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Ariba unveils major overhaul of user interface

Based on SAP Fiori, the new UI and Ariba Mobile app are intended to bring a richer user experience to B2B procurement.

While consumers can buy goods and services with the click of a button or swipe of a smartphone, this has generally...

not been the case for business buyers and sellers. But business procurement could take another step toward the modern world with the upcoming release of Ariba's new user interface.

Ariba, an SAP company that provides B2B procurement-related software and services, showed the new user interface (UI) at its AribaLive conference last week in Las Vegas. The unveiling showed not just a pretty redo of a staid interface, but a complete rethinking of how users interact with the software. "This is a generational change, not a tweak," said Sanish Mondkar, Ariba's chief product officer in the conference's keynote address. "There is a functional paradigm shift in user expectations. It's way more than just aesthetics and design."

The Ariba Network, a global online business marketplace, handled more than $650 billion in transactions last year, according to the company. Although organizations use its services much like consumers use Amazon or eBay, the UI and transaction process were still stuck in the days of dial-up Internet. The new UI has been redesigned completely with mobility in mind and to give users a better experience while allowing companies to gain more insight into their processes. At the same time, a revamped desktop UI allows users to interact with data in ways that couldn't be done previously.

The mobile app, called Ariba Mobile, allows users to view, track and act on requisitions from their mobile devices. Ariba said its approach, however, has not been to just replicate the desktop on the mobile device, but design it to take full advantage of the functionality that mobile devices enable.

"The UX [user experience] needs to be more modern, productive, and of course has to follow good design principles; that's a given," Mondkar said in a phone interview, "But the things that people really want to do are not covered just by thinking superficially. There are different areas of innovation that are now available when you think in terms of a tablet or other device."

One example of this that Ariba Mobile brings from the consumer model is the concept of pinning, Mondkar explained. Mobile devices allow people to access work documents wherever they may be, and their inboxes may have documents that need immediate attention. However, there are usually documents, such as exceptions, that require more detail before they can be processed. Ariba Mobile allows users to pin these documents and then deal with them once they get back to their desktops, where they have more options and data to resolve the issues.

Ariba's revamp takes advantage of the relationship with parent SAP on the front and back end, according to Mondkar. The mobile and desktop UIs are essentially based on SAP Fiori, which incorporates much of the user experience paradigm that Ariba has embraced. The Ariba UI does not share code with Fiori, but uses the same stylesheets, giving it a similar look and feel. This is part of a larger initiative by SAP to have its apps and those of its acquired companies, including Fieldglass and Concur, have a similar front end.

SAP HANA on the back end is allowing Ariba to use the additional processing power to enable the context-sensitive data that the new UI requires. Search, for example, has been powerfully enhanced, Mondkar said.

"With the old search you had to go to each module to perform the search," he said. "Now we have a single Google-like search. Results will be extracted from any of these data sets, which allow you to quickly gather and find what you are looking for."

Although the new Ariba Mobile app grabbed much of the attention at the conference, the redeveloped desktop UI is also a significant change. The current Ariba desktop UI is staid and outdated, looking essentially like a spreadsheet, Mondkar said, while the new tile-based UI includes numerous widgets and simple graphs that let users discover and act on data in a variety of ways.

"It uses action tiles, which are actionable graphs, charts, and so on, where you can slice and dice the info and go straight to what you need to do," Mondkar explained. "Exceptions, expiring contracts, and so on -- you can keep slicing and dicing as deeply as you want to go. It's very responsive and dynamic."

SAP development clout called key

Ariba is moving in the right direction, according the Dana Gardner, principle analyst with Interarbor Solutions, based in Gilford, N.H. "We've seen some big changes in the way people interact with applications just in the last two or three years," he said. "The focus is on mobility first and foremost and people are looking for context. The app has to have a sense of who you are, what you are doing, what you need to know at the present time."

Ariba and SAP are reacting to the new reality of the way people work today, rather than the old model where companies didn't give as much thought to the user experience. "People are not saying we are going to react to the app; the app is going to react to the people, and companies must determine how they can adjust the app to people's behavior now," Gardner said.

However, the transition to a better user experience is not easy, and Gardner said that four major factors must be in place for a vendor to be successful. To pull it off, you need significant network technical prowess, the ability to manage and integrate data and transactions, a high degree of development know-how, and the ability to leverage the cloud. SAP is one of only a handful of vendors can pull all four of these together, according to Gardner.

Ariba expects to roll out the new UI in two separate phases. The mobile app for buyers, who constitute a much larger share of the Ariba Network, is scheduled to be available by June or July. Modules designed specifically for sellers will be available by Q4. Mondkar said there will be a wealth of marketing and support materials available to users when the UI is released. They will also have a toggle switch that allows them to switch between the new and old versions. This helps users develop an affinity for all the new capabilities of the new system, but provides the reliability of the old system when making the transition. It will also let the vendor see how the system is being used and fix any problems that may crop up.

Next Steps

Read analysis of SAP's acquisition of Ariba

Learn about the SAP-Ariba partnership with eBay

Understand e-procurement software

Dig Deeper on SAP Ariba