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Introduction

I had a chance to go through an old presentation made on August 06, 2014 by DeeDee Kato, Senior Director of Marketing, Synactive and Nikhil K, Demo Solutions Engineer, Synactive. The webcast titled “How A Powerful SAP UI Strategy Affects Your Business” showed how UI’s can be simplified to streamline business processes. The presenters highlighted the case study of a major retailer headquartered in the United States to prove the usefulness of having a powerful SAP UI Strategy. During the course of the presentation some tips were shared to simplify UI, which I found useful. I hope others too would find these helpful.

Retail Industry: Brief Background

The speakers started off with a general overview of the tasks and challenges in the retail industry. According to them the major tasks performed in the retail industry can be categorized into: Strategic Management, Store Management, Administrative Management (Operations), and Merchandise Management.  The Strategic tasks include identifying target market, determining retail forecast, designing organizational structure, and developing a retail strategy. The Store Management tasks include locating vendors, evaluating vendors, negotiating with vendors, and placing orders. There are other tasks like developing a merchandise budget plan, allocating merchandise to stores, setting initial prices for merchandise, and making price adjustments. The Store Management tasks include identifying the right talent in the market, and then hiring and training the store personnel. Other tasks include planning work schedules, evaluating performance of store personnel, maintaining store facilities, locating & displaying merchandise, providing services like gift wrapping, handling customer complaints, and preventing inventory shrinkage. The administrative tasks include promoting the firm & its services, managing communication programs, managing human resources, managing public relations, establishing financial control, providing timely information on financial performance, raising capital from investors, forecasting sales, cash flow & profits. The industry is plagued with financial performance problems such as low profits and high costs. Most of the employees are unskilled, lack motivation, offer poor customer service. Employees come from diverse backgrounds and are unsuitable for the industry. Retailers respond to the situation by carrying frequent layoffs, freeze hiring and promotion, greater use of part-timers, and freeze salary. As competitive pressures are increasing and consumers are more and more connected, it becomes imperative upon organizations to streamline business operations. The speed with which one can meet consumer requirements has to be much faster than before.

Retailer Case

Coming back to the case of  this global retailer It was seen that people entrusted with HR responsibilities were not doing it the traditional way: sitting in corporate HR office and carrying out HR functions. These were store managers entrusted with dual responsibility of overseeing the HR functions of the organization.  The store managers were responsible for acquiring the right talent from the market, hire them, train them, and mentor them at each stage. So, the store personnel were not only responsible for business operations but also performing backend HR operations.  At the same time, they had to ensure that those onboard become best sales personnel and assist in increasing the shopping experience of the customers in due course of time. Thus, the decentralization of HR functions from corporate head office to individual stores created a lot of issues and challenges for the employees. There was an urgent need to streamline the HR processes in stores for efficient functioning of the stores. . It was found that store managers were struggling using the HR module in SAP. Hiring employees, changing employee information, transferring employees between the stores, and terminating employees took a lot of time and consequently affected the performance of the employees.

Diagnosis

• During the course of investigation, a team of professionals from Synactive identified the problems that were hindering the performance of the employees. These can be listed as under: • Screen Complexities: There were 100’s of irrelevant and unnecessary input fields on a screen. This led to confusion.

• Users had to navigate through 18-25 screens with data entry in probably 5-7 fields for each action.

• Users had to navigate through 2-3 transactions for a single business process.

• Users also found SAP terminology confusing. Explaining in detail about a specific problem, the speakers said that SAP PA40 transaction takes 20 different screens to complete each action such as hire, transfer, terminate, etc.

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The traditional approach to solve the above problem is to do UI customization. The customization can be done in three ways: 1.ABAP programming inside SAP: There are complications in upgrades when a version comes out or when a field gets added. Full blown application development cycle required. 2. Third party programming outside SAP such as RFC, .Net, Java, etc.  Additional layers add inefficiencies for high volume transactions that require a lot of user interaction. Full blown application development cycle required. 3. SAP Screen Personas: Translating SAPGUI screens into HTML streams. Employees had to go through multiple screens to make a simple transaction like inputting information of a new hire. This made the process prone to errors. Similarly if a manager wanted to access information of an employee, they had to access many screens to pull out the relevant information. It wasted too much of time. The users also got confused which fields to leave blank and which ones were mandatory. The retailer was using Staffworks  software to manage HR functions. As the software could not be used outside the US, it created inconsistency in HR practices. Moreover, the software could be used only on windows XP environment. This created problems during upgrades.

Solution

The team devised a novel solution to fix the problem. It created useful interfaces with simple screen modifications.  The team created a web solution. The look and feel of the software was similar to Staffwork’s software as the employees had got used to it.  Each transaction or HR process was captured in just 2-3 screens thereby reducing time to store or retrieve information. This also reduced the time to train new employees using the software.

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Some of the fields were made default and turned read-only to reduce errors. Similarly, an efficient way of error handling was devised. If the users entered wrong information or left a required field blank, an error message was populated at the outset. An interesting way to guide navigation, I believe. The address the challenges of simplifying UIs, the company has a development a tool kit that consists of a designer and a workbench. The designer has WYSIWYG editor that is used to create screen layouts and generates JavaScript code. Once layout is designed, it can be modified and deployed to any touch point. The scripts are auto-generated. The Workbench records each transaction or SAP process. This makes it easy to edit at a later stage. There is a single programming model and a single code-base has to be maintained. This reduces the cost of development. The efficient native connectivity provides near SAPGUI performance from any touch point.

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