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Author's profile photo Jocelyn Dart

The Best UX may be no UI at all… how the Internet of Things is changing the UX roadmap

When nothing will make a UI delightful other than taking it away, how is the Internet of Things(IoT) changing the UX alternatives available to SAP customers? How might you start to fit the rapidly changing world of interconnected IoT devices into your UX strategy?

I’m a citizen of the world. I like it that way. The world’s wonderful. I just think that some people are pretty badly represented. But when you speak to the people themselves they’re delightful. They all want so little.

Billy Connolly


Image courtesy of fotographic1980 /

I’ve been watching with interest the Consumer Electronic Show 2015 and its aftermath over the last few days and reflecting on how the Internet of Things is impacting on UX and UI strategy and roadmaps.

The UX Roadmap …. Beyond Screens

In 2014 IT spending priorities on mobility meant any serious attempt UX roadmap needed to at least consider the device question, i.e.

On what devices will people access this User Interface?  Smartphone and/or tablet and/or desktop?

In 2015 the UX Roadmap needs to consider the impact of IoT on UX. Why?

It’s not just that Gartner is placing digitization firmly into their Top 10 list of IT spend priorities  ; or that Internet of Things (IoT) is rated by the prestigious Consumer Electronics Show  as “the hottest topic in tech” ; or the popularity of the IoT booth at last year’s SAP Teched&&dCode. 

Naturally with such a high focus there are many SAP customers are working on their own IoT projects and connecting into SAP using Gateway, HANA or the HCP.  If you are interested in IoT yourself you might consider participating in SCN’s own Internet of Things community.

But if you’ve had your head down in the UX space, you may not be aware that SAP is already providing a bunch of IoT solutions such as:  SAP Predictive Maintenance and Service, SAP Connected Logistics, SAP Connected Manufacturing, SAP Connected Retail, SAP Precision Marketing, and SAP Augmented Reality solutions for service technicians and warehouse pickers.   These solutions are being championed by SAP Customers such as BMW, Harley Davidson, Hamburg Port Authority, John Deere, Kaeser Kompressoren, Volkswagen, Toyota, SK Solutions, University of Guelph, and others. You’ll find some of their stories on SAP’s Internet of Things video collection on YoutubeNaturally there’s more to come and if you want take a look at what’s happening then this Teched&&dCode online session “Harnessing the Internet of Things” is a great place to start.

We are also seeing SAP customers bringing their own custom Internet of Things solutions, built in-house or with partners, and connected to SAP solutions utilizing SAP capabilities such as HANA, HCP, Gateway, Process Orchestration, Event Stream Processor, and Predictive Analytics.

In other words, we are increasingly seeing Internet of Things (IoT) solutions providing real business value in the enterprise… and that has some not so straightforward consequences for user experience.  For starters, often a major reason for introducing an IoT solution is to significantly change the user experience:

  • to capture data that could not be captured before;
  • to make that information available on devices that may never have been possible before;
  • to use data as evidence to reveal insights that may only have been hunches before;
  • to use insights to drive actions and reactions at speeds that may only have been seen in science fiction movies before.

So how does IoT fit into the enterprise UX roadmap?

Unsurprisingly, many IoT devices themselves have user interfaces.

Consumer IoT devices  are full of IoT user interface examples such Google Glass, goPro cameras, Fitbit bracelets, and Nest home automation.

But the challenges of UX on IoT devices are not trivial – never mind whether the screen real estate is as small as a Smart watch or as large as a Smart Vending Machine – the device may not even have a screen; the solution (& code) may be distributed across multiple devices and multiple users; some of the devices may not have input or output capabilities; there are lots of different technical standards involved, etc.

[There’s excellent blog on the O’Reilly site with more insights into the challenges of UX and IoT]

If you feel like you’ve just got your head around SAP Fiori or Personas, you might be wanting to put your fingers in your ears and pretend IoT has nothing to do with UX.

Even if you are deeply fascinated by way the Internet of Things is impacting on the design of the user experience, tackling the UX on IoT devices themselves might not be the best place to start.  After all I’d suggest most customers are more likely to buy than build the devices – it’s unlikely you’ll build your own Smart Glasses when you can buy Google Glasses or a Sony EyeAttach.

So now what?  In my best Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy style … DON’T PANIC.

There’s at least one relatively straightforward way to start factoring IoT considerations into the UX roadmap, and it’s something that should be a fundamental part of any UX roadmap already, and that is….drumroll please…

Should this User Experience include a User Interface (screen) at all?

It’s all very well talking about UX being “delightful” but there are plenty of scenarios where it doesn’t matter how simple or clean or desirable the technology… sometimes a screen is a just another screen that gets in the way of what you want to do.

We all know there are some user interfaces that no amount of simple is going to make delightful.


Image courtesy of stockimages /

You only have to think of doors and login screens. Most of the time all they do is get in my way.   You can make doors and handles aesthetically beautiful.  You can put a fancy Pinpad on the door. You can put interesting graphic designs and Single Sign On onto login screens.  But fundamentally they are there to shut me out. There’s a certain “guilty until proven innocent” odour to their behaviour. In other words, as a user experience they lack empathy.  What I want is for the door to recognize me instantly without having to twist keys or type in digits or push heavy lumps of wood, glass or steel.  What I want is for the login to recognize me and log in instantly.

The only way to make them delightful is to get rid of them altogether. You can now get door locks that fit a standard house door with near fields communications (NFC) built-in so that they automatically recognize you as you approach the door by a key fob tag (such as August Smart Lock), unlock as you approach and lock again once you have passed through.   As for login screens the biometrics such as the iPhone6 Touch ID fingerprint reader is a step in the right direction, but it still needs to remember which thumb I used, and if I only use the phone for work, the touch recognition times out over the weekend.

A close relative of the undelightful screen is the undelightful field entry … if you can’t remove the user interface entirely, at least minimize the amount of typing the user needs to do.

A friend recently gave me a preview of a new UX his organization was building for ordering items over an internal product catalogue.  They’d created a really nice set of user interfaces using the latest OpenUI5 capabilities and put a lot of thought into the design, particularly the search.  It reminded me how painful searching itself is.  Certainly Google’s semantic search capabilities has lifted everyone’s game but it’s still a long long way from reading my mind and understanding what I am looking for.

For instance, when it comes to searching, simple is standing in front of the display and pointing to the one I want.  From a user experience perspective it begs the question, if we know the user is standing in front of the product in the shop or on the factory floor, why would I make them search for or type in a code?  Why not use an RFID reader or barcode reader or Smart Glasses and remove not just the search but maybe get rid of a search screen from that context altogether?  Which of course is what is happening in some stores and many factories.  I’ve even seen local stores which provide RFID readers in store for customers to check the price of an item without having to look it up in an online or paper product catalogue.

There’s a near endless list of please-don’t-make-me scenarios in enterprise user interfaces, perhaps not all of which can be solved by IoT – timesheets anyone? – but IoT is certainly improving user experiences by removing or reducing user interfaces.  For instance any IoT device that contains sensors that capture data and communicate it to another machine, such as anti-collision systems where sensor-enabled cranes talk to each other in real-time.

Oh, and the punchline is… part of the joy and fever-pitch excitement of IoT is that just about any object can become a machine.  If you are still getting your head around this, there’s an excellent TedX presentation on Enchanted Objects that gives some real but unusual use cases – such as umbrellas that give weather warnings and pill bottles that report if you’ve taken your medication, and a real SAP scenario from a German soccer club 1899 TSG Hoffenheim using sensors in shin guards and even the soccer ball itself.

UI alternatives for SAP Customers

From a UX roadmap perspective, using technology to avoid less than delightful user interfaces is nothing new to SAP Customers.

Even if you cannot or don’t yet want to avoid a user interface altogether, there are plenty of well-known SAP capabilities that provide useful pre/during/post processing options that can significantly simplify the user interface to be built. I’m talking about capabilities such as SAP Process Orchestration (and its predecessor Process Integration), business rules engines such as SAP Decision Service Management and BRFPlus, SAP Business Workflow, Post Processing Framework, and even our old old friend batch jobs.

What the Internet of Things is doing is introducing a vast array of devices that can capture an amazing variety of data in astounding quantities, and communicate it at staggering velocities.  SAP customers already have access to capabilities that can capture that data – at last year’s SAP Teched&&dCode the IoT Booth was demonstrating sending sensor data directly to HANA and HCP, and it should be no surprise that SAP’s delivered IoT solutions are using existing SAP capabilities in productive IoT solutions.

I wandered into the SAP North Sydney office last week and some of our presales folk were playing around with some IoT scenarios – just for some practice with the technology. Since my sister gave me (at my request) an Arduino microcontroller board for Christmas and I’m starting to play with that too, so I was curious to see their prototype.  They had set up a child’s train-set, and put light sensors underneath each piece of track, so that any time a section of track was moved out of position, the sensor would report immediately it, and an alert was given telling the train controller to fix the track. Cute stuff!

Sensors of all shapes and sizes have become so cheaply and widely available, that it begs the question…

If all user interface “xyz” is doing is capturing data: Why does a user need to be involved at all? Why can’t we get a device to do that?

And there you have at least a starting point for adjusting the UX strategy.  If a device can do it, why build a user interface for it? If a device can do all or even part of it, that reduces the user interface that needs to be built, or at the very least is a basis for justifying lowering the priority or complexity of the build.

Or from a slightly different perspective, the Internet of Things makes us ask harder questions about the real value that the user brings to the user interface.

Last year Sam Yen, SAP’s Chief Design Officer, stated there is a serious worldwide shortage of user interface designers. So while there are many other ways that IoT impacts on UX and UI strategy, a good starting point for those of us working in UX and UI is knowing where to focus our efforts, and perhaps even more importantly is knowing where not to.

Other impacts of IoT on the UX roadmap… beyond the device

There’s another key way in which the Internet of Things affects the UX roadmap:

IoT dramatically increases the importance and relevance of Insight to Action user interfaces

If you used any smart fitness device like Fitbit, they all come with insight to action user interfaces – how many steps did you do today, last week, last month, plan your next week etc. Most of this is information you might never have bothered to capture before – but now you have it, it can have life-changing affects.

Even more important is insight to action when it comes to the enterprise.  The Nanjing Connected City video shows an thought-provoking example of insight to action re the traffic routes of whole cities.  And of course we are also talking about doing business better, faster, more efficiently, such as preventing failures before they happen.

So if you’ve only been looking at transactional Fiori apps, you might want to take a look at what’s been happening in the analytical apps such as Smart Business Cockpits, and get thinking about your UX strategy for simple, consistent insight to action user interfaces.

For instance, you might want to think about what additional stakeholder discussions you need to include in your UX strategy to figure out what insight to action content fits with all that IoT captured data.

Why start factoring IoT into the UX roadmap now?

Perhaps you are thinking – “we don’t need to worry about that… that’s a long way off for us”? Even if you are working at latest of the late adopters the starter approaches I’ve suggested to integrating Internet of Things into the UX roadmap are good foundations for UX strategy. 

And beyond that? Well CES 2015 was swamped with Internet of Things devices which is appropriate because when people talk about the impact of IoT words like “tsunami” and “tidal wave”, and the statistics that go with that are staggering …. even Gartner is saying 4.9 billion connected devices by end of this year; 25 billion by 2020.  Cisco is estimating it at 50 billion by 2020 and the economic impact is being measured in trillions.  So a “long way off” might just be a lot closer than you think. 

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      Author's profile photo Sergio Guerrero
      Sergio Guerrero

      very nice article. Very soon  I feel like this UI may be discontinued and I'd get my feed thru smart glasses where I can like, rate, bookmark with a blink of an eye 🙂

      Author's profile photo Jocelyn Dart
      Jocelyn Dart
      Blog Post Author

      Yes it's a bit like that some days 🙂 .... note to self - be careful what you wear!  Thanks for the encouragement.

      Author's profile photo Russell Martin
      Russell Martin

      Thanks Jocelyn.  Very thought provoking.   Given SAP's focus on simplification, no UI is probably about as simple as it gets, although no doubt there's some clever code required to make it work.

      I need to make sure I stay in roles where I can't be replaced by a sensor, at least for the next 10 years.

      Author's profile photo Jocelyn Dart
      Jocelyn Dart
      Blog Post Author

      Yes, agree.... although check-out chicks are already being replaced by self-service checkouts already... I think I'll get scared when they can program better than I do ...although come to think of it... that may not be that far off either 😉

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Great, thought provoking article Jocelyn. I too had wondered about the 'Tony Stark' effect (voice interaction or audio alarms from Jarvis).

      The challenge around 'should people even be involved' is one I particularly love. I believe that once we can develop, demonstrate and prove robust systems, then current process owners will relinquish their 'need' to retain the current human oversight of each process step. Activities like ordering of maintenance parts or even service orders will eventually be trusted enough to be fully automated.

      Keep up the great innovative thinking!

      Author's profile photo Jocelyn Dart
      Jocelyn Dart
      Blog Post Author

      So long as the Tony Stark effect comes with the free travel benefits - I'm in! 😉

      I agree getting people to relinquish the human touch in data capture for starters is a challenge that must be met.  The trick may be to make them think it's all their own idea... like those fitness devices.

      The insight to action aspect is almost as big a challenge - working out what types of insights are meaningful to that industry/organization/team/person - we already know its very organizational-culture specific. What one company sees as an opportunity to improve efficiency another may use the same data to come up with a personalized marketing promotion. Which means you can't just plug in industry-neutral KPIs - you really need to understand at least the ethos of the organization to select which types of insights are meaningful to them. 

      Interesting times!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Very nice blog Jocelyn.

      This is really a very interesting topic for discussion. Still way to go and hopefully more surprises would come for this new journey for UX & IoT.



      Author's profile photo Jocelyn Dart
      Jocelyn Dart
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Soumya - it's absolutely fascinating... heard of yet another IoT device yesterday - a Sonar Buoy that sits in the water, detects sharks, and sends a SMS to warn beach-goers.  And this morning there was an article mentioning there is now a device that can sense taste!  It's going to be a very interesting year!