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You might wonder why I’m using such a strong headline this time. From time to time, I hear or read statements saying that SAP’s user interface (UI) or user experience (UX) is so bad. In most cases, they unfortunately don’t provide any further information about which application they are using. Nor do they provide information about their intention when using the application, or the intention of the employer when providing this application.

And of course there is no information about this because this is exactly what needs to be gathered in intensive user research work at the customer. This environment cannot be described with 140 character Tweets or with a few sentences in a forum. At the end of the day however, these simple, negative statements remain, regardless of the root cause of the user’s dissatisfaction.

I have to admit that this frustrates me a lot. And not just because these statements claim that SAP is the reason for the user’s dissatisfaction. It is also frustrating to see these unhappy users despite there being so many ways to improve their user experience.

History_of_UI.png

Picture 1: Evolution of SAP’s user interfaces from early 80’s to today

Maybe it also frustrates me that people often look at user interfaces of SAP that were developed over 10 years ago and compare them with state of the art design guidelines. Or they use an application in a way that is not intended.

It’s a bit like complaining about iOS 1.0 while Apple already provides iOS 9.0.  Or complaining that my family car can’t handle off-road dirt tracks.

Some interesting facts


SAP Software was (and for many still is) intended to be standard software

  • SAP has had user research labs for decades in Germany, USA and other locations, where user requirements in terms of user interfaces have been gathered. Providing standard software means satisfying the needs of a large number of users with completely different usability needs. In most cases, I believe that SAP provided a good compromise between these parameters in the past.
  • While customers were looking for standard software, they also often modified the software to adapt it to their needs. The needs were often more in the area of features and functions rather than in usability.
  • In addition to the SAP standard, customers also developed their own applications based on the SAP platform to provide their users with additional functions and features. There are hundreds of thousands of customer developments out there, which are still in use, even if the features and functions provided could have been replaced in the meantime with the SAP standard offering better user experience. At the end of the day, this replacement often doesn’t take place for various reasons that are – to the customer’s decision makers – more important than user satisfaction. Upgrading SAP systems just for the sake of user experience does not justify an investment for many decision makers for example.


Most decision makers didn’t really care about end user satisfaction for a long time

  • There is no doubt that there are still many enterprise end users out there who are unhappy with the SAP user interfaces they are using. Especially if we are talking about user experience – which user interfaces are just part of – there are many more important factors beside the UI. If you are interested in reading more about the difference between UI and UX, I recommend this blog from my colleague Adi Kavaler.
  • In the past, companies didn’t implement business software to satisfy their end users. They implemented it to make their business more effective, faster and more profitable. IT was the medium to technically support business processes. The users had to do their work regardless of whether they were satisfied with the software.
  • Customers adopted business software especially with a focus on a specific type of users. These users (we call them power users) were THE experts in their business processes and required complex features and functions to satisfy their need to master the business processes.
  • In the past and still today, end users are often not asked for their opinion and about their requirements. The reason for this can be found in both IT and business departments. While IT might be afraid of receiving requests for requirements that can’t comply with, the business side is afraid that end users are talking directly with IT. It is a fact today that the IT people at many customers do not have the opportunity to interview real end users directly. I can confirm this with most of the customers I meet up with.


User types have changed

  • Over time, new users have been introduced to the business software. Many of these users performed tasks or business processes that they were not THE experts in.
  • An important point. There are many cases where there is no need to be an expert, but the need to perform a task in the process remains. I’m not an HR expert for example, but I need to create a leave request. I’m not a purchasing expert, but I need to accept incoming invoices that are connected with my role. There are many similar examples where users use software for pretty simple tasks on an occasional basis (e.g. creating a leave request). We call these users casual users.

User expectations have changed

  • In a similar fashion to these changes, another change plays a significant role. With the rise of the smartphone and improvements in browser-based technologies, today’s users have a private IT environment that is often more modern than their IT environment at their office desk. In addition to this, applications that are used in the private environment, such as Amazon  and Facebook have changed the ways users expect to work with software. Nowadays, if I’m processing simple tasks, I want them to be supported by a simple application. I don’t want to do any learning or study user manuals in order to perform simple tasks.

Times have changed, but users are still working with old applications

When user interfaces get bad ratings and users are unsatisfied, this is often connected with casual usage types. But why?

I guess the simple answer is that the importance of satisfied end users and the improvement of their user experience is still not enough in focus with customers, and is seen merely as a cost factor that has no monetary value. But this is not true. In fact, especially in the case of casual usage types, this investment is very much worth the effort, as it increases productivity, data quality and acceptance of the software. At the same time, it reduces the amount of incoming customer support messages and the amount of user training required.

As a result of the current situation, casual users are still working with SAP applications…

  • …which were created a long time ago based on design guidelines from the past
  • …which were created with a focus on power users and their complex needs
  • … which therefore force casual users to use an application that can be used to complete a dozen complex tasks at once, but the one minor task they want to perform costs the same number of clicks

SAP can help to satisfy users                                                                                    

For a while now, SAP has been offering SAP Fiori and SAP Screen Personas as the key elements to improve the user experience for both casual users and for power users. There is an informative video that shows how different a SAP Fiori-based applications is, compared to its predecessor based on SAP GUI and Dynpro ABAP.

My colleagues from the SAP UX Design Services also offer consulting services, which constantly identify valuable UX improvements that can be performed by the customer and prove how user experience impacts costs. By using the design thinking approach, they include “real” end users in the improvement process, gather the “real” needs and design the appropriate solution. These solutions normally involve using SAP Fiori, SAP Screen Personas and other options provided by the SAP standard.

Some people reading this might say “this guy wants to sell SAP services”, but I would like to add that a customer can do all of this without the help of my colleagues. It’s just a question of resources and skills, and whether or not the customer wants to build them up in-house. We have plenty of material available that helps to persuade management to invest in UX improvements and to create a customer UX strategy that is the basis for a good UX improvement.

With these “self-services” as well as SAP Fiori and SAP Screen Personas, everybody is able to make end users happy.



Are there proof points for happy users?

Here are some proof points of happy customers and their happy users. Obviously, I can only share stories from customers who are reference customers.

SAP User Experience Customer Success Stories

Additional SAP Customer Success Stories

Additional Testimonials (filter for UX at the bottom left in product category)

From my work with the German SAP User Group (DSAG) and the American SAP User Group (ASUG) however, I know that there are a lot more. If you are interested in finding more happy users, without any SAP marketing being involved, I would recommend you to get in touch with these groups directly. Both host special interest groups focusing on user experience.

Are there more happy users?

At the beginning of this blog, I referred to casual users and stated that these users are the ones to have in focus for any UX improvements.

At the end of this blog however, I want to highlight that power users do still exist. Numerically, these users might become the smallest portion of all users in a company. But they are still there. You can easily identify many of them. Typically, they ask whether SAP GUI will keep going, and they become nervous if they hear people saying that one day SAP might stop SAP GUI. These users are satisfied with the old applications, also satisfied with SAP GUI and scared of simple applications that limit their options to master their business process.

Summary

The key is to understand what each specific user needs and then to provide this by evaluating the SAP technologies and applications available to satisfy these needs.

From today’s perspective, I would NOT say that SAP did everything completely right when it comes to user interfaces over the last 43 years. But at the same time I can say the same about the customers.

The point is: Times have changed many things around us, including how we experience software and how we all rate the importance of it. At all times in the past, I think that people at SAP and at the customer did what was appropriate and correct at the time.

It is important to understand that the requirements of the past and their related user experience solutions might not be appropriate and satisfying for everyone today.

This is why SAP has invested in the SAP UX Strategy, SAP Fiori, SAP Screen Personas and much more over the last few years. And this is also why more and more customers also invest in user experience know-how to drive the change at their side.

To close, I would like to make the following request to all who say that SAP’s user experience is bad:
Please forward this blog to your IT department.

-JJ

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6 Comments

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  1. Simon Kemp

    Great post JJ, I think you hit a lot of important points. Something that especially hit home to me was

    • While customers were looking for standard software, they also often modified the software to adapt it to their needs. The needs were often more in the area of features and functions rather than in usability.

    This is IMO exactly correct. Hopefully we are seeing a new focus on the user needs (desirability) and not just features and functions. I recently asked a related question on the great UX Podcast show and got some good tips from the hosts (James and Per).

    At Tech Ed in Las Vegas I will be hosting an Expert Networking Session at the Mentor Lounge (4) on the show floor, that will discuss the value of UX and hopefully start a good discussion around this topic.

    Topic: The value of good User Experience

    When: Wednesday 21st October 2015 @ 11.30am – 12.00pm

    Where: Mentor Lounge 4 on the show floor

    I think decisions makers are starting to see the value in investing in UX.

    Thanks,
    Simon

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    1. Jürgen Jakowski Post author

      Hello Simon,

      Thanks a lot for your feedback (and sorry for not replying earlier).

      Unfortunately, I won’t be at TechEd this year. But your session sounds very interesting. Will you session be recorded?

      I also think that decision makers starting to see the value. Maybe the biggest challenge, however, is that the many people initially start thinking about UX improvements in their company are no decision makers. So I believe it is important to help these people with valuable information to be enabled to convince their management.

      Thanks again,

      JJ

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  2. Jurij Burkanov

    Hello Mr. Jakowski. First of all, thank you for the interesting article. I even registered in the SAP community because I wanted to comment on this (SAP & UX) topic.

    In the past, companies didn’t implement business software to satisfy their end users. They implemented it to make their business more effective, faster and more profitable. IT was the medium to technically support business processes. The users had to do their work regardless of whether they were satisfied with the software.

    The fact is, companies still do exactly the same today – because it’s about business, not about fun. But what really strage is, the companies still don’t get a connection between usability, quality of UIs and the efficiency of their business processes.

    Let me demonstrate, from the user’s perspective, why there are so many unsatisfied people. See, when people go to work, their most important goal – is doing work effectively. Precise, fast and complete. When the software, they’ve got to use doesn’t help them in this tasks, people don’t like it. When the software, they’ve got to use prevents them from being as effective as they were before they started using it – they get frustrated. It’s not about fun. It’s about getting the job done.

    And this is where SAP fails. Sometimes I tend to think, that companies, who implemented SAP, keep working not thanks to it, but despite it. You know, desicion to spent some tens of millions of dollars usually lays in the hands of “C”-level management. And after spending them, they will protect their desicion regardless of the success of the project, trying to ensure themselves, that it was a good investment.

    But, back to the UI.

    In the recent years I happend to take some part in the implementation of SAP Projects in 3 companies in Germany (all with 40.000 – 100.000 employees and turnover of around 10.000.000.000 – 15.000.000.000 euros p.a.). Usually, there come some consulters from SAP-certified companies, who check out the business, map processes and offer some technical solutions for improvement. This solutions describe current issues and opportunities and what could be done about them. And the numbers.

    The numbers, simply said, represent prognosis delta between “legacy” and “future”, giving execs warm feeling of ensured ROI. But the total cost of ownership includes things, that consultants don’t talk about. It’s user interactions with the system. And this is where the fun begins.

    I’ll give just a couple of examples (to keep this comment readable).

    Main office of the company “F”, about 1500 employees. All employees have right to get yearly bonus. This bonus is calculated from achieving their personal goal, which everyone sets up at the beginning at the year during a talk with the manager. At the end of the year, employee and manager both look a the list of goals (usually, 4-5 lines) and agree on how far they were achieved. Previously, they used to write the goals and final numbers at a small sheet of paper with simple table and then send it to HR. HR used to deploy a couple of interns, who spent about 2 week at the end of each year, typing data into the accounting software. Then the bonuses were paid according to the achievements.

    The costs of this (manual) process were:

    1500 hours of employees time at the beginning of the year

    1500 hours of employees time at the end of the year

    1500 sheets of paper

    20 days of work for interns.

    Then came the SAP and implemented an automated solution, where all data is typed into the system by employees themselves, so no paper sheets or interns were required anymore.

    After the implementation, each employee got a 27-pages (A4, both sides printed) manual on how to use the software, that came as a replacement for the printed out table (5 rows, 3 columns). Yes, it was only about using single feature. Even with that book, each user spent at least 1 day, trying to figure out how to work with “this thing”. (Yes, I did researched and tracked efficiency). Then the data was transmitted to HR. Most interestingly, at the end of the year, people spent again 1 day each – because humans forget very fast something they don’t use regularly. And 3 months later, by the next “goals setting” – again. And this situation will never change.

    The costs of the SAP were:

    12.000 hours of employees time at the beginning of the year

    12.000 hours of employees time at the end of the year

    • The software worked, as it was designed.
    • The execs managed to save couple of dollars on 1500 sheets of paper and couple of hundrets on dismissing two interns.

    De-facto, they got also:

    • Huge hit on productivity, causing looses in hundrets of thousands yearly,
    • Annoyed staff, who saw and felt the “improvement” themselves

    And there was no word about “fun” or “nice looking UI”. It’s just a cold, real hard-core productivity, that is getting killed by bad user interfaces.

    And no, other components of the system were not better.

    Currently, I watch SAP being implemented in one of the europe’ largest logistic companies. The implementation process is slow and complicated, but this is not what makes me feel bad. The system is installed and taken in service piece-by-piece. I see reports, full of “done checks” on features lists and processes. I read brave press-releases from the implementation partner. And I watch the changes in the way, departments work:

    simply said, each department now is at least twice as slow / requires twice as much staff in order to function on the same level as before. And the problem is in the UI. And it’s not “just a new UI you need to learn” – we’ve got departments, who work with the new UI for 9-10 months, and still can’t be faster, than they were before the processes got automated.

    As for the third company, they simply decided to switch to custom-made software after couple of years with SAP. I can’t blame them for that.

    IMO, the SAP has something really wrong in it’s core culture.

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    1. Jürgen Jakowski Post author

      Hello Mr. Burkanov,


      Thank you for reading my post and especially for your detailed comment which provides a lot of interesting thoughts and observations.


      I have to admit that I’m not 100% sure about your “role” when you have written your comment. You talk as the user of a certain piece of SAP software adopted in your company. At other places it looks like you were part of an implementation project but is unclear to me whether you have been a member of the implementation project or rather an end user. Finally, it seems that you are a frontend designer. So probably you also have some specific views coming from this direction.


      After all, please excuse me if my following answer might not match exactly your expectation because I misinterpreted the role you have had while you made your observations. Just for the role of being a frontend developer, however, I would also like to connect you with my latest blog “The difference between a product UX strategy and an enterprise UX strategy” which underlines several aspects that you have mentioned as well.


      In general, I can fully understand your opinion and I understand how you interpret the observations you have made. And there is no doubt that things go wrong in the world out there, which is obviously my point as well, when I’m talking about user experience in enterprises.


      Let me share my thoughts on your comments.


      What are the goals of a company and who is failing where?


      First of all: I fully support your statement that working in an enterprise is primarily about business, not about fun. And yes, many think so, today. In the UX world you will obviously find people who see this totally different. I believe the right answer is somewhere in the middle of both extremes. In the UX space it’s always about “listening to your users”. While this is completely right, we though shouldn’t forget to listen to the others like the C-level or business process owners, too.


      Businesses want to make money. And there is a high potential in saving money with a better user experience. This alone is worth to look into this. Unfortunately, you need to do this per customer, even per each use case and user (or at least user type).


      You made a statement about that SAP is failing and you do provide two indications for this statement. One refers to the SAP eco-system and its partners. The other one refers to the core culture of SAP, where I’m not fully sure about what that includes from your perspective. I think, however, the point is that there is typically not that ONE who fails. My very own opinion also is that I don’t need to understand who failed in the first place; it is more important to me why things fail in general.


      Just as a short example: Imaging you want to buy a car for your wife. But you don’t involve her in the selection process. You just talk with the car dealer who tells you that this specific car is especially bought by women. If you buy this car and your wife is unhappy, who has failed? Was it you, because you didn’t involve her? Or was it the car dealer who sold you a car without knowing the necessary parameters or with just the assumption that every woman has the same taste in cars? Or is it at the end even the manufacturer of the car, because the car doesn’t satisfy the needs of all relevant use cases?


      From my own experience in consulting, TCO and UX positions, I can tell you that the reasons to fail in providing a good UX are manifold. These reasons can be found at the UI level, at the customizing of the software, the devices in use, the experience the users have, the skills the implementation teams have, in the selection and adoption of the right pieces of the software, the business process itself and many other places. I’ve been involved in many projects and talks with customers where we analyzed the reasons for unhappy users. Of course it is easy to say somebody failed. But my experience shows, it is very often not THE one you were thinking of and after all it doesn’t bring you closer a better user experience.


      About ROI and numbers in general


      I can fully understand your opinion based on the observations you have made. I would not say, however that we can find the same picture everywhere. You will find good and bad consultants, developers, designers, architects, implementers and even C-levels. And again, from my experience, I can tell you that not every C-level is just building decisions on some numbers. Also I can confirm that there are a lot of C-levels out there who already have proven that UX is important to them and had success.


      Talking about numbers: I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of theoretical calculations where a business process is simplified to just some numbers that get multiplied until fantastic results pop up. If I understand you right, this is what you are criticizing in regards to the consultants and the ROI. So it seems we do share the same opinion here. 🙂

      To this end, I have to admit, I’m also not a fan of the calculation you have made in your example. I fully understand your thinking and I again (just to be sure you don’t get me wrong here) agree that the use case you describe is far away from being perfect.


      Nevertheless, it is quite hard to understand the full picture of this use case without other parameters that neither I nor you as a user might know. It is for example not possible to calculate the positive or negative effect by just looking at one user. Your use case describes a task which is part of a larger business process. This process involves other users working on other tasks. These users are managers, HR colleagues and IT colleagues. There may be more involved in this process. Do we know what their benefits are? And how their efficiency as users increased or decreased? Do we know how the overall processes got improved? Maybe there are analytical tasks possible now that were impossible before or very expensive to generate. Such things influence decisions significantly in an enterprise as well.


      Again, I’m not saying that a 27-pages manual is the right approach. In fact it’s the wrong these days. But from here, I cannot judge on what the reasons for this solution are and where the management sees the improvements.


      What I can say is that I as a SAP employee also use our own SAP software solutions. I did not have to read a 27-pages document for the HR tool that I use occasionally only, too.  🙂

      About productivity


      One last thing I would like to bring up. Some time ago, I wrote the blog “Are you alone with your idea for improving user experience”. In this blog I also talked about productivity.  Many people think, if they can save – let’s say 15min a day – with a software improvement they can simply multiply this by the number of users and have a wonderful number of savings to share with the management. But what are these users doing with these free 15min per day, after all? Are they having just longer meetings instead, or looking at their mobile phones? It’s not only a goal to save time, it also has to be a goal to identify what can be done with the newly available time. Otherwise, this is a win in “personal” productivity without a win for the business.


      But again, I fully got your point with your numbers and use case. I do understand that these numbers are not acceptable.  I just wanted to make everyone who probably reads this post as well aware of this productivity topic to be another important dimension to see. 🙂


      I’m not sure, whether you have expected some particular answer from my side that I missed. At least, however, I hope I was able to add some additional thoughts to this interesting topic.


      Thank you again for your comment. And thank you for reading through mine which also reached a pretty length.

      -JJ

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  3. Kurt Risser

    Juergen, thank you for addressing this issue.

    I read your informative and thoughtful article.  You offered several explanations for the quality of the SAP interface, including use of out-of-date software and users’ failure to customize.

    But realistically, none of those explanations hold water.  The SAP UI is still very poor even when compared with user interfaces 15 years ago.  The problems with the UI are not subtle, or only noticed by power users.

    Why use a small data entry window that cannot be resized within a window that can be resized?  I might have a 28″ display but SAP won’t allow me to use it.  What is all that empty screen space for?

    Why in the world would anyone design a screen that way?  The addition of scrollbars does not compensate at all.

    A user who right clicks on the start of an entry line is bewildered with a context menu that contains thirty-six choices!

    Users should never have to enter fields that have not changed since their last entries.

    Why use confusing and meaningless headings like ‘Receiver WBS element‘, ‘Project Subobject‘, or ‘Att./abs. type text‘?  Unless I work for the accounting department, I should not be concerned with this.

    Why must users re-enter their data entry profile every time?

    Why are the data entry profile names so meaningless?

    Why are regular time entering employees confronted with ten accounting related choices that will never be used?

    Why are users forced to provide the login language, when that location information is readily available from the PC?

    Why do users have to click a tiny, meaningless circle with a checkmark to move beyond the login screen?  Why not use plain language (i.e., ‘NEXT’), or at least a standard icon?

    Why do users have to click a tiny, meaningless pencil icon to move beyond the initial time entry screen?  Why not use plain language, or at least a standard icon?

    After saving my entries, and exiting, why does SAP always tell me that unsaved changes will be lost, even though SAP obviously knows there are no unsaved changes?

    I could go on and on, but all these failings are a result of a lack of effort on the part of the programmers.  Delivering this mess as if it were a finished product is just plain lazy.  It doesn’t take that much time or great skill to implement a good data entry screen.  There really is no reasonable excuse for this.

    Thank you for providing this forum.

    Kurt Risser
    USA

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    1. Jürgen Jakowski Post author

      Hello Kurt,

      Thank you for your reply.

      I can fully understand your concerns based on the observation you have made. However, I wonder, whether your observations just fall under the section “Times have changed, but users are still working with old applications” of my blog.

      Unfortunately, you don’t exactly describe what kind of user interface you are using, but it sounds like an SAP GUI based transaction. In this case, there should be several alternatives available starting from new types of applications up to the chance to optimize your “old” screens with a tool called SAP Screen Personas.

      So again, the observations you have made about the screens in front of you are facts. And of course I agree that the things you described aren’t good for your user experience. Though there are good ways to overcome these issues. But this change of course cannot be initiated by you as a user and requires involvement of your IT.

      With regards,
      JJ

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