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