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     I heard a great quote at the recent HR2014 conference in Orlando. The discussion was around ESS/MSS and how for many employees, that is their only real experience and/or interaction with HR. Therefore, an employee will come to believe ESS/MSS is a reflection of the HR department itself. Although it might offer all the great functionality in the world if ESS/MSS is slow, clunky, difficult to use or feels dated, then guess what? That becomes the employee’s general idea of the whole HR department. Now, let’s scale that up a bit. If some new hire is sat in front of a SAP “grey screen” and told, “welcome to the company….here’s where you will be doing your work…we use SAP”, what will be their impression of SAP? What will be their impression of the company they just joined?!?!?!

     It doesn’t even have to be some young “kid out of college” out in the working world for the first time. I have heard as many complaints from people that have been working within companies for years…”oh yeh, we are on SAP…I only get on it when I have too…its so ugly”. For as many years as I can remember (it gets harder and harder to do so in my “old” age haha), SAP has always seemed more focused on pushing out the latest and greatest, best-of-breed, (insert your buzzword here) functionality and features versus any really innovative or sweeping UI/UX changes…and that makes sense if you were to push the envelope in one but fairly soon after catch the other up too (ie. come back to balance). However, it seems as years passed the gap got wider and wider to the point where the UI/UX side seemed almost forgotten. Well, that is…until now.

     As you may have heard/seen/read, SAP has been trying to make it known by any means necessary that they have not forgotten the UI/UX and in fact, without us “common folk” even knowing it, they have been working behind the scenes to roll out their overall, sweeping vision of “New-Renew-Enable”. This will be THE way that SAP totally revamps the old “grey screen” (using “personas”…enable) as well as anything new (new) coming out and anything “in between” (ie. what can be “ported” without disruption…renew). SAP figured out how to finally do it across all of their product landscape. Any and every screen, page, form, etc. will be “updated and future proofed”. Sounds absolutely great, right?!?!? ….well, break out those checkbooks, because it comes with a price….and therein, lies the rub….”fly in the ointment”-much? haha

     “What did Chris just say?!!? They are charging for a UI?!?!”….well, in some people’s perspective, yes, that is exactly what is going on…and battle lines have been drawn. On one side of course is SAP….justifying charging existing customers for a new UX (often shifting the discussion to the new apps/functionality that is enabled). On the other side, an army of individual voices is leading the charge for a “make it FREE” argument. You might have read the great blog “Should SAP Fiori by Freeori?” ( http://diginomica.com/2014/02/05/sap-fiori-freeori/ ) by John Appleby which might have been one of the earliest (first?) shots fired in this battle. And today, I just read “Time for a UX Revolution, Not Evolution” ( http://www.asugnews.com/article/time-for-a-ux-revolution-not-evolution ) by Geoff Scott (*thanks to Dennis Howlett for leading me to it!). There is definitely a rally cry out there in the world of customers/clients/users and a push back organizing.

     I can really see valid points on BOTH sides of the battle, but these kinds of discussions really make me laugh….more so for the fact that I am now finally old enough to actually have lived through these repeating cycles of technology/IT (rather than the days of hearing some old “greybeard” programmer sharing these stories of the “old days” with me over lunch or in some server room waiting on a SAP install haha). Does SAP really have such a short memory? Do we?!?! Does no one remember the wild west days in the ERP market around the mid/late 1990’s? During that time, there had to be….geez, what was it?….about a baker’s dozen or so ERP companies (“Baan” anyone? haha) all scratching and clawing to be “king of the hill”. But there was one that was trouncing SAP left and right in sales (at least here in the US) simply because it had a very attractive interface that the sales guys could “ooo-and-ahhh” prospective customers with…often using a side-by-side comparison to SAP screens. It had far less functionality and flexibility than SAP, but the spiffy, pretty UI often won the day for JD Edwards. So what did SAP do? How did they react? Well, they stepped up their game too…remember the whole “enjoySAP” initiative to revamp the UI and UX? (*many people might remember this as the SAP Volkswagen contest give-away! haha) Here is a small blurb about it….

The enterprise-wide EnjoySAP initiative, launched by the management board of SAP AG in the beginning of 1998, redirected the focus of our software development from the customer’s requirements and placed the spotlight on the requirements of the actual users. The aim of the Enjoy initiative was to improve the user-friendliness of the R/3 software in order to boost productivity and satisfaction ratings of our users and to reduce the total cost of ownership of the R/3 System for our customers. Essential to the success of the initiative were the cross-departmental approach, the development of distributed usability expertise and the specification of a user-oriented procedure model. Another key to EnjoySAP’s success was the board’s support for the project, reflected in the development resources made available (80% of development capacity in the period from July1998 to April 1999 was dedicated to the initiative).

(*from http://www.sapdesignguild.org/editions/philosophy_articles/hmd_enjoy_usab/) (*my HR/HCM friends will get a kick out of the title of that page too…far ahead of it’s time eh? haha)

Sound familiar? haha Are companies like “Workday” the new JD Edwards of the world? You could just as easily replace the word “Enjoy” or “EnjoySAP” in the above paragraph with “Fiori” and it would sound just about like what we are hearing today. Everything old is new again!….except this time, SAP is trying to charge much more for it and the stakes are much higher for adoption/non-adoption in a market controlled by a far smaller number of big players (not to mention the fact that SAP is trying to push into the non-business suite world as well and become a platform player for developers, new web start-ups, existing companies, etc). I think a misstep here could be brutal for SAP if they really wish to be come known as an innovative and technology-leading/advancing company especially in the fickle, trend-sensitive UI/UX world. I am hoping that SAP changes this QUICKLY and rewards it’s customers with this new UI/UX for free…personally, I would enjoy SAP much more that way (*see what I did there? haha)….and they can even keep the Volkswagens this time. haha

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  1. Kevin Wilson

    For a company that does so much right how can it also fill up the other end of the spectrum by doing so much wrong? They must have 20 different UI options now from SAP GUI, ITS, FPM, NWBC, … which makes it confusing enough around which eggs to put in your basket. They often do it in their application space by providing similar functionality, and sometimes non-complimentary software with similar marketing catch-phrases, just to help confuse the matter further for the customer. It seems like there is a lack of single purposed direction here from an architecture / solution point of view. Come on folks, provide a single universal interface, a la Apple, and let’s assume everyone will want to use it that are currently using it so let’s give it out to them… emphasis on GIVE.

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  2. Matt Fraser

    Spot-on!  And yes, I remember the EnjoySAP initiative, very well.  I had just gotten my start in the SAP world (on 3.1h — no ‘Enjoy’ screens there!) when that started.  And I remember sitting in server rooms waiting on installs, too, but there was no grey in my beard then (I don’t have a beard)!

    More to the point, yes, it is generally the opinion of users in my organization that SAP is ugly and hard to use, and that ESS/MSS is of limited utility, and that HR is…  Well.  We have made some strides with an expensive investment in GuiXT to help the HR staffers, but that doesn’t extend to many other users, and it’s probably a dead-end technology now.  My boss is enamored of what he has seen of Personas and Fiori, but there isn’t likely to be any budget (nor staff time) for implementing such things soon.  We’re thinking maybe we can make some strides with an introduction of NWBC and HR Renewal, though again the accountants end up a bit out in the cold.  We have a growing recognition that the UI/UX arena is perhaps becoming our biggest challenge and biggest opportunity, but we have no end-user push for change there (they just want more reports), and no budget or appetite for purchasing an expensive option.  Probably we will end up doing something cobbled together between NWBC and Portal Business Packages.

    We also have a growing recognition of the importance of mobile computing in our organization.  Principals (think area managers, if you like) are going out on their own and purchasing tablets from their own budgets, then coming to us and saying “How can I run a budget report on this?”  We have no answer to that today.  If their collective voice gets loud enough, they may just shake out some capital dollars for a project, but if it were to happen today, with the “wild west” you describe, I’m not sure what I would recommend as a direction to take.  Fortunately, it’s more likely to be another year or two before that voice gets that loud, and by then, with a little luck, the situation will have coalesced around… something.  Fiori looks good.  If it were included in our license, it would be a no-brainer.  I would hate, however, to have recommended a big capital outlay to our board for it, only to have it become ‘free’ (or more accurately, ‘included in our license’) the next year.  That could be a career-limiting move, unless SAP gave us a refund, so while the uncertainty exists it’s unlikely many managers are going to make such a recommendation.

    –Matt

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    1. Christopher Solomon Post author

      Thanks Matt…I think you nailed it as well (if you meant too…haha). Even if….EVEN IF….SAP made it “free” or “included in the license”…there is still a cost there (time, money, resources, etc…to implement)….so if you then take that built-in cost and pile on an additional “license” cost…I am not sure how a customer/client can say “yeh, this makes sense….I spend $XXXXXX amount of money for a shiny new user interface for my users?….sure, who do I make the check out to?”…and again….if SAP wants/wishes for much BROADER adoption of its vision outside the business suite, then they are up against a slew of obstacles coming from free,open-source frameworks and such not to mention the already “old school” reputation SAP has in that world to begin with….so why add more ammo for use against themselves?!?!

      And like I said (and you mentioned also), SAP doesn’t have time to hem-and-haw, and ponder on what they should do now….this decision needs to be made quick and if so, reimburse/credit customers that already paid before they are too far down the road with too many customers having paid for a year or more and then having to clean up that kinda mess if they wait till then to announce it as “free”. Not to mention that that would also FURTHER confuse people….”is it free? was it free? what is free? what do I pay for? what is included in free? is this a different version? is what is free now a watered down version of what can be paid for?” and on and on and on. Like I said….it could get messy.

      I think (again…much like you stated as a “no brainer”)….if SAP were to make Personas, Fiori, etc (whatever is under new-renew-enable) truly free, the adoption would be HUGE! This would big much bigger at cementing SAP within companies (especially at a time when companies are looking at going back to the old “mix and match” / best-of-breed solutions / heterogeneous model….arrggg…again, no one learns from history…but that’s another blog. haha). I can not overemphasize enough how this could be one of those deciding moments for SAP.

      Well, thanks again Matt for your input. Now get out there and enjoy SAP! (haha…..I wasn’t going to mention the good ol’ “City of E” either….oops! I just did! hahaha)

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  3. Otto Gold

    Ooooh, my eyes hurt! It reminds me of Harry Potter and “the one who shall not be named”. As a man who has many friends among the Englishmen I dare to say this is a topic that you would not raise in the presence of the Queen.

    🙂

    Cheers Otto

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  4. Jeremy Masters

    Hi Chris,

    HR Renewal is free and uses SAPUI5 (SAP’s version of HTML5) for the new ESS, MSS, and HR Professional self service lanes. Customers have a choice to buy Fiori or they can choose to upgrade to EhP6 /7 and use HR Renewal 1.0 or 2.0 with appropriate feature packs.  I just want to be sure that’s known as well.

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