Get Ready for a Design Revolution

Photo: Screenshot/SAP

In an always on, fully connected world, the user experience of SAP products is top of mind for everyone. In this interview, Sam Yen talks about his mission to “leave no customer behind” while changing realities as well as perceptions about SAP product usability. What is your vision for design at SAP?

Sam Yen: Design goes beyond the user experience of the UI. This is just one aspect where design manifests itself to our customers. Through our design thinking and practice within SAP, we need to offer customers a delightful experience from an end-to-end perspective, throughout the entire lifecycle and at all interaction points with customers.

Define “great design” for users of business software.

First of all, times have changed. You now have to look at what great design is in general. Not too long ago, you would go to the office and that’s where you’d have the most sophisticated software and equipment. Today, it’s much easier to book a trip on consumer software, or to order a book, or to see the state of your finances than it is to go into the office and work on enterprise software. So you need to figure out the elements that make consumer software so delightful to use, so easy to consume, so simple to learn, and actually apply those principles to what we need to do for enterprise software, which is what customers expect. Someone once said that we live in an age where we shop from work and work from home, so that blend of work-life balance is present in our lives. If you look at smartphones, do you really differentiate from the apps you use for work and the apps you use for other types of communication and collaboration? It’s starting to blend more and more together.

Next page: Renovating and modernizing interactions

What has been your biggest take-away from encounters with customers?

User experience is always one of the number one things that customers bring up. I see it as my role  to change the perception of what usability at SAP is… For the past ten years, we’ve focused on the frame around the content, the “chrome” if you will – we’ve painted it different colors, we’ve added features and functionalities to this chrome, but we haven’t addressed the interaction itself, the content in the middle. We need to renovate the content itself; we need to renovate and modernize the interactions. It’s easier to do this with our new technologies, mobile and cloud. But certainly to address the broadest part of our installed base, we need to address the interaction of our core ERP solutions.

IT advances like mobile, cloud, in-memory computing, and social media are bringing unprecedented change to businesses. What’s unique about the opportunity for design in this kind of an environment?

Our customers have invested a lot in their current SAP systems, and there is a certain category of solutions where we can provide new refreshed solutions on top of those things and do a lot to increase the usability and experience of our solutions. Mobile is a great example of that. A lot of the mobile solutions that the mobility team and the mobile@Suite teams are working on leverage that new technology and new channels to completely refresh and modernize the experience. And with technologies such as Gateway we make sure that the investments that customers have already made aren’t wasted. Cloud is another new opportunity with which also comes a new challenge because you’re competing with what’s best of breed outside the enterprise software world, and the expectations are much higher. So while the opportunities are there, we still need to double down our efforts to make sure that the new things really do aim high enough and reach that experience that our users expect.

About Sam Yen:

Sam Yen is SAP’s global head of design and user experience. Prior to taking on his current role, Sam led the SAP AppHaus, an innovation team dedicated to building new solutions, establishing new markets, and reaching new users for SAP. Sam initially joined SAP as a senior member of the Design Services Team, a multi-disciplinary group in the Office of the CEO tasked with accelerating the adoption of Design Thinking as a process for innovation and development of internal and external SAP products. Before joining SAP, Sam was co-founder of Covigna, Inc., an enterprise software company that delivered contract management solutions. Sam is a native of San Francisco and has a Ph.D. in Design Theory and Methodology from Stanford University.