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Calgary-based professional services firm Convergent IS helps companies implement SAP S/4HANA and Fiori, and is a user of both technologies. In part two of this two-part Q & A, Convergent Managing Partner Shaun Syvertsen discusses why SAP had to develop the Fiori user experience (UX) and how companies can begin to implement it.
You've worked extensively with SAP products. Why do you think SAP is making such a big push for the Fiori UX?
Shaun Syvertsen: The SAP GUI [graphical user interface] is a fundamental problem that SAP has been struggling with for a long time, and they had their heads stuck in the sand about it. People would complain about the UI, and [SAP] would say, "Well, they keep buying it, so what's the problem?" Of course it's a logical argument. They are still buying it, but nobody actually likes it. And in the meantime the competitors like Workday and NetSuite came along [with more user-friendly UIs]. When you sit somebody down in front of SAP GUI, anybody under the age of 30 cringes a little bit because it's really quite terrible by any relatively modern standard.
So SAP put considerable effort into developing the Fiori UX to address this?
Syvertsen: From my perspective, the smartest thing that SAP did was that they hired a bunch of folks with purple hair who are out of Palo Alto instead of Walldorf, and these are really the guys that have created this user experience. More importantly, they didn't just go in and do it themselves, they actually went out and -- heaven forbid -- actually asked the customers what they wanted. They went out and interviewed more than 1,000 customers across 300 companies. "What do you use the most? What do you like? What do you not like about it? What's hard? What's easy?” And Fiori was born from that.
So you think SAP needed a new UX to keep pace or it would fall behind in the ERP competition?
Syvertsen: I genuinely think that it was other ERP systems that had a decent UI [and] they saw they were losing business and the win rates dropped. They might have the most robust, the most solid, the most functional ERP in the world, but if people aren't buying it because they hate to use it, it's not much good. I think that finally settled in.
Do you think that SAP customers will start to adopt Fiori in larger numbers soon?
Syvertsen: I'm sure it will take longer than they want, and I think part of that is frankly just an appetite for how quickly some organizations want it done. Some organizations handle change really well. With one of our customers, we were able to help them effectively replace their enterprise portal in a matter of four or five months. Some people take that long just to implement their first couple Fiori tiles. It depends on how quickly the organization moves, how they spend their money, how they work with their partners, and how they make decisions.
What are some of the characteristics of a successful Fiori implementation? It's a pretty fundamental change, after all.
Syvertsen: Across a sampling of customers that we've worked with, the ones that have been most successful have had somebody in a leadership role [pushing the implementation]. It doesn't necessarily have to be the CEO, although some of our customers have CEOs that are pretty darn excited about this. There's an appreciation of the velocities that they can gain by improving that user experience by making it available on mobile or by streamlining it. I think that the organizations that have struggled a little bit more are the ones that [have] folks at the top [who] say, "What's the business case?" And my usual answer is "What's your business case for a smartphone?" Ultimately it comes down to that user experience and the velocity of business -- how much faster you can get approvals done, for instance, or how much quicker you can get … a little report on your smartphone.
Do you sometimes have to do a little extra convincing of reluctant executives?
Syvertsen: Sure. One of our customers, for instance, was a little bit skeptical about the Fiori thing, and their CFO needed to call one of their SAP technical leads to go and hold his hand every few months when he had one of these high-dollar purchase orders to approve, and he felt stupid every time he had to do it. Then he got to do it on his BlackBerry and there weren't many questions about the business case for the next few apps.
Can organizations do a lot of the implementation on their own?
Syvertsen: There's a certain amount that folks can try to do on their own. They'll download from SAP and they'll kind of poke their way through it. I've seen folks that are in for their first application in about eight or six months, then into production. It's not as simple a transformation for folks [who] have never done it before. Part of where we often get involved is where somebody wants us with the first one because that tends to be the hardest one, but then it gets a lot easier.
Which apps are the most popular for new Fiori implementations?
Syvertsen: Some of the most common ones, that I'll call "low-hanging fruit" places to get started, are employee self-service-type apps. The kind where you go get your own pay stub, put your own time in by using your smartphone, put your vacation request in while you're sitting at the table with your wife instead of forgetting about it for a day or two when you come into the office. Another really popular one is the supply chain, such as approving purchase orders.
Are there any naysayers once you get going with it?
Syvertsen: It's a little bit mixed. There are a lot of SAP customers out there [who] still don't know what Fiori is, and the awareness is really key. There are a lot of business folk [who] think that user experience is fluffy nonsense, but at some point that just doesn't hold up anymore. I would say that organizations like that are definitely going to be slower on the uptake, and then they end up paying for that because then they try to roll out a new function in SAP and they're trying to do it with SAP GUI. They've got to train [users] for days. It's weeks before they're proficient. You give them Fiori and it takes way less time.
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