Putting User Experience on the Radar

Five years ago most people had better IT equipment in their office than at home. Today, the opposite is often true. That’s why Andreas Hauser, global head of the SAP Design and Co-Innovation Center, is intent on redefining the user experience of B2B applications.

For anyone who has worked with SAP software over the last 30 years, it’s a familiar sight: user interfaces jam-packed with great functions, most of which you don’t actually need to complete your daily tasks. SAP’s Andreas Hauser has chosen to make these classic graphical user interfaces ‒ SAP GUIs ‒ the focal point of the company’s user experience (UX) strategy.

Hauser estimates that 80 percent of the user interfaces in use today are still “SAP GUI” screens. And although SAP partners have often adjusted these screens to meet customers’ role and functional requirements successfully over the years, Hauser does not consider this to be an acceptable state of affairs.

Which is why, he says, “we began renovating the most widely-used screens two years ago” ‒ with HTML 5 and UI 5 as the catalysts for enabling a new user experience for SAP users.

"We began renovating the most widely-used screens two years ago," says Andreas Hauser, Global Head of the Design and Co-Innovation Center at SAP.
“We began renovating the most widely-used screens two years ago,” says Andreas Hauser, Global Head of the Design and Co-Innovation Center at SAP.

“Design Screens First, Implement Them Second”

The success of new applications depends much less on the underlying technology than on the approach used to design them.

It wasn’t until SAP Business ByDesign was being developed almost 10 years ago that design began to take on a special significance. Back then, a team of 50 designers developed 4,000 variants for the interface. These were put through their paces by an army of six thousand users until, finally, the designers came up with the definitive interface for the cloud-based software aimed chiefly at SMEs.

Hauser, then head of the design team, sees parallels between that approach and today’s strategy: “Design screens first, implement them second.”

In 2005, web-enabled technologies like HTML 5 and UI 5 were only just emerging. Today, SAP Fiori is living proof that they can be used to simplify and personalize interfaces. There are already more than 500 SAP Fiori applications available on the SAP App Store.

“It’s a paradigm shift,” says Hauser, because it makes no difference whether an enterprise runs an app on its own servers ‒ “on premise” ‒ or in the cloud. Gone are the days when it could take a company anything up to five years to deploy new interfaces for all employees across the enterprise. “Less coding, more designing” is the phrase used by a blogger writing about SAP Fiori in the SAP Community Network.

SAP Fiori screens. Photo: SAP
SAP Fiori screens. Photo: SAP

And, indeed, customers can now leverage solutions like SAP Fiori and SAP Screen Personas to rapidly modify existing screens – using WebIDE (Web Integrated Development Environment) in the case of SAP Fiori and a simpler, “drag-and-drop” approach in the case of SAP Screen Personas.

There are three elements to SAP’s strategic UX approach:

  • New: applications developed from the ground up
  • Renew: for renovating existing customer solutions, and
  • Enable: customers deploy the tools themselves to optimize their applications without major development effort or expense.

Bringing Design Expertise to IT

With effective solutions and tools in place to improve the user experience, the next step involves making customers aware of just how important good design is.

Hauser cites a glaring example: “We had a complaint from a customer who said that hardly anyone in the company was using our web order management tool.” Two thousand hair salons could potentially have worked with it, but only two actually were. Hauser sent two co-workers to London to find out exactly what the problem was. It turned out that most of the hair salons were equipped with Apple computers rather than PCs. Which made the process of creating new users in the system more complicated.

“On Amazon, something like that takes just seconds, and that’s what people expect from B2B software as well,” explains the SAP Senior Vice President.

What this example shows is that IT departments often implement a business’s requirements without approaching users to find out what they really need. IT departments tend to lack design expertise. And that is why applications sometimes fall far short of their intended purpose.

“It’s important to concentrate on the user experience as well on the functions themselves,” says Hauser. Because, he has no doubt, a good UX translates into greater business value for the application.

Why a Good UX is Important

  1. Improved efficiency: If it takes two minutes to place an order rather than ten, more customers are likely to complete the process. And more revenue means more profit. Plus, when software is self-explanatory, companies save on training costs. For those with a large workforce and frequent staffing changes, that can translate into significant efficiency gains.
  2. Fewer user errors: Between 30 and 50% of the inquiries directed to company help desks can be attributed to poorly designed software. For instance, some software programs require users to enter columns of figures: Correcting a single wrong entry entails major expense and wastes precious time. “That’s just not acceptable today,” says Hauser, adding, “A field like that shouldn’t be in the software in the first place.”
  3. Better software quality: A single change request costs IT between €1,000 and €3,000 and is a sure sign that an application is too complicated. Unilever provides an example of how the new generation of UX-centric software can save on unnecessary costs. After implementing SAP Product Lifecycle Management, the consumer goods giant had to deal with just a handful of change requests ‒ in contrast to the hundreds that had always followed a new software deployment in the past.

UX: Quantifying Potential Savings

If more proof were needed that UX is not just a “nice-to-have”, then the User Experience Value Calculator provides it. This free tool lets companies estimate the potential cost savings to be made by adopting the latest UX innovations. Conducting a user satisfaction survey is also a good way of finding out whether software design is user-friendly: The System Usability Scale, developed by John Brooke, and the Software Usability Measurement Inventory (SUMI), created by University College Cork, are two well-known examples.

As far as business information technology graduate Hauser is concerned, one objective stands out: “It’s absolutely essential to gain added value from new software as rapidly as possible,” Hauser says. Which is why the head of SAP’s AppHaus offers courses to encourage companies to develop an understanding and awareness of design ‒ as well as expertise in this area ‒ by teaming up with SAP to build fresh, innovative solutions. Last year, the customer-oriented AppHaus in Heidelberg, Germany, hosted 2,700 customer employees at more than 200 events.

He’s come a long way already, but Hauser’s mission won’t end until he’s satisfied that the AppHaus concept and UX-centric approach have become firmly rooted in the customer mindset.

Top Image: Shutterstock