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Pete Lagana on Fiori and User Experience: UX Is Now "In the Driver's Seat"

October 27, 2014

In this interview from SAP TechEd Las Vegas, SAP Mentor Peter Lagana discusses how UI5 and Fiori are changing SAP applications. His take? 

So it’s really exciting -- user experience went from not even really being in the car, and now it’s kind of in the front seat for SAP.

Listen to the podcast or read our transcript of the interview here:

Kristine Erickson, SAPinsider: Hello and welcome, I’m Kristine Erickson with SAPinsider, here with SAP Mentor Peter Lagana. Pete is a senior vice president and CTO at Excellis Interactive.

We’re here today at TechEd in Las Vegas and chatting today about SAP Fiori and the SAP user experience and announcements around that. So thank you for joining me, Pete.

Peter Lagana, Excellis Interactive:  Absolutely, great to be here, thank you Kristine.

SAPinsider: As I mentioned we’re at TechEd, and we’ve had a couple of days of keynotes and sessions already. So maybe the first question is: What did you take away from the keynotes on the topic of user experience, and Fiori specifically?

Peter Lagana: When I listened to the keynote, the first thing that pops into my mind is: Everything always comes full circle. In one of my birds-of-a-feather expert sessions, I talked about user experience and the journey that SAP’s had over the years. And it’s really cool that after so long of SAP having this oil-and-water kind of mixture when it comes to user experience, it’s totally taken a 180 now.

Not only are there better products out there, but there’s better technologies and open standards. You’ve seen it manifest itself in things like UI5 and Fiori and the HANA Cloud Platform, which is based upon a lot of that openness you see in the industry today.

So it’s really exciting -- user experience went from not even really being in the car, and now it’s kind of in the front seat here for SAP...

SAPinsider: Could you talk a little about Fiori in the cloud and Open UI5? There was definitely a focus on openness in the keynote, so what does that mean for user experience?

Peter Lagana: It’s great, right? One of the things that everybody has to keep in mind is that for a development paradigm, or a product, or a technology to take off and go viral, you have to make it easy for people to not only use it, but to access it and have access to it.

So that’s when you talk about Open UI5. This is essentially UI5 a programming language for SAP  - but it’s exposed and it’s licensable. It’s free, it’s on the open market. So now you have developers all over the world that could start developing in UI5. And it’s open, in much the same way developers are out there developing applications using jQuery or Bootstrap or other frameworks. Now Open UI5 basically brings UI5 as a development toolset to developers everywhere all over the world.

And they’re not restricted from using it. It’s not proprietary SAP UI technology anymore, it’s open. Think about something like Web Dynpros, some proprietary UIs in the past that SAP had -  Business Server Pages, Business HTML, which are very proprietary to how SAP built their user interfaces of their products over the years. Now with UI5, not only is it a better product based on HTML5 and openness, but now it’s open to the worldwide development community, so you don’t necessarily have to have SAP in order to develop UI5 apps.

SAPinsider: So, there are some implications for user experience here - presumably that means a variety of developers and designers who might have a different approach to design. Do you think that consistency will be an issue? Will there be a consistent look and feel - and do you even see an issue with that?

Peter Lagana: Well I think that it’s set up to be consistent, certainly, if you drag and drop and you use UI elements or UX elements. However, it’s at a point where, if users wanted to develop, let’s say, screen controls in UI5 or tables to go through and do paginations or sorting or things of that nature, or even screen transitions, the programming model is open to customizing that.

So you can end up having a standard SAP UI5 look and feel that is very template-like - and maybe lots of developers who just want to go with that out-of-the-box look and feel can do that. Or you can totally change it around now and make it look exactly how you want it to look, because you have access at that UI layer.

In the past with SAP’s technologies, which were proprietary, forget about open -  you just simply didn’t have those options.  So, it’s good. You don’t want everything to look exactly alike, you want them to use the toolset to make it work for those specific business cases, which may or may not be exactly like other business cases.

SAPinsider: And were there any uses of Fiori that made an impression on you this week?

Peter Lagana: I don’t know if I can just pick out one specific app or one thing in terms of a Fiori app or a UI5 app that really just stood out to me as a great example.  I think it’s just the openness of the technology and how it’s now pervading everything that’s coming from SAP from a UI perspective.

To me that’s the most impressive thing about it. You’re going to have people out there that are developing UI5 apps that maybe otherwise would never have a stake in any SAP technology. Well, all of a sudden now they’re using this open protocol, or this open toolset.

 So to me, it’s more about just a movement, and an open movement, in the right direction.

SAPinsider: Any advice now for developers about the future of user experience? Where to start, what to look for?

Peter Lagana: With Fiori-based applications and the UI5 toolset, that doesn’t mean you snap your fingers and suddenly end up with an awesome application. You still have to follow your basic principles: good design, wireframing, coming up with your comps, your mock-ups to get your pixel-perfect layout, prototyping and clickables, things like that. Then you can use the UI5 toolset to make those things come alive. But you still need to pay attention to those principles.

And the other thing that developers should look at it is that you can start from the ground up, or you can start with an existing application. Just don’t try to get too complex. One of the cool things I see with open UI5 and the Fiori suite of applications is that it’s built on a one-two-three-click principle. You can make applications that are a lot more complex. But you’re seeing most of these apps that are really not the high-level use cases that are for complex tasks. Try to minimize clicks as much as possible. Make it so people can tap a few times, swipe a few times, so they can accomplish a task.

So the advice I would have for designers and developers using the UI5 toolset is to reduce and limit the amount of clicks or user interaction. Don’t try to tackle too many super-complex use cases because it will backfire on you, even though you’re using a cool toolset.

Of course there will always be outliers, right? But keeping it simple is a good rule here for these kinds of apps.

SAPinsider: Again, sticking with design principles.

Peter Lagana: Exactly, you have to start with a good design. And SAP always likes to say the business case drives everything you do from a software perspective. It’s really very true: You can develop a really slick-looking application or something that looks awesome, but if it doesn’t, at the end of the day, accomplish a business task or some functional need that a user or business has, you’re just left with something that looks pretty.

So I think what you see now with user experience paradigms in SAP is, you’re seeing just more embracing of an open UI movement.  And this is very much against the SAP grain over the years. It’s just so cool to see that big, huge SAP is embracing these small development communities and openness.

Because you can’t just keep everything proprietary and say, Hey, buy our product, buy this because we’re SAP -- and then you have to teach people to learn new UI controls. Take styling a Web Dynpro application: You have to use the theme editor, or you have to go and touch the code directly on the server. Well, lots of people over the years have said, Why can’t I just have a style sheet -  “one style sheet that rules them all” type of thing -  and use my development tool of choice? Because that’s not how it was built.

But now that the focus is on openness, you can - in the same way you develop a jQuery application or using Cordova or other third-party libraries. In the same exact way, using a toolset that you’re already using, like in Eclipse or something like that, you can now do that for UI5.

And that’s how you’re going to get people to embrace the technology, both from a developer perspective and from a consumer perspective.  Because the more developers that are out there using UI5 and building things, the more their users are going to start using it.  

SAPinsider:  That is all great insight into Fiori and great takeaways from TechEd! Thank you very much for taking the time today.

Peter Lagana: No problem at all, it’s a pleasure. And when you’ve been involved in the SAP community for so long, and you’ve lived this long journey over the years, and have seen where they’ve come from a user experience perspective, it’s kind of exciting times that we’re living in now! So thank you.

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