Bottom line – if GuiXT works for you, use it 🙂

          Steve.

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  5. Paul Hardy

    OK, this very morning I attended a demonstration of Screen Personas at the SAP offices in North Sydney (which has a stunning view of the harbour by the way).

    First and foremost, SP (for short) was a lot better than I thought it would be. This was only a whistle stop demonstration so the salesman was only able to show a few basic things, but I understand a lot better now the difference between SP and GUIxt.

    GUIxt works best in a Citrix environment, where you store ths scripts in a central place. SP has it’s script equiavlents stored on a central server, and it was even suggested you don;t need Citrix or even give some users the SAP GUI, they just run SP in a web browser.

    GUIxt works by writing scripts in a semi-programming language, SP is all drag and drop, and you can do a BDC type recording to link things together (as you can aslo do in GUIxt, even to a limited extent in the free version). If you want to enhance the recording however you do have to mess with a generated script, which looked ten million times more complicated than the GUIxt equivalent, as complicated as the ECATT generated scripts, and that’s saying something.

    It is clear though that with SAP you can turn a complicated standard SAP transaction into something that looks a million dollars and is far simpler to use, in no time at all. GUIxt did not take that long, this is even faster, though in both cases we are talking about creating something once you then probably won’t change for years.

    The only problem is of course the price. I was told the price today, I won’t say it here as I am sure it varies by country, but when I was told it I looked like Jim Carey in “The Mask” when his eyes popped out and his jaw hit the floor.

    When there is a free equivalent that is one hell of a tough sell, no matter how much better it is. Nonetheless, hats off to them this morning, they did a really good job.

    We will probably be inviting SAP to give us a longer demonstration, so I will keep you posted….

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    1. Steve Rumsby Post author

      I think you’re reaching the point I’m now at. Having used GuiXT for a while, and now seen Personas, it is clear that Personas is much easier to use and manage, and is more capable. From a technical point of view it is a great product, in my opinion. There’s just one problem – price.

      I know there are people who think it is just about UI improvement and since SAP haven’t done enough of that, they should give this away. I have some sympathy for that point of view, but there is some value in Personas, and even GuiXT isn’t completely free once you’ve bought all the development tools. I would be prepared to pay for it, but I can’t sell it to my management at the price I’m currently being quoted.

      I like the Jim Carey image. That was pretty much my reaction when I heard the price!

      I was told by SAP that they didn’t want price to be a “barrier to adoption”. I think they have some work to do to match that aspiration.

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      1. Paul Hardy

        I have spentnthe last 15 year prpgamming just one thing – cistome font ends because the standard SAP front end is not usuable by human beings. I know why it is it not – because they have to satisfy ten thousand different companies. That is why IBM said it was impossible in the first place. Clearly IBM were wrong, a solution is needed … is it me coding custome front ends, or is it SAP charging for something, or is it an SAP competior supplying the same thing free? Only time will tell.

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      2. Paul Hardy

        I have spentnthe last 15 year prpgamming just one thing – cistome font ends because the standard SAP front end is not usuable by human beings. I know why it is it not – because they have to satisfy ten thousand different companies. That is why IBM said it was impossible in the first place. Clearly IBM were wrong, a solution is needed … is it me coding custome front ends, or is it SAP charging for something, or is it an SAP competior supplying the same thing free? Only time will tell.

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  6. Mariana Gomez

    Hi Steve, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, very useful for all of us that are introducing ourselves into SAP Personas.

    I have a question around drop-down fields: Can some values be removed with Personas? For example: the client would prefer to remove all standard order reason codes showing on trx. VA03, and leave the Z-customized ones to avoid confusion.

    Thanks in advance.

    Mariana

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    1. Steve Rumsby Post author

      This really should be asked in a new discussion as anyone who has the same problem is unlikely to find this blog while searching, and so won’t find the answer. If you do that I’ll copy my answer to that new discussion…

      Yes, you can do that. If you create a flavour for the relevant transaction, then in edit mode double-click on the field in question and you’ll get a dialog box like this one. Here you can select values in the list and use the trashcan icon to remove them. If selecting values from the drop-down normally causes changes elsewhere on the screen, then you might need to tick the “Synchronize” box to keep this behaviour.

      /wp-content/uploads/2014/05/screenshot_450995.png

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