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Launching the User-Experience Revolution

How Cloud Technology Has Changed What Business Users Want from Their Enterprise Applications

insiderPROFILES, Volume 5, Issue 3

July 1, 2014


Nucleus Research Vice President Rebecca Wettemann discusses the evolution of the user experience, with line of business users now having much more input into enterprise applications than in years past. In this Q&A, Wettemann addresses reasons for this shift, how it affects enterprise IT, and the SAP user-experience perspective.


After years of focusing on functionality first, enterprise IT vendors are putting their focus on user experience in their latest offerings, much to the delight of line-of-business users. In a late 2013 research brief, Nucleus Research said that, in today’s market, "vendors must compete both on the comparative functionality of their applications and on their usability. The race for feature parity has dominated the enterprise application space for the last decade. However, most vendors are only beginning to focus on usability as a differentiator."

To find out more about the trends toward usability and how SAP in particular is adapting to them, insiderPROFILES recently spoke with Rebecca Wettemann, Vice President at Nucleus Research. 


Q: Why has functionality trumped user experience in the past?

Historically, an enterprise IT application deployment was driven 90% by IT and less than 10% by the actual business users of the application. It was a very static and somewhat disjointed process. The business would put together its needs requirements and then IT would come back with whatever application its experts identified as the best fit and would bring the users in for the change management to force them to adopt the application.
In this model, the business often wound up compromising because its developers couldn’t deliver what they really wanted. But the business compromised because it needed to keep the IT organization happy if it wanted to receive an appropriate amount of attention when there was a critical project.

Q: What was the vendor selection process like in that model?
When IT was tasked with finding a new enterprise application for the business, a request for proposals (RFP) went out to vendors to determine what they offer in 40 different functionality areas. Then IT would do a comparison across the vendors. Most often, vendors tried to win that bid by adding functionality. But they weren’t thinking about how to make their applications most effective for the business users.

Q: What changed this trend?

We’ve heard a lot of talk about consumerization of IT, but what that really means is providing options for business users. The cloud is what began giving users that choice with vendors like Salesforce and SuccessFactors emerging, allowing the business to decide what application its employees want to use. They could go outside IT and evaluate the best functionality for their users.
So as we’ve seen more cloud adoption, we see more opportunity for line-of-business users to chime in on what they want in their applications from the initial planning stage. They’re less willing to make compromises in their requirements now because they know what’s out there and, in many cases, they are negotiating with a cloud IT provider, not their internal IT organization. They can be more demanding when it’s an external vendor that they’re paying.
And once the application is in house, a business analyst who is close to the business can do the configuration so the entire process is more iterative and fluid.

Q: As line-of-business users become more involved in choosing applications, how does that affect the types of interfaces or experiences being selected?

Well, simply put, applications like Salesforce took off with business users because they are user friendly. These are less focused on loading up functionality and more focused on specific productivity, which is important to end users.
For its part, SAP has been working with its customers to move away from customization as a way to modernize its applications. Instead, to modernize the customers’ applications, SAP is thinking more about how its software presents the information to
users. Look at what SAP has done with SAP Fiori. Those apps are designed to be very quickly spun up, even on mobile devices, and with the idea that if there’s something not quite right, it can be changed without a major change request. It’s a more iterative process to deploy these apps.

Q: What specific areas of enterprise IT are seeing the most change as a result of this increased emphasis on usability?

Customer relationship management (CRM) is certainly the area that has seen the most change, and a big reason for that was CRM applications didn’t always have the best interfaces to start with. But another reason for this change was because users were given the ability to switch their CRM applications earlier than in other areas.
In other areas, like HR for example, even if the users aren’t living in that application like salespeople live in their CRM systems, streamlined usability is important. I think we’ll continue to see advances in usability, particularly when we talk about bringing big data and in-memory computing to the application to make the application more intelligent in the way it presents data. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

Q: Is there any risk of vendors focusing too much on streamlining the user experience and taking their eyes off functionality?

It would be difficult to swing too far that way. The only area where we see that being a risk might be in gamification. We all want to create a more inspiring user experience, but the goal at the end of the day is to make users more productive. Embedding gamification in a way that drives the user to fill in extra fields or checklists doesn’t really increase productivity.


Spotlight on SAP End-User Initiatives

Excerpts from the Nucleus Research Report: Technology Value Matrix First Half 2014; ERP

Over the past six months, SAP has continued to invest in efforts to make its technology less complex, more rapid to deploy, and more intuitive for end users with a number of initiatives including:

  • SAP HANA. SAP HANA has evolved from a database to a platform for high-performance applications, with customers across industries moving their SAP ERP footprint to SAP HANA to take advantage of the rapid computing capabilities and ability to manage and analyze large volumes of data in real time. Nucleus has found key motivators for moving SAP ERP to SAP HANA include process re-engineering, real-time process enablement, and business growth. It also found SAP is investing in specific solutions, partners, and value discovery workshops to help customers target how they can gain the most benefit from SAP HANA in their industry and business environment. To date, SAP claims more than 800 SAP Business Suite on SAP HANA contracts, with more than 200 of these projects live, and more than 7,600 partners trained on SAP HANA.
  • Design Thinking. SAP’s user-experience methodology follows the common themes of other leaders in usability including the introduction of a non-developer design team, flexible design spaces, and adopting the consumer user experience. These new design tenets are fine for new applications, but the bigger question is how to bring a more intuitive user interface and greater usability to existing SAP customers without a costly and disruptive upgrade path. SAP’s goal is to have a unified user-experience direction for all applications, and SAP is betting on SAP Fiori.
  • SAP Fiori. SAP’s HTML5-based application platform continues to support ongoing delivery of mobile applications that provide users with access to the most commonly used SAP functions on mobile devices. Nucleus has seen some innovative uses of SAP Fiori, particularly in the area of analytics and dashboarding, which enable users to access real-time information for decision making within an interface that is designed for their role and work environment. SAP Fiori’s design principles are relatively straightforward: Decompose application functions into task-based experiences; optimize for all devices, versions, and channels; and make applications coherent across use cases and devices.

Based on the direction and scale of SAP’s investment in these resources — and its renewed focus on increasing business value, lowering IT costs, and engaging users with more intuitive apps — Nucleus sees potential for SAP to both cement its positioning in much of its existing customer base with modernization initiatives and win customers completely new to SAP software.

Q: Overall, where would you say SAP software sits on the user-experience curve today?

If you had asked me two years ago, I would have had a very different answer for you. But in the past two years, we’ve seen SAP make big strides with SAP Fiori, its apps powered by SAP HANA, and leveraging its services teams to guide customers through modernizing their apps.
For example, the initial wave of mobile access from vendors was trying to give everyone everything on a mobile device. But from a real estate perspective, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. SAP Fiori is a good example of how to expose key parts of an application for tasks that make sense for a specific use case.
And SAP’s efforts are reflected in the ERP Value Matrix we do at Nucleus Research. We rate the vendors in terms of both functionality and usability, because these are the two key drivers for ROI from enterprise applications. We bumped SAP way up in the latest version. SAP has always been a leader in breadth and depth of functionality but has had some gaps in the usability areas. We’ve seen SAP make significant steps there.
All the big players are focused on creating a better end-user experience because now the business users are the ones calling the shots on the applications.


 Rebecca Wetteman  

All the big players are focused on creating a better end-user experience because now the business users are the ones calling the shots on the applications.
— Rebecca Wettemann, Vice President at Nucleus Research 

Q: How do those efforts by vendors translate to the customers’ ROI for these applications?

We tell clients that if their users won’t adopt the application, the ROI is always negative. We reviewed a set of case studies and found that cloud applications deliver 1.7x the ROI of on-premise applications. That’s not just because they are cheaper up front to install and deploy; it’s due to their ability to expand, change, and grow to meet the customer’s specific needs.

Q: Have all these trends changed how vendors interact with customers today?

Yes. We know from talking to vendors that they are keeping a close eye on their competitors. They recognize that demonstrating usability can’t be done through Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. You have to get users in front of your applications and get them to experience them. The days of the “imagine if you will” demo are over. Today, users expect to be able to see and use the applications.
Enterprise IT is no longer just a matter of putting a pretty application in front of a user. It’s about helping users understand how it makes them more productive and successful. Training today is less about how to use the application and more about what’s in it for the user.  

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