In my series of interviews of our top speakers from the Australian Mastering SAP events, I interviewed John Moy. John is co-founder of boutique advisory Blue T, SAP Mentor Alumnus and all round SAP mobility and UI guru. In May John presented on MMG’s use of SAP NWBC (NetWeaver Business Client) to offer a seamless UX for users of their newly implemented SAP systems. The community loved John’s straight-up talking style and honesty around the UX toolsuite. In this blog post we discuss why MMG chose NWBC and explore why it’s not used more by SAP customers in Australia.
Why was UX such an integral part of the MMG rollout of SAP?
Before they implemented SAP, MMG had had some history with the platform and they knew that the UX in a classic SAP sense wasn’t very good. There were about half a dozen key principles of the project and one was usability. In fact, when the CEO kicked off the program, usability was probably the principle that was mentioned the most and it pretty much set the scene for UX to be a key theme. We would need to think carefully to assess all the latest innovations that SAP had released over the past 10 years and not just implement a classic SAPGUI system.
I was implementing SAP in the 1990s, and some of those SAPGUI screens were already 20 years old and they remain in place today! So we needed to bring the whole user experience piece into a project at a governance and architecture level and assess all the latest things that SAP has put out there, such as offerings based on Web Dynpro or SAPUI5 (SAP’s latest user interface enablement technology, based on HTML5). A key principle was that the project would adopt the latest offerings and only fall back to the older SAPGUI screens in cases where the newer offerings were not considered fit for purpose.
Why did MMG choose NWBC as the enabling technology for the UX?
One of the first things we had to think about at MMG was, how do we take advantage of the new things that SAP has created since 2005? And still meld that with some of the older SAPGUI screens if we needed to. Since the early 2000s, SAP sought to build all new things in web technologies – Project and Portfolio Management, Risk Management, Business Planning & Consolidations, HR Professionals are all built using SAP’s web-based technologies. If you are today a professional user in a classic SAP and Portal architecture, you are being told to do task A in SAPGUI and task B in a web environment. We found that NWBC was the only unified solution that would give us a native SAPGUI platform and also access to the web transactions, all in one unified way.
A secondary reason was that NWBC provided a lot of performance benefits. It does clever things like caching your role based menu on the desktop. In a mining company when your employees are distributed across the globe, this is really important, so that when you’re navigating through the menu it’s a lot faster to navigate than SAPGUI or Portal.
NWBC is a solution freely available to all SAP customers in their current system. So why don’t more people use it?
I would suspect there are a few reasons for this, but probably the greatest reason is lethargy – the SAP ecosystem doesn’t tend to adopt newer things unless it is forced to. Here are my thoughts on this …
- Many SAP customers have already implemented their SAP solutions. So what is left is an operations and support team to keep it running. For them, introducing something like NWBC is a disruption to their support models – particularly the idea of providing role-based menus. That being said, there are ways you can implement NWBC and minimise impact on the support cost.
- Many system integrators don’t have NWBC included in their SAP implementation methodologies, because they haven’t updated their approaches for over a decade. In today’s world some consultants implement in the manner they did in their last project, and in the project before that, and so on until you find their approaches are over a decade old.
- Often consultants hide behind the delivery of SAP GUI with standard menus (where the end user doesn’t have authorisation to execute most of the menu options) as being ‘best practice’. In today’s world, I would argue that if delivering 1990’s user experience, we can’t hide behind the notion that this is still best practice.
- Decision makers on whether to implement NWBC often act in their own interests rather than the end-users. The decision makers are often (for instance) project managers who don’t wish to add more scope to their fixed-price implementation. End-users often don’t have a voice in these decisions. We need a new generation of UX consultants to champion their cause.
- Some earlier versions of NWBC may not have been considered fit for purpose for some customers, however newer versions have shown some real improvements. That said, NWBC still only runs in a Windows environment – so if you have Mac users for instance, that will be problematic.
A big thank you to John for sharing his expertise and opinions with me. In the next edition of this article we’ll ask John how the NWBC implementation at MMG went, whether it lives up to expectations, and what John’s top tips for implementing NWBC are. Don’t miss this one, but in the meantime, I ask you…
1. Have you used NWBC in your own company? What were your experiences?
2. Do you agree with John’s reasons for why NWBC isn’t more commonplace in the SAP ecosystem?
The Eventful Group has just revealed the dates for the 2016 Mastering SAP Technologies event – you can be part of it 25-27 May 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.