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Author's profile photo Simon Kemp

Inside the SAP Mentor Fish Bowl Session with Sam Yen

During SAP TechEd you might wonder what happens inside the SAP Mentor “fish bowl” on the show floor. In this blog post, I would like to welcome you into the fish bowl and share with you the conversation we had with Sam Yen, Chief Design Officer at SAP. We had the opportunity to ask Sam questions about UX, design and SAP Fiori. Sam also brought along  Stefan Beck from the SAPUI5 team to answer some of the more technical UI5-related questions.

The topic leads for the session were Jocelyn Dart and myself and as you can see we had a great number of SAP Mentors participate.


The meeting opened up with Sam giving us an update about user experience design.

Key Highlights

Sam is very proud of the design team that won the Red Dot Design Award for the Fiori 2.0 design concept. This puts SAP in the company of previous winners such as Bang & Olufsen, BMW and Apple. He explained how this is particularly significant given it falls outside of the usual software design awards.

Sam sees user experience as one of the critical success factors for the future of SAP. This was highlighted in the SAP S/4HANA launch earlier in the year at the NYSE and user experience continues to be one of the top priorities for SAP customers.

One of the biggest challenges facing any organisation is how to scale user experience. Sam explained how this is a challenge that SAP also faces particularly with respect to bringing the SAP Fiori design to S/4HANA, even with a 1:100 designer to developer ratio, which is considerably better than the 1:1000 ratio at many companies. SAP is releasing products such as Splash and BUILD to help their customers (and their internal team) to tackle this problem. The reality is that for the on-premise version of S/4HANA, there will still be non-Fiori screens at least initially. SAP is working hard to extend the SAP Fiori UX across all of S/4HANA and is looking to tools such as SAP Screen Personas as a tactical way to do this.


After this introduction, we launched into the list of more than 20 questions we had for Sam (due to time constraints we only got through a portion of them).

Q1: What is User Experience as a Service (UXaaS) and what does it means to SAP and its customers?

Sam explained how UXaaS augments the SAP Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering. It covers the Discover (Design Thinking), Design (Design Doing), Develop and Deploy phases


Splash is targeted at the discovery phase, BUILD at the design phase and other HCP (HANA Cloud Platform) tools such as SAP Web IDE at the develop and deploy phases. Now you can use Splash templates as starting points for your BUILD prototypes and take your BUILD prototypes into SAP Web IDE to kickstart your development.

Q2: What is SAP Splash? How is it different than BUILD?

Splash is targeted at the discovery phase, while BUILD is available for the design phase. Splash contains learning materials, galleries and templates. You can then import these into BUILD to start prototyping and user testing.

Q3: How is SAP seeking to wrap up all the various solutions, including ERP, cloud solutions and various acquisitions (Concur etc.) into a consistent and unified user experience?

The vision is to use SAP Fiori UX across all SAP software. Both SuccessFactors and Ariba are good examples of this happening with existing solutions. SAP Cloud for Customer (C4C) is a great example of SAP Fiori UX being applied to a new product. The majority of current effort at SAP is going toward increasing SAP Fiori coverage within SAP S/4HANA.

Q4: What is SAP Fiori, cloud edition? How is it aligned with the overall SAP Cloud and UX strategy?

Customers face a challenge with a new architecture and lifecycle needs for SAP Fiori (e.g. Frontend/Backend servers, Service Pack levels etc…). With SAP Fiori, cloud edition, SAP will manage the frontend server for the customer and the customer will just need to include the add-ons to enable the gateway to connect to the backend on-premise systems.

Q5: What is the roadmap and timing for SAP Fiori 2.0? What advice do you have for customers currently building their own SAP Fiori apps to fill gaps and custom solutions? Which areas are worth staying away from due to changes in SAP Fiori (for example, it would appear that notifications is something that is worth waiting for)?

SAP Fiori 2.0 will not be delivered as a big bang. It will start with some new interaction patterns. Then new theme and visuals (2016) followed by a refreshed SAP Fiori Launchpad later in 2016 (notifications/personalisation). Advice for now is to look at smart templates first and use SAP Web IDE as much as you can.

Q6: What plans is SAP putting in place to encourage customers to stay up to date with UI5 releases?

The SAP Fiori Launchpad is key to the SAP Fiori user experience. It is the central point for SAP Fiori apps and other UI technologies (Web Dynpro ABAP, SAP Screen Personas, etc.). We are looking at how we can become more flexible with versions (e.g. apps and SAP Fiori Launchpad on same or different versions). There is a new SAPUI5 release strategy which is based on a 3-year cycle: 1 year of innovation + 2 years of stable maintenance. Currently, traditional apps are being developed mainly on version 1.28 in SP13 and SP14. SAPUI5 version 1.30 is available with UI add on 2.0, versions to come are 1.32, 1.34, 1.36. 1.36 will be next stable version then UI add on 3.0 will have 1.38 (innovation).

Q7: SAPUI5 v1.30 introduced good accessibility support (e.g. for screen readers). Are there plans to down port those improvements to older versions (e.g. v1.28.*)?

The short answer is there are no plans to down port. Down porting is risky for a stable release, but that would depend on the need from customers to do so. Also it doesn’t really help if the apps themselves have not been created to be accessible anyway.

Q8: We know the SAPUI5 platform is including accessibility capabilities. Is SAP committed to getting all existing delivered SAP Fiori apps up to WCAG AA/US508 standards?

We can’t commit on behalf of the app team but there is a great opportunity with Smart Templates to make sure they are accessible out of the box.

Q9: During TechEd Bangalore (March 2015), we learned that the SAP Web IDE development team is working on an on-premise version of SAP Web IDE.  Any update on this?

With SAP S/4HANA, on-premise edition there will be an on-premise version of SAP Web IDE. However, it’s still being determined if there will be a standalone version for developers that can be used when not connected. This is honestly quite difficult for SAP as we are asking customers to move from any database to SAP HANA and from on-premise to cloud. An on-premise version of SAP Web IDE is slightly counter to that direction. What is a bit contradictory is that customers don’t seem to mind cloud-only options from other cloud companies, but seem to expect an on-premise version from SAP. [Mentors made the point that SAP Web IDE is expensive for independent developers and if you are not connected you can’t develop on the cloud.]

Q10: The design process itself is as important if not more so than the outcome (the UX design). Can you elaborate on how the design process(es) within SAP has changed now? And do you feel it is in a place (or headed there) so that SAP can be more proactive versus reactive to coming technologies and “disruptions” from a UX perspective while also not simply jumping to whatever “flavor of the month” trends in design are happening at the time?

80% of our focus is on today’s problems, 20% is looking forward (e.g. SAP Fiori 2.0) Looking to the future we want to bring more context and personalisation. There is potential for the UX to be more personalised, able to predict what you need or anticipate it, as well as apps could be suggested to users based on context and time sensitivity. There is a move from back office to operational (with the Internet of Things) and more front office engagement e.g. Hybris Profile.

Q11: What advice would you have for a UI / UX developer to stay current in an ever evolving SAP world?

Design isn’t just for designers. IT needs to understand and embrace design. If they don’t, the business will look elsewhere. SAP is trying to help the industry to “get” design. Having designers is good but with limited numbers, design needs to be part of everyone’s job. That is why SAP is releasing tools to expand and scale design.

Q12: What are the biggest challenges and how can the SAP mentors help?

We already have good customer co-innovation programs, but we need something more structured with mentors. We would like to make a commitment to start a work stream with the mentors. Customer success stories are very compelling and valuable. [We will be following up on this.]


Unfortunately, we ended up running out of time and didn’t quite get through all the questions. At least that means there are still some questions left for TechEd in Barcelona! We rounded off the session with some photos and a group selfie in support of the #One4 campaign.

one4 (4).jpg

A massive thank you goes out to Sam and Stefan for taking an hour out of their busy schedules and joining us in the SAP Mentor fish bowl, especially since it was the morning after the SAP Jam Band where Sam had been rocking out with the Fiori Rocks Band on the show floor. I hope this has given you some insight into what goes on in the mentor room and it’s great that we can share our conversations with the community here on SCN. If you have any questions or comments please share them below.

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