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In Praise of KISS (Keep it Simple SAP)

A commentary on SAP's Simple strategy coming out of SAPPHIRE NOW

by Dave Hannon

June 10, 2014

Cloud. UX. UI. Mobile. Consumerization of IT. Front end vs. back end.

For a long time, these various swirling concepts were only loosely connected for me, and I think for a lot of IT users. But a recent conversation with Rebecca Wettemann of Nucleus Research helped me connect the dots (you’ll be able to read that full interview in the July issue of insiderPROFILES). Wettemann described that the cloud has made enterprise applications like Salesforce and SuccessFactors available to a wider variety of IT users and buyers. As a result, enterprise IT buying decisions are being made more often by line of business teams than IT organizations (we documented this trend in Bringing Unauthorized IT Use Out of the Shadows.)

That’s an important distinction because when highly technical IT professionals are evaluating applications on behalf of end-users, the natural tendency is to compare functionality with the idea that end users will appreciate the widest variety of options. But that brings a risk of “technical overload.” Business users want applications that help them do their jobs better and improve their business but not much more. Loading up on extra options and functionality in business applications can in fact, slow productivity as users sift through hundreds of unneeded fields or deal with technical snafus caused by functionality they don’t even want.

As Nucleus Research pointed out in a recent brief, “After years of adding functionality and features to maturing enterprise software, the focus now shifts to usability as many end users are overwhelmed by fat, feature-rich solutions.” And this very insightful report from Deloitte on overwhelmed employees points out that "People no longer want more features in their enterprise software; they want 'one click' or 'one swipe' transactions ... In our most recent research on HR systems adoption, ease of use and user interface integration were rated as the most important factors in driving user adoption."

And Gartner confirms the trend will continue, saying “the impact of specialist cloud-based point solutions … will provide ample alternatives for business users frustrated by inflexible and expensive ERP modules.”

In other words, in today’s user-driven applications market, it pays to keep things simple. And that’s why the clear (and simple) message coming out of SAPPHIRE NOW resonated with me. When SAP CEO Bill McDermott said, “We can’t let complexity win” I knew exactly what he meant. I’m not a back-end developer but I interface with applications constantly. And like most application users at times I get frustrated with overly complex applications and systems that were designed (ironically) to help me do my job.

So for me, the most important thing about McDermott’s message was the audience it was directed at. This wasn’t a message designed to blow the socks off the techies by spewing out tech-heavy statistics to show how powerful the latest new back-end platform is. It wasn’t a message to wow the Wall Street types ("free" product messaging probably doesn't excite investors). This message was for the end user of SAP’s applications – the “customers” in the truest sense of the word. And it was a commitment to help simplify their experience in using SAP applications.

The timing of the simplification message from McDermott is spot-on. The pundits were crying for a new message from SAP and this one makes a lot of sense at time when the confluence of technology and business trends has business processes (and even SAP’s organizational structure as McDermott points out) getting more complex almost daily. As the authors of a recent book called Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity Without Getting Complicated emphasize, in a complex environment, adding layers of administration (or functionality) is not always the best solution. In many cases, the solution is simpler than it might appear. “The first step in applying smart simplicity is to find out what employees actually do; the next step is to change conditions so that employees do what the organization needs.”

And SAP customers are certainly perfect candidates for a more simplified experience. One example of that came in a recent interview I did with four users of SAP HR technology (both SAP and SuccessFactors) at the University of Kentucky who describe themselves as “non-technical.” The team described how the primary business case for their move to SuccessFactors was a more simplified user interface. When asked about the primary benefits of their current hybrid environment, Kentucky’s Michelle Bliffen didn’t put the functionality at the top of the list — instead she said, “The users really like it and the navigation is easy.”

The interview even provided an example of how a piece of functionality that is meant to simplify business processes can frustrate an entire organization when it doesn’t function properly (scroll to 4:38 in the video to find out what their biggest challenge was).  

I’m excited to see where SAP takes Simple. I’m eager to hear from SAP executives and leaders in our SAPinsider articles about Simple, but I’m even more excited to hear from SAP customers about how the efforts to simplify IT landscapes are helping them become better businesses. (And yes, consider that an invitation to all SAP customers to share your stories of simplification with us).

Keep it Simple, SAP. (Maybe KISS should have been the musical guest at SAPPHIRE NOW instead of Bon Jovi?)

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6/16/2014 12:20:19 PM

Forrester pointed to what they called the usability gap (or consumption gap) - this is the delta between what the users can consume (in terms of features) vs. the features that are being put into enterprise products. How many menus can one possibly navigate? In the quest to tackle this problem, a number of trends are occurring. The first one is "consumerization" of business apps. Many of us can use the apps we download to our smartphones with ease. Why can't business apps be that easy to use? The other trend is apps that do a few things extremely well - this is behind the success of many mobile apps. SAP has responded to these challenges with SAP Fiori - these make the interaction with backend transactions very easy; very focused. The other trend that we see is the spatial enablement of business applications. Everyone reading this has used their favorite nav tool on their mobile device. Spatial enablement of business applications puts the "map in the app" - workflows now revolve around the map. Spatial enablement also makes consumption of BI analytics much easier - a picture is worth a thousand words; putting BI on a map may well be worth 10,000 words. Putting the results of analytics on a map reveals what I call geospatial patterns in big data - patterns that can't be seen any other way. We hear Bill McDermott loud and clear: we are bringing simplicity to SAP technology by putting the "map in the app"...