I once read that first impressions count and the human brain takes only milliseconds to form that impression when we first meet someone, which I believe stems from deep back in the process of human evolution, where a quick ‘friend or foe’ decision could make the difference between life and death. Like it or not, we can’t get away from our evolutionary origins, and those first instincts are often a gut reaction, made with little conscious thought, and based on only the most superficial (if any) evidence. Make a bad impression, and it can take a lot of hard work to change that initial opinion.
SAP these days is the sum of many parts. Since the early 2010s, the solution has grown, often through acquisition, from the monolithic ERP system that it once was, to a suite of integrated best of breed applications – many of which are available as SaaS solutions. SAP S/4HANA sits at the ‘Digital Core’ of this suite, flanked by other key solutions, including Ariba, SuccessFactors, Concur, Fieldglass, and C/4HANA to name but a few. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that whilst this process has led to a suite of products that outclasses its rivals from a perspective of functional richness, it has resulted in a somewhat disjointed user experience.
Transition through releases and acquisitions
The first step in the transition of one of SAP’s acquisitions into the fold is integration at a functional level, which tends to evolve over several releases. Taking a broader perspective, this is the critical point after an acquisition, in allowing the systems to talk to each other at a data sharing and transactional level. But user experience is a much bigger job to change than the ‘under the hood’ integration, and hence each of the SAP products has tended to have a rather different look and feel. This can cause issues with perception – particularly in the SaaS and public cloud space when competing against other packages, which while being significantly less functionally rich, present a more coherent user interface.
We have sometimes seen SAP lose out in a competitive procurement process to other (some might say inferior) products, with this being cited as a contributory factor. Direct evidence of the power of that first impression! SAP’s description of Fiori 3.0 is “Consistent, intelligent and integrated” but what does this mean? It can be summarised as follows:
Consistent – some of the changes here are around detail for example harmonisation of colours etc. but to me, it is still a huge step in the right direction, ensuring that all products in the suite have a common look and feel, so that they start to feel like a single product.
Intelligent – this is another area that excites me. I am enthusiastic about the potential in some of the innovations bringing intelligence to S/4HANA – particularly tools such as Situation Handling (alerting users to business events requiring their attention) and CoPilot (bringing powerfully integrated collaboration, and options around conversational ERP). It is great to see improvements and integration across the SAP product suite around these tools woven into the Fiori 3.0 roadmap.
Integrated – this is the big improvement to me, finally being able to seamlessly present content from all the different products in the SAP suite on a single consistent homepage. Sure, currently, you could deliver this manually through the creation of custom tiles linking through to the other products, but this tended to be time-consuming.
A really big win in this space will be the introduction of a universal inbox (the lack of a universal workflow to date has been a bit of a bugbear of mine). This will give a manager a common point of contact for all their tasks, whether it be approving leave for members of their team, signing off expense claims or approval of purchase costs. I think it is fair to say that SAP possesses a suite of products that are each best of breed functional solutions. However, over the last couple of decades, the pace of acquisition has meant that true integration between each of these products has lagged a step behind. When integration comes, functional integration tends to move a step ahead of user experience.
I have long felt the need to have some sort of sticky tape to closer bind the products, and to help deliver a more seamless user experience (to the extent of investigating whether there might be mileage in developing bespoke IP to deliver this). I think Fiori 3.0 will certainly be a step-change in unifying SAP’s products (with the 1908 and 1909 releases of S/4HANA Cloud and on-premise respectively). Each of the SAP products is very powerful in its own right – but without something to bind them, then the power can never truly be harnessed.