Expand +



How SAP Is Reinventing the User Experience

Exclusive Interview with SAP’s Sam Yen

by Dr. Sam Yen | SAPinsider, Volume 15, Issue 2

April 1, 2014

In this Q&A, Sam Yen, SAP’s Global Head of Design and User Experience, discusses SAP’s mission to reinvent the enterprise software user experience. The consumerization of IT is leading to greater customer expectations around usability, and SAP is meeting these challenges head on. Learn about SAP’s new solutions, services, and strategies as it follows a new paradigm shift around user experience.


Q: The consumerization of technology is affecting what customers expect from their user experience of SAP software. How pervasive is that trend?

A: Our customers are being more vocal about the kind of experience they want. They are trying to complete business tasks and meet goals, and software should be a means to help them achieve their objectives. People don’t go to the office just to work with enterprise software — they’re trying to get a job done. 

Within the enterprise, lines of business (LoBs) are demanding that IT organizations provide new experiences for users. In fact, LoBs aren’t just focusing on the end-user experience, but on the overall experience with technology and how it relates to their business needs. Whether it’s the solution discovery and evaluation experience, the purchasing experience, the configuration and installation experience, or the upgrade experience, every touch point should be dramatically simplified. 

Leveraging the cloud is one way to simplify the overall experience from a technical perspective, but it has to be more than that. And that’s what we’re doing at SAP with design — we’re not just considering the end-user experience, but determining how we can design our products to simplify the overall end-to-end experience. 

Q: How significantly has mobile technology influenced what users expect from enterprise applications?

A: There are various trends within mobile that started in the consumer space yet can serve as models for simplifying IT in the enterprise. For example, the app store concept empowers users to bring a personalized experience to the technology that is most relevant to them. That’s changed how we work in the enterprise. Today, we have a marketplace in which customers and partners can access any app to see if it fits their business needs before they purchase it. 

At this point, many people are spending more free time on their smartphones and tablets than on traditional laptops and desktops. We’re not there yet in the enterprise, but the tide is shifting, and it’s important to have mobile integrated into the user experience (UX) strategy, not in its own silo. 

To that end, we are creating a unified, consumer-like experience for enterprise solutions that is responsive and adaptive. Whether you’re on a phone, tablet, or desktop, you should be able to navigate seamlessly through the content. In the enterprise, we started by building native experiences specifically for iPhones and iPads, but there’s been so much fragmentation that native development and support became very cost-intensive. From a total cost perspective, having one code line in HTML5 that automatically adapts to a phone, tablet, and desktop means that everybody wins.

Q: You are leading the renewed emphasis on UX at SAP. Can you describe your role and the organization’s mission?

A: As the Global Head of Design and User Experience, I drive the UX strategy and execution across all of SAP. We collaborate with other units within SAP, but we also have development capacity within the Design and User Experience team, so as a group we can take the UX strategy and implement it with front-runner projects. The first wave of SAP Fiori is an example of that.

We are looking beyond the traditional enterprise space to determine how we can help SAP’s customers reach out to their customers, who are typically end consumers.

This mission was set by Dr. Vishal Sikka, member of the Executive Board at SAP, who wants us to think about how we can renew ourselves as a company and renew the environment in which we work. We are looking beyond the traditional enterprise space to determine how we can help SAP’s customers reach out to their customers, who are typically end consumers. To do that, we treat the Design and User Experience organization like a startup within SAP, setting up locations outside of the main campus and staffing the team with internal and external members. 

The drivers behind the renewed emphasis on UX stem from the experiences that users have with consumer software. Many of those same activities, such as making purchases or booking travel, also take place in the enterprise. Enterprise users no longer tolerate clunky processes because they see consumer alternatives that produce the same result but are presented in an easier-to-use, easier-to-learn experience. These users demand that consumer experience in the enterprise. 

Q: How do you change the user experience for your customers?

A: Focusing on the experience requires a mind-shift within an organization, or even an industry. Enterprise software has this UX issue because for the last 40 years the industry has been primarily dominated by two spheres of influence: the business need and the technological solution that solves that business need. Historically, the most successful companies in this market were those that were deepest and richest in functionality. Does your software have the capability to handle this specific case? Can it scale to a global perspective and address all the needs of all the different countries and regions?

I know that firsthand because, before joining SAP, I was one of the co-founders of an enterprise software company. This is where my demo background comes from: As a co-founder I did much of the pre-sales activity, including demoing solutions to customers. In that role, I realized that users would be in the audience and would have their feature lists ready — and every time I demoed a feature they would check off an item on the list. That’s how enterprise software became feature-obsessed. Vendors were rewarded for the number of features, not the ease of use.

The consumerization of IT has changed that and put a renewed emphasis on the user experience. We as an industry talk about the tenets of design thinking, but the most important aspect is desirability — do people want to use it? With this question in mind, there has been a cultural shift at SAP. We’ve changed our own development processes internally to ensure that we always consider the end consumer. We step back and ask what real, core needs we are trying to solve, and we design everything from that perspective — while also trying to simplify the experience. 

Q: Is SAP Fiori emblematic of those efforts?

A: SAP Fiori symbolizes the renewal of the SAP experience. Twenty years ago, SAP was much simpler. We had one product, SAP R/3, and we introduced a technology called SAP GUI that for nearly 20 years was the SAP experience for many users. Along the way, we have introduced some new user interface technologies, such as Web Dynpro, in specific areas like customer relationship management (CRM) and supplier relationship management (SRM).

But with SAP Fiori, for the first time in more than 20 years, we’re able to say emphatically, “This is the future direction of the SAP experience.” All SAP solutions are going to be converging in this direction. We started with scenarios in SAP Business Suite, then it was SAP Business Suite on SAP HANA, and now the new SAP HANA applications are moving toward the SAP Fiori approach. In 2014 you’ll also see cloud and on-demand solutions start to converge toward SAP Fiori. It is a fundamental rethinking of the UX paradigm. 

With SAP Fiori, we’re able to say emphatically, “This is the future direction of the SAP experience.” All SAP solutions are going to be converging in this direction.

SAP Fiori also represents a move away from the functionally oriented way we offered solutions. We have a strong portfolio of feature-rich, robust applications for each functional area, but for many users it may be more than they need. A salesperson may require only a few features in SAP CRM, but may also need to fill in vacation time, approve expenses, or purchase supplies. The salesperson would not only have to wade through the features within SAP CRM, but also go into other feature-rich, siloed applications that are developed by different teams on different technologies. The overall user experience is fragmented, but that’s what we’re addressing with SAP Fiori. We’re decomposing those large applications into small, bite-sized tasks.

I liken it to the experience users have with mobile devices. On your smartphone you might have between 25 and 50 apps that you’ve downloaded from over a million available applications because those apps are most relevant to you. You arrange the apps that you use the most on your home screen, and you have secondary screens for the less important ones. That’s what SAP Fiori is all about. SAP users have a huge collection of applications and screens available to them, but since they’ve been decomposed in SAP Fiori, they have a more consistent experience and can personalize what is most meaningful to them.1 

Keep an eye out for more SAP Fiori-related announcements at SAPPHIRE NOW.

Q: How have customers reacted to these early developments?

A: Our team was created in early 2013 and engaged with more than 100 customers during that year, helping them optimize their existing SAP investment from the UX perspective with new SAP technologies like SAP Fiori and SAP Screen Personas.2 We were helping them create quick wins within their organizations.

Then there was an interesting occurrence in the middle of 2013. Our customers realized that the consumerization of IT presented internal issues for IT organizations. They started to see that the same transformation we’ve gone through at SAP was something that they were going to have to undergo themselves. 

In the second half of the year, we received many requests from our customers to help them set up centers of excellence for usability and design in their organizations. To me, that was probably the most unexpected outcome. At the beginning of 2013, we were trying to win over our customers with user experience. By the end of the year, we were seen as thought leaders and were being asked to help customers address this process. We even received the 2014 People’s Choice award from the Interaction Design Association for our SAP Scouting app, which allows sports franchises to better identify and scout prospects (see Figure 1).3

SAP Scouting helps sports franchises better identify and scout prospects

Figure 1 — SAP Scouting helps sports franchises better identify and scout prospects

Q: Where do you take it from here? How do you scale up even further, both externally and internally?

A: For us, 2013 was all about working with customers and understanding how we address this UX conundrum that the industry has had for 20 years — and we were able to accomplish that. Now we have to change the end-user perception by working with IT organizations and reviewing the actual usage. We have quickly learned that most people experience SAP solutions through a very small percentage of screens. 

We are defining, with our customers, the most impactful elements and bringing a consumer-like experience into those applications. The out-of-the-box SAP Fiori solutions are intended to address the head of the long tail. The second part of the strategy focuses on enabling tools such as SAP Screen Personas to empower customers and partners to modernize and simplify their SAP investment. There’s a big push to make solutions easier, more scalable, and faster for IT organizations to deploy. That means simplifying the configuration process, the installation process, and the overall deployment process. 

Q: How is this approach different from other initiatives to improve the user experience?

A: We’re not trying to solve everything overnight. There are more than 300,000 SAP screens, so this is too big and complex to solve at once. The rate of development is also faster. We introduced 25 SAP Fiori applications last year at SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando, and less than six months later we unveiled more than 200 additional SAP Fiori applications. 

What also sets this apart is the alignment and agreement across the company that this is the future direction of SAP software. It’s a much simpler picture. With the applications in the middle, SAP HANA is the underlying engine and SAP Fiori is the unified customer engagement experience. It really is that simple now.

1 For more details about SAP Fiori, visit [back]

2 For more details about SAP Screen Personas, see the article "Drive Productivity Through Personalization with SAP Screen Personas" by Peter Spielvogel in this April-June 2014 issue of SAPinsider. [back]

3 For more information, see [back]

An email has been sent to:


Sam Yen
Dr. Sam Yen

Chief Design Officer
Managing Director
SAP Labs Silicon Valley

More from SAPinsider


Please log in to post a comment.

No comments have been submitted on this article. Be the first to comment!