Why users might think their SAP user interface is crumby
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.