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User Experience Takes Center Stage at SAP TechEd Amsterdam 2013

by Scott Priest, Editorial Director

November 15, 2013

I went to SAP TechEd 2013 in Amsterdam last week expecting to hear roughly the same soundbites that I'd heard for the last three years at most SAP conferences: HANA this, big data that, cloud, mobility, and so on.

And while there was plenty of that (and why shouldn't there be?), I was struck by a new topic taking over as the focus point of many presentations: user experience (UX).

As detailed in SAP's head of application innovation Bernd Leukert's keynote, and further expounded upon in nearly every session I attended throughout the conference, UX is about more than just some better-looking screens. It's even about more than SAP Fiori, SAP's attempt to beautify and simplify SAP GUI screens, and whose first incarnation has tackled the 25 screens that reach 87% of the SAP customer base. SAP is looking to improve its user interfaces (UI), sure, but UX is about more than that: It's about providing more flexibility, reducing clicks and taps, and better engaging the user.

SAP has been headed in the direction of UX and design thinking focus increasingly in recent months and even years -- see this YouTube clip they posted from March of 2012 explaining the effect of their app hauses (centers of design thinking) has had on their culture, focusing on their app haus in Dublin.

The emphasis on design thinking and UX stretched beyond the sessions at TechEd. It also was front and center in the exhibit hall -- literally. In SAP's massive booth area in the middle of the exhibit hall sat a glassed structure in which a handful of SAP reps surrounded screens and engaged attendees about design thinking and UX concepts.

The design thinking concept really seemed to catch on with the admin and developer folks who made up much of the attendees. I noticed on multiple occasions that when I went by an over-crowded session in the open hall that featured smaller, Q&A-based sessions, the topic was always design thinking. It also was often the subject of questions in breakout sessions, even if the session itself was focused on something very different. It seemed to be a two-way conversation between the attendees and SAP.

My biggest takeaway from the conference was that, while SAP is certainly going to be focusing plenty on HANA, the cloud, mobility, and all the other enterprise tech subjects you've become familiar with in recent years, UX doesn't appear to be a flash in the pan. It looks to be a real focus area for SAP, and not just for the people working directly on SAP Fiori, or in its design services unit. It stretches throughout virtually all of SAP's units and should thereby spread into the ecosystem going forward.

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