As the year draws to a close, I suddenly find myself in a nostalgic mood. My reminiscing, combined with trying to put together some approaches as to how we better manage knowledge and the dissemination of information to end users in the face of a constantly evolving SAP solution got me thinking. SAP user interfaces, training, user support – these have all evolved over time but where might they be going in the future. It’s time for a trip down memory lane and visits from four, not three ghosts…
“An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before
it will explain itself.”
The ghost of SAP present – S/4HANA
Long, long ago, we were immersed in the world of mainframe systems, accessible only via green screen terminals. Processes were driven by the use of transaction codes and function keys were used to drive actions.
Users needed a lot of training, and ready reference materials to support them through their day to day jobs. Continuing with my reminiscent theme – I remember having laminated help cards on my desk listing transaction codes as a quick reference guide, with detailed training materials being delivered in huge A4 ring binders. A lot of trees died to support this!
The ghost of SAP past – R/3 & ECC
By the time we reached the early 1990s, R/3 appeared on the scene – with its client/server architecture and graphical user interface. At the time it seemed like a giant step forward. The system was still pretty transaction driven and not entirely intuitive, but the 20+ years this period covers, there was gradual improvement and evolution. Training was still very classroom-based, and there was still a lot of hard copy material needed to support users, but with the pace of new releases being relatively slow. The changes between releases were often not major with the majority of clients often sticking with their current release for long periods of time.
The approach to self-service help and making information more readily available gradually got bit more high tech. I remember SAP Help being delivered on a CD (back when PCs actually had CD ROM drives). I had a whole batch of these kicking around in the study cupboard for a long time! With the advent of the internet, help then became available online. We also saw the advent of embedded help, with the F1 key providing field-based help information.
The ghost of SAP present – S/4HANA
S/4HANA with its Fiori user interface definitely represents a step change in terms of being intuitive, though occasionally when you scratch beneath the surface of an app, you may come across a WebGUI-based rendering of an old ECC transaction. These are gradually being weeded out over time.
For me, the key development in terms of assisting the end user is the delivery of embedded context-sensitive help for the Fiori apps. This approach to user support is standard in S/4HANA Cloud, and I believe it can also be deployed in the on-premise version – but is still not universally available across all apps. It represents a real step forward, offering users access to simple self-help for the app, details on recent updates, information on key fields, and links to broader documentation and click through training simulations.
The much higher cadence of new releases (quarterly for S/4HANA Cloud), and the fact that each new release can bring a lot of change – it is useful to know that this help will contain a ‘what’s new’ section to highlight release related updates. These are also brought to the user’s attention the first time they launch an updated app.
CoPilot (SAP’s digital assistant) is starting to become a useful tool in providing user assistance, with the ability to ask natural language-based support questions – but like Alexa in the home, the outcome can still be a bit hit and miss.
The ghost of SAP yet to come
Where do we go from here? Millennials have high expectations when it comes to technology. Surveys indicate that up to date technology is very important to this user group when choosing a workplace – and can be a deciding factor when it comes to making employment decisions. Classroom training can be seen as archaic and e-learning is the general expectation. The ability to interact with colleagues electronically whether via social media or other collaboration tools is the norm, and increasingly, automation and AI are the expectation. How can these challenges be met in the context of SAP?
- Continue with the deployment of more Fiori apps to replace older WebGUI-based ones
- As part of implementation projects, deliver enhanced versions of the embedded help (which can be tailored with an Enable Now licence), incorporating customer specific documentation such as FAQ
- Further enhancements to CoPilot providing additional help and support
- Chatbots to bring more intelligence and automation to user support
So, like Scrooge, what lessons have I learned from being visited by these spirits? I can’t claim to have been personally changed as he was – but it is interesting to see the contrast in the pace of change over the last few years in comparison to the glacial evolution over the previous 30-odd years. We are living in interesting times – bah humbug!