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Wyeth ensures SAP adoption, ROI with customized portals

The success of an SAP Portal project at demanded user adoption, but the pharmaceutical giant needed more than just the Web Dynpro tools.

Pete Lagana, director of Wyeth's SAP Center of Excellence and eSolutions, has an amazingly simple mission -- get as many employees (and customers) as possible to use SAP. But here's what makes Lagana's team a little different: Out-of-the-box GUI tools weren't enough for them. If it's not a perfectly intuitive GUI, it's not good enough. Without active users, SAP's deep functionality is useless. Lagana's challenge? Design a great user interface or lose his employees to software alternatives, diminishing the potential of Wyeth's massive SAP investment.

On May 12, unveiled a new SAP-based customer portal, designed by Lagana's team to meet the high expectations of Wyeth's users. He has learned that increased user adoption has a very tangible benefit: increased ROI. When users like what they see and can navigate services easily, revenues follow.

At Sapphire, I sat down with Lagana to identify the keys to his winning SAP Portals strategy. "I have one rule I adhere to: If we don't keep it simple, it's not going to work," he said. When his team customized SAP's Portal, they didn't use the standard Web Dynpro tools. I could see Lagana biting his tongue, because he didn't want to criticize Web Dynpro. He has nothing against Web Dynpro, but for his SAP user community, the standard GUI options were not going to do the trick.

Lagana already knew that, though. From his first days at Wyeth in 2001, he was exposed to the power and the limitations of Wyeth's SAP system. His first response?

"Wow, there's a ton of information in this back-end system, but unless you're a power user, you're not going to be able to get much out of this -- we're not going to be able to extend this out to the masses," he said. "I wanted to make the front end as powerful as the back end. To me, this is an extremely powerful combination for any company that wants to make Information Technology a competitive advantage."

Lagana then discovered the solution to charming Wyeth's users into using SAP: customized SAP Portals. He started working on SAP Portals with eCommerce technologies on top -- a solution he rolled out to 28,000 worldwide HR users during an ESS/MSS (Employee Self-Service/Manager Self-Service) project. "It occurred to me very early on that the success of what I was doing depended heavily on adoption and not annoying any of the end users," Lagana said. "I accepted the challenge of making the user experience extremely visually appealing."

And in some cases, that meant moving beyond the standard customization options. Lagana quickly found that the standard SAP components did not provide a lot of flexibility in the look and feel of the product, but once he got a better sense of how he could customize the NetWeaver stack to adjust the UI experience via the Portal, a very different user experience became possible.

Though the team did not use the standard out-of-the-box custom GUI options, they also did not have to alter any NetWeaver source code to accomplish their goals. Lagana compiled an optimal mix of internal and external resources skilled in Java for the technical specifications, and they made all the alterations using standard NetWeaver APIs.

Lagana knows that next-generation technology workers will embrace only those systems that are exceptionally easy to use. And no matter how effective the underlying software is, if users aren't flocking to it, it's not going to get the job done. Lagana derives part of his inspiration from the success of online social networking communities, where ease of use has played a major role in the explosion of user-created content. On the flip side, the ease of the social networks has created a demanding user base that won't settle for a substandard interface.

As the Portals and eSolutions rollouts continued at Wyeth, Lagana faced a stern challenge from his marketing team regarding They told him: "If you can make SAP look exactly as we want it, we'll use it. If not, we're going to use something else." Lagana's choice was brutally simple: He must either pull it off or the lack of user adoption would be attributed to his team's coming up short. "Here you have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in SAP," he said, "and we have the potential to lose our own people because we can't create a fine user experience for their business line."

It was all hands on deck. Lagana's team pulled in creative designers, developers, usability specialists and architects, and they figured out how to transform the SAP NetWeaver Portal into something that worked for Wyeth users. Today, you can see the end result on .

So is this user adoption stuff just happy talk, or does it have measurable benefits?

"We went from a few hundred email addresses [of customers and doctors who wanted to do business with Wyeth] two years ago to over 120,000 today," Lagana said. "We've been able to support the Wyeth brand and roll out separate product marketing strategies, each with its own color-branded template." (For some examples of this targeted template scheme, see, and ). Needless to say, this expanded audience has led to increased revenues as well. Each brand team realized they could leverage this platform to align with their existing marketing tactics.

Lagana remains hopeful that SAP will make it easier for customers of all sizes to alter the look and feel of SAP without coding -- even when third-party eCommerce products are part of the equation. But in the meantime, he has shown that with creative vision, and the right people, you can turn SAP into a dreamy user interface that even the fussiest users will embrace.

Jon Reed is an independent SAP analyst who writes on SAP consulting trends. Jon is the president of (, an interactive website that features his take on SAP career trends. Jon is also the author of the SAP Consultant Handbook, and he serves as the career expert for SearchSAP's "Ask the Expert" panel.

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