So I realize it’s been quite some time since I blogged, and for those of you who are regular readers of this blog, I can simply apologize to you at dinner since I’m fairly certain you are members of my immediate family. For the rest of you who stumbled onto this blog now or in the past, you’re coming back at a perfect time because today I’m starting my new series of blog posts titled –
“I’m smarter than you, so do it this way DUMMY.”
Hmm – you know what? Maybe that’s not the best idea. But I can tell you from personal experience, a lot of people feel like that’s exactly what a company is telling them when they are forced to use a product or solution that supposedly makes their jobs easier and in reality, it does the exact opposite.
So what happens when that occurs? In the vast majority of situations, a new process/tool/workflow shows up to get around or “fix” this shiny new product that was supposed to be this huge improvement for everyone. And many times, that new workflow consists of the following steps –
- Play Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine who gets stuck having to actually use the system they all hate
- Loser is forced to login every day and dump that data into an Excel file
- Excel file is sent to a large distribution list via e-mail
- Process repeats until management complains no one is entering data into the system they paid all this money for and demands users use it “or else”
- Users begrudgingly attempt to use system for short period of time and then decide anything is better than doing it this way
- Go to Step 1
Or maybe you have people sitting at their cubicles muttering “Where the hell is the Start Button?” and complaining they can’t open multiple windows on their desktop. So these users go out and buy add-on products to bring that functionality back and give them the user experience they want, not the one they feel has been forced upon them.
A great article on ZDNet recently asked the question “Will 90 percent of users always hate Windows 8?” In it, the author quotes a book called “Simple and Usable” by Giles Colborn that classifies users this way:
- A tiny percentage (say one percent) of users are experts, with a high tolerance for learning.
- A few more (say nine percent) of users are willing adopters — they have an expectation that the product will meet their needs, and some (albeit low) tolerance for learning.
- The remaining 90 percent of users just use technology to get a job done and have no tolerance for learning at all. These are mainstreamers.
I now have this quote tacked up next to my autographed picture of Mr. T in my home office, as should every person and company who want to build and/or sell software. Right about now, you may be asking “Why the hell does he have an autographed picture of Mr. T on his wall?” Since the answer to that should be fairly obvious, let’s address the other question you might have – “What does this have to do with Netweaver Gateway?”
Believe it or not, a lot of people think SAP has a usability problem. I know, this is stunning news for anyone in the past several years (decades?) who’s ever had the privilege of firing up the ol’ SAPGUI and was immediately transported back to the era of Gerald Ford and H.R. Pufnstuf as they navigated a sea of grey, bland screens in a desperate attempt to find the right grey, bland screen they needed to do their particular job.
I heard several variations of this feedback when I was at Microsoft TechEd last year and people saw I worked at SAP on my attendee badge. It was quite jarring to have random strangers stop me at the show just to complain about their SAP systems and how much they hated using it. I’d try to glean what we could do better from them, and their feedback was pretty much all the same – they wanted to use Microsoft technology on top of their SAP backend because what they were using right now was, well, let’s just use the word “unpleasant” as catch-all to their feedback.
I’ll pause for a moment here to allow you to recover from the shocking revelation that people at a Microsoft technology conference preferred using this technology for their front-end. But they are simply re-stating what their users are telling them (and I’ve had users tell me directly as well) – There are among the over 1 billion people worldwide using the Office Suite, according to Microsoft.
What’s the one piece of common functionality found in basically every piece of BI software out there? The ability to export to Excel.
What’s first program people launch when they boot up their PC? Microsoft Outlook.
This is why Microsoft and SAP developed Duet Enterprise in the first place – “These solutions allow business or casual SAP users to interact with SAP data and processes directly from the familiar Microsoft applications, thus boosting productivity for the whole company.”
I like Duet Enterprise quite a bit, but that was designed specifically for SharePoint originally, and a lot has changed since that time. The biggest change is in respect to the advancement of the Open Data Protocol (oData) and the ability to use this to easily expose the SAP data leveraging Netweaver Gateway. This advancement, combined with new functionality from Microsoft in existing clients (like Excel) and development tools (like LightSwitch) give users powerful new options they can leverage to better run their business.
Generally, the most common scenarios I’ve been asked about are as follows –
- I just want the friggin data in Excel (this request comes from my wife, although I cleaned it up a bit to keep this blog kid-friendly)
- Instead of just running a report, I want to be able to run analysis and then take measurable action on it (commonly referred to as “Actionable BI”)
- I want to use my SAP data in conjunction with my group’s local data so I can better run my business
- I want to build a CRUD application on top of my SAP data using LightSwitch
- I’m hungry, I want some Goldfish (I just heard this from my son, who found me down in the basement typing this up. Be right back.)
Over the next few days, I’ll be walking through each of these scenarios and how you can accomplish this using Microsoft Office and LightSwitch to provide the type of interaction these disgruntled users were looking for, culminating in a live demo you can try of an HTML5 mobile app running against an SAP systems that was built in minutes with NO CODE. Each of these posts will highlight the benefits you’ll see when you are combining Microsoft and SAP technology to best run your business.