Layout & usability improvements in the process editor
In this blog post, you will learn why the SAP Build Process Automation team decided to invest on a large scale in usability improvements, what changes to expect on the process editor, and how you can get early access to the new layout before the public release.
What we learned
Launching SAP Build Process Automation on Valentine’s Day 2022, our goal from day one was to build a product that our users fall in love with and continue to stay engaged with throughout their user journey. While enabling organizations of all sizes to automate their business processes E2E with a comprehensive feature set, the mission of SAP Build Process Automation is to simplify and democratize development with an easy-to-use and guided building experience.
To validate how successful we are in doing so, we launched the first large-scale usability study six months after the initial release. The results helped us to identify three key areas to improve in the process editor:
- Process overview
- Ease of use
- Guided building experience
With insights from additional user research, multiple design iterations on the process editor were created, with the final prototype version yielding an improvement of 25% on the system usability scale score.
Now it is time to get your feedback on the live system.
What we improved
As a process expert or developer, it is crucial to understand even complex process models at a single glance. To improve readability but also to steepen the learning curve of users working in the automation editor and the process editor simultaneously, the new process layout follows a vertical orientation to make better use of the available screen real estate.
Taking the “German Event Application Qualification“ process from my Devtoberfest challenge as an example, the improvements become more tangible. Below, you can compare the same process model at the same zoom level between the different layouts. While the horizontal layout does not show the entire process model at a zoom level of 33%, the new layout does.
The side panel that was previously static is now collapsed by default and can be expanded by using the information icon for global process settings or by clicking on the respective step of the process. Together with zoom-controls, this provides the necessary focus that a user needs to zoom in for detailed work and zoom out again for a high-level overview.
Ease of use
In the past, whenever users wanted to change the position of a step or a group of steps within the process, they had to execute the following three procedures:
- Remove connecting sequence flows (connections)
- Reconnect all created loose ends in the desired order
- Maintain the data mappings for the changed steps again
With the new drag & drop interaction, users can now drag individual steps or a group of steps and drop them at the desired position. The process automatically adjusts itself, ensures that the user always has a valid process model, and even preserves all sensible data mappings. This provides more structure, is less error-prone, and saves much time for users during the initial development or for later adjustments.
For situations where users want to adjust the process flow by changing the destination of a sequence flow (connection) to downstream or upstream steps, they had to follow an equally cumbersome procedure. To solve this problem, a “go-to step” is introduced in the flow logic section to provide an easy-to-use mechanism that allows users to pick the step to connect to and adjust the same later using the side panel. On top, sequence flows (connections) between such steps are now visualized more clearly. They can be highlighted for easier identification by hovering over the respective “go-to step” or the merge element it is connecting to.
Guided Building Experience
For any feature release, it is instrumental to inform and educate users about the new functionality available to them. Accordingly, the new layout enables the in-app help to point to specific elements on the canvas. This helps users to more easily learn about updates and get context-specific help when and where they need it during the building process.
In addition, the selection menu to add steps or flow logic controls now provides a better overview of the available options. Accompanied by the use of more natural language elements and a search bar, users can find the right capabilities much quicker. Whenever interacting with the canvas by adding, changing, or removing elements, the process editor now re-adjusts its focus to the area of interaction. This eliminates the need to navigate manually and guides the flow of work when building a process more intuitively.
What’s next to come
While releasing the new process editor layout and usability improvements is a good step forward, UX is not a one-time initiative but a continuous journey to foster customer adoption. Accordingly, the SAP Build Process Automation team mapped the next steps into a usability roadmap:
- Smaller increments are already planned shortly after the initial release. These include, for example, that entire conditional or parallel blocks can be expanded and collapsed to improve the readability and maintainability of the process model even further
- Ensuring a consistent data flow across process steps requires the maintenance of input and output mappings and is amongst the most frequent jobs to be done by users. Custom variables were introduced in Q3 2023 to enable the re-use of variables across mappings. The expression editor in Q4 2023 will facilitate the manipulation of variables without the need for additional process steps like decisions or automations
- To reduce the number of user steps needed to define all necessary data mappings for the process, further simplifications of the data mapping concept are the focus topic for the first two quarters of 2024
- To bring process creation to the next level, generative AI and prompt engineering in Q2 2024 will speed up and guide users during their process automation journey. This will not only cover the creation of the process itself but also include other artifacts and their content. To learn more about it, tune into the TechEd session Explore the Next Level of Business Process Creation
Public release & early access
The new process editor layout and the described improvements will be publicly available after TechEd 2023.
For all customers who already want to get their hands on the improvements, as of today, we offer an early access program in which the updates can be made to any customer tenant provided. The early access program includes dedicated customer support and participation in a feedback survey. This helps our teams consider feedback as early as possible.
If you are as excited as the SAP Build Process Automation team about the upcoming release and you want to get early access, please reach out to email@example.com.