'Consumers got spoiled by Google': The UX revolution underway at SAP

Once, applications at the office, like workers at the office, were supposed to be 'professional'. Not anymore, says SAP's Sam Yen.
Written by David Shamah, Contributor

Once upon a time, enterprise apps were staid and businesslike, with standard login screens, menus, and protocols. But those old rules of UI design are falling away - and when a backbone of the enterprise application industry like SAP begins developing enterprise apps for the Apple Watch, you know that change really has taken hold.

SAP is developing a dozen cloud-based apps for the Apple Watch based on its SAP HANA platform. While developing an app - even an enterprise-oriented one - for a new platform is just a matter of programming and following the rules of an API or SDK, it's the philosophy of embracing such apps that is so revolutionary, according to Sam Yen, the man behind the apps' user interfaces.

Today, more than ever, a positive user experience is important to enterprise software users. "In polls we take of our enterprise customers, it turns out that UX is the most important factor in how they rate an application," said Yen, SAP's chief design officer, in Israel to participate in a conference on UX and design. "We took that and ran with it, developing a new way for users to interface with applications, based on our Fiori UX."

Sam Yen
Image: SAP

Blame it on the UX experiences consumers get everywhere else, said Yen: today's users are a bit "spoiled," to use a popular term. "Take something like a Google search," said Yen.

"Not long ago, that would have been considered a sophisticated piece of enterprise software itself, as it is able to parse through huge reams of data in milliseconds. But the interface is so simple and easy to use.

"We've become so used to that level of UX sophistication that even for things like database searches, employee management applications, ERP software, and much more. Users are seeking to bridge the UX dichotomy. If sophisticated apps on their smartphones are easy to use, why do the applications on their office systems have to be complicated and user-unfriendly?"

Developing UX-friendly apps for the Apple Watch, then, is just the next logical step in this process.

For enterprise software companies, the idea of UX as a priority doesn't necessarily come easy - after all, heavy-duty enterprise apps aren't thought of as user-friendly, much less fun. But SAP saw a change in UI trends coming from way back, said Yen. "Three years ago we already had major enterprise customers demanding better UX, so we developed a platform - really a new paradigm - to enable a better experience," said Yen. That platform is Fiori, which allows quick adaptation of enterprise applications into user-friendly apps. Introduced in 2014, Fiori has become popular among a wide range of SAP customers, said Yen.

Fiori apps are written in HTML5, allowing them to be quickly deployed for almost any platform. While there are a number of cloud-based HTML 5 implementations designed to make complicated tasks easier (Israeli-based Gizmox is an example), Fiori is by far the most ambitious - aimed specifically at the company's enterprise customers, enabling them to develop interfaces suitable for use outside the office.

Among the Fiori offerings are apps to keep track of sales, analyze sentiment, keep track of project milestones, monitor database activity, generate risk reports, and much more. Among the apps currently being developed for Apple Watches: SAP Wire, an instant messaging app; SAP News, which provides briefs on a company's activities; and SAP Mobile Documents, which allows users to make presentations controlling their iPhones or Apple Watches.

According to a study released last month by Gartner, demand for mobility in enterprise applications is hitting record highs - and only by prioritizing UX will companies be able to meet demands. "In our studies, we've found that UX is such an important issue that IT managers and executives sometimes base their choice of which job offer to take based on how they can work with company applications. That's how far IT consumerization has come, and that's why we are moving forward with Fiori."

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