Simpler, Faster, More Flexible User Interface

Vishal Sikka
Vishal Sikka

The project was announced at SAP’s SAPPHIRE customer event in May and since then development work has been ongoing at a rapid pace. The goal is to simplify the UI and ease the distribution of SAP business processes, while leveraging the inherent benefits of enterprise service-oriented architecture (enterprise SOA) and the SAP NetWeaver platform. Sikka is responsible for roadmap and architecture governance for SAP’s products and technology infrastructure. He spoke with SAP INFO online about the upcoming new, modernized UI.

Please describe the design of the new UI.

Sikka: There are two main areas, the shell and the canvas. The shell contains standard menu items across the top as well as thumbnails of other open applications so users can easily navigate between them. The shell is shaped like an “L” around the center screen or canvas. The canvas is the body of the screen, which displays information, transactions or processes in progress. The new UI displays almost any other type of UI within that canvas.

What is the impetus behind the project?

Sikka: User feedback, technological advances, and the opportunity to change the landscape of business applications. Let me explain in a bit more detail.First, users want the capability to perform any given task anywhere, whether on a mobile device, within Microsoft Outlook, or on a Web browser, for instance. The question we had to answer was, what would it take to support that need for a pervasive UI in a pervasive business context?

Second, technological advances allowed us to define a service-enabled business client which protected our customers’ investments in SAP technology. We want to improve the UI, but we need it to be compatible with our existing products and customers’ current applications. At the same time it must allow customers to leverage enterprise services as well as provide a framework for the next generation of SAP applications.
Third and finally, the new approach blurs the line between where applications, the Web, desktops begin and end. I’ve seen the term “business mash-ups” in the press recently and I think that is a good description of what we’re enabling with this approach. A user will be able to access SAP’s enterprise services, combine them with a third-party service, then enhance that with data found on the local desktop.

Who do you see becoming the initial users of the new UI?

Sikka: Our idea is that over time everyone will be able to use this new technology. As it stands now, customers will have to adopt our current applications to use it. It’s part of the technology behind SAP NetWeaver and mySAP ERP.

How do you see the UI project progressing over the next 18 months?

Sikka: We believe that it will be available to customers within the next 18 months. We’ve devoted substantial development effort to it throughout SAP as have our partners. We expect customers to use it side-by-side with other SAP UI clients or as a single, multipurpose UI.

What existing UIs will the new UI support?

Sikka: Adobe’s Macromedia Flash, Adobe PDF, HTML, Web Dynpro and Dynpro screens. It expands SAP’s list of existing UIs supported by SAP NetWeaver, which includes Duet software for use with Microsoft Office and SAP software, SAP Interactive Forms by Adobe, SAP xApp Analytics leveraging Adobe’s Macromedia Flex software and SAP NetWeaver Portal.

Is it true that the new UI won’t work with past versions of mySAP ERP?

Sikka: No. It can work side-by-side with existing UIs from older applications. We know that it can take a long time for a company to move from an old UI to a new one. We have no intention of de-supporting other SAP UIs. We are designing the new UI to work with existing programs, and yet to realize its full potential over time, users will need to update to new offerings such as SAP NetWeaver.

The new UI has been described as being “service-enabled.” How does that benefit customers?

Sikka: Over the years SAP has gathered an enormous amount of knowledge about the types of business activities our customers actually perform. We categorize these activities and we call them “user-centric services.” They are groupings of activities performed within specific business contexts. For example, we know what applications are being used, how workflow progresses, and what additional activities are likely to be performed. That knowledge helps us design the UI to best take advantage of the underlying functionality of service-enabled software from SAP and its partners or from other providers. Service-enablement means the UI has the simplicity and deployment efficiency of Internet software along with the power and deep functionality of enterprise applications.

Please provide a brief description of technology enhancements behind the new UI.

Sikka: The new UI combines two major efforts. First, many UIs are remodeled and simplified using our Web Dynpro ABAP technology. Beneath the UI there can be several kinds of provisioning technologies for invoking business functionality, including enterprise services, function models and BAPIs, as well as transaction variants on existing or legacy Dynpros. This approach ensures that the underlying transaction layer stays untouched. It just has a new face. The only change is in the way the screen appears.

The second effort is the new SAP NetWeaver Business Client. It was written using the C++ programming language for the Windows version. We are working with Adobe on development efforts using Adobe’s UI technology stack including their upcoming Apollo client, as a way to bring the SAP NetWeaver Business Client to customers.

What are the key benefits of the new UI for the end user?

Sikka: Better usability. Greater leverage of existing platforms. Faster performance. It can be used to access any SAP application directly from a Macintosh, Linux or Windows desktop, and soon, from integrated mobile devices.”

When will the new UI work in mobile business scenarios?

Sikka: We are working on those applications now. Since we first focused on desktop applications, preliminary versions are for large screen layouts. Soon we will offer the new UI for mobile applications.

Have you heard concerns from SAP customers?

Sikka: Some customers have questions regarding how the new UI will work with SAP NetWeaver Portal. We tell them that it fully leverages the portal and in addition, represents our evolution of the portal into a next generation aggregation platform. The portal’s aggregation layer, which is responsible for aggregation of user context, roles, content, and others, stays unchanged. The portal as a rendering mechanism becomes much more multi-pronged with this UI direction we are taking. So it is an evolution of our portal strategy. Users who use a plain browser to display their UI, will experience things the same way as they do with the portal today.

For more information, please read this White Paper for additional details on SAP’s user interface strategy as well as how to take advantage of the personal productivity benefits that enterprise SOA can deliver.

Sarah Z. Sleeper
Sarah Z. Sleeper