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Designing a better SAP user experience key step toward digital world

An IT services consultant advises familiarity with Fiori guidelines, SAP Build and Apple iOS UI tools to drive the user adoption that is essential in digital transformation.

Why is the SAP user experience important in digital transformation? In one word: adoption.

The success of your company's digital offerings -- both internal and external -- will be highly dependent upon their adoption by your target group. If you deliver a product that people use only because it is required of them, then poor adoption and off-system workarounds will result.

Internally, these workarounds mean the digital world and real world are not in sync. And as a result, your teams may make the wrong decisions, predict inaccurate outcomes or train machine-learning bots to do the wrong things. For external users, a poor user experience can drive them away and into the arms of a competitor.

Designing an optimal SAP user experience is a complex topic that demands both technical and, more importantly, design skills, which are in much shorter supply. This has led technology providers to seek ways to integrate user experience capabilities into the skill sets of technical staff by providing guidelines and policing their use.

Apple was one of the first to the party with its Human Interface Guidelines. And with the launch of SAP Fiori and SAP Build, SAP is helping nondesigners follow guidelines and patterns that lead to user interfaces that deliver a higher level of user experience. Apple and SAP have also worked together on SAP Fiori for iOS, which represents a blend of both approaches.

Fiori guidelines aimed at improving the SAP user experience

At the highest level, the Fiori guidelines dictate key characteristics that a user interface should have. These include:

  • Role-based. Design the user interface with a specific role in mind, and make it work for that role or persona. Don't assume one size fits all, a common mistake with the enterprise applications of old.
  • Adaptive. Design the user interface so it responds to the device being used to access the system. Some people like smartphones, while others prefer desktops. Think about how the app needs to work differently on each platform.
  • Coherent. Ensure that apps within a family of other apps work the same way -- e.g., they use color consistently, place action buttons in the same place and so on.
  • Simple. Ironically, this can be the most complex part of any design. You need the right balance between enough functionality and not too much -- the Goldilocks solution.
  • Engaging. Make the application something people want to use by making tedious tasks easier and helping people to focus on high-priority tasks. For example, allow bulk processing, or use predictive analytics or machine learning to recommend relevant actions.

Keeping the above best-practice characteristics in mind, developers can evaluate their designs and, hopefully, create a better SAP user experience. But SAP has also created a tool called SAP Build, which allows both business analysts and developers to create realistic application prototypes from design templates. I used it to create the product overview page in the screenshot.

A page developed in SAP Build.
Product overview page created in SAP Build.

So, where do you start?

I am often asked, "Where do I start?" To which I respond with one of my favorite quotes from Alice in Wonderland: "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there."

Simply put, before you start trying to improve your SAP user experience, set the guidelines that you expect your designers and developers to follow, and follow them for all new development initiatives. I suggest using the SAP Fiori guidelines as a good place to start, but you may have others you would prefer to follow.

With the guidelines in place, you can start to look for SAP user experience improvements in your existing application estate. Approaches can range from assessing the data in your system to highlight processing problems, process mining your processes to find areas of noncompliance or surveying your user population to discover their thoughts on areas for improvement.

As you start to identify improvement areas, you can begin building the business case for renovation -- or demolition. The business case is key to keeping your user experience activities alive.

Finally, as you start to renovate parts of the landscape, try to remember the coherence guideline and align internal and external users to this way of working by role, if possible, or at least make the entry point to their digital world the same.

As you can see, establishing a solid user experience is a critical part of generating successful digital transformations. Take the time to implement a best-practice approach and streamline the guidelines across your organization for the best results possible. 

About the author: Owen Pettiford is senior vice president for SAP digital transformation at BackOffice Associates, an IT services company and SAP partner based in Hyannis, Mass.

Next Steps

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This was last published in May 2017

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