December 2006

Yesterday I mentioned YouTube as a marketing channel, and the day before I wrote about simplicity.  Someone in the press release department is reading my mind.  This press release arrived in my inbox  this evening. I quote….

The second annual Developer Challenge brought together a select group of SAP developers from around the world to collaborate and compete to solve a creative problem. The topic of this year’s challenge, “Creating Simplicity: Innovation’s Great Paradox,” challenged contestants to develop new software based on, or extending, an existing SAP product that addresses one of four dimensions of simplicity: user interface, technical design, consumption or overall product experience.

This morning, I saw this post on SDN from SDN’s resident Austrian Comedian, Mario Herger.

The loudest sound you normally hear in the Silicon Valley is the buzz of the thousands of computer processor coolers in the Garage startups or the counting of the billions of venture capital money thrown at soon-to-rule-the-internet companies. But that past weekend, 42 of the meanest SAP developers and 6 UI designers flocked tgether, split into gangs of 8, saddled their horses and spent Saturday and Sunday sweating over their laptops to churn out real cool stuff.
Under the overall theme “Simplicity” – What do you need in the Wild West? A horse, a pistol and a sunset to ride into – top SAP developers and designers made that reality.
Stop, stop, hold your gun: SAP & Simplicity? How does this go together? Tar and feather the impostor telling us that this is possible.
Well, I tell you: It is possible. Over 48 hours without sleep, the 6 gangs just did, what the simplicity bandits at SAP tend to “featurize”. But we had the Simplicity Sheriff Aliza Peleg, in her more mundane life the general manager of SAP Labs, who took care of the simplicity bandits.

This is the slightly odd video introducing the weekend’s Challenge.

The winning entry

The eight members of team “Mission Simplicity” took the top prize with a demo that connected an SAP back-end system running an online store to the Second Life virtual world, which is regularly visited by more than one million users. The Second Life client program provides its users (known as Residents) with tools to view and modify the virtual world and participate in its virtual economy, which concurrently has begun to operate as a “real” market.

Here it is:

The second place went to  Team “S.W.A.T.7.D.”  with an RSS system that aggregates data from SAP and non-SAP systems and the Internet, enabling end users to personalize and “pull” information into customized widgets running on the desktop. 

 This may interest the RSS guru, Charlie Wood.

The third-place demo, presented by team “Abracadabra,” showed a sticky-note application that stores data contextually within SAP and non-SAP screens.

I wonder what the licensing implications  of SAP in Second life  will be? Vinnie will need to set up an Avatar  to beat us up on the Linden Dollar licences.

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SAP has some advertisements out on TV. Dennis mentioned that he had seen some on Sky Sports, and I’ve read that they are on the box in the US too. 

Dennis commented:

But then it has to get through the public perception of SAP as a player for the large company alone. At least that’s what it thinks it has to do. You may have noticed its recent TV advertising, which I first saw on late night Sky Sports.

Personally, I think it’s a waste of money. Do the general public care about SAP? I doubt it very much. The people who really care are other vendors, their distribution channels, industry observers and blog readers. SAP would be far better served connecting to ‘on the ground influencers’ who could tell the SAP story for it.

I have no idea whether it makes sense to have SAP advertisements at half-time in an American Football game  ( John  would tell me that at this point I should say Go Packers!)  But I think Dennis is dead right about the “on the ground influencers”…

According to the SAP  marketing folks the TV ads are working.

“I can tell you that just based on historical data, we are very, very pleased with the results of this campaign so far, not only in terms of the number of folks that are coming to the page in general but also the amount of time they are spending on the landing page and looking at the different customer success stories,”

The feedback from the punters is mixed, some pro some against. “I can think of a 100,000 ways to spend that money far more effectively.” vs “I see this campaign as a complement to their efforts in the IT and Finance trade magazines and shows”

I’ve watched the adverts on internal SAP TV. I think they are  mildly funny.  I especially enjoy this one.

Did I hear that right?

SAP has affordable software business management software for a midsize company like ours?

I’d give you a hug right now

If I wasn’t so afraid of HR

I’ve seen lots of banner ads, and the new SAP UK small and medium sized business  website is really rather neat from an aesthetic point of view. Nice design, videos etc….

I received  an email the other day (first mail in weeks that wasn’t spam)  saying that Vendorprisey  was becoming a bit of a “isn’t SAP great fest”, and that in order to remain “real” I should take off the ABAP coloured spectacles….or some thing to that effect… so herewith a mildish rebuke… 

What I don’t see

I understand that SAP  should run a traditional media campaign at the SME companies in manufacturing.  The CEO’s and CFO’s  of mid-size companies in Greenbay  watch Football. (By the way  Miller runs SAP,  if positive association helps) 

 But SME  doesn’t just mean small manufacturer building high precision compressors, or fast growing niche pharma companies. Yes, that is a market SAP should win and absolutely dominate. The manufacturing  and supply chain demands of those companies should be SAP’s bread and butter.  

Yet there is more to the SME than the global middelstand.  If SAP wants  more cool, hip fast-growing  companies like Timeout and Yak Pak  running SAP and then I think the marketing approach needs to be  fundamentally different.

Jonathan Schwartz at Sun makes the point that today’s start up are tomorrow’s fortune 500 companies. He realises that Sun needs to do a better job at targetting them, so he ran some sessions aimed at startups and small companies.

But there was a troubling, and consistent message. It usually went like this, “wow, this is a great idea… thank you, Sun. But hey, why are you guys here? I thought you built big expensive stuff that ran in banks?”

That is SAP’s challenge too.

When your 2.0 startup goes for a couple of million post seed  funding, I’d like your VC to be saying that  you need to get in place some basic systems so that you manage your cashflow better.  SAP has something we recommend. 

SAP could be the software that runs  the business of 2.0.   But if we are going to get the traction with the next eBay or whatever it is, we need to be talking the right language.  Conversations, not lectures.  

A simple example:  I would have  liked to embed the advert here, in this post,  but I can’t find it anywhere on the SAP site with an  external access. hmm. Where is the YouTube version?  Come to think of it,  If the ads were really good, I know plenty of pro-sap bloggers would have them on a side bar.  

And while we are at it I’d like to see an SAP  channel 9 and channel 10.  We have masses of interesting and passionate people, and great  engaging content  but so much of it remains buried or hidden behind the firewall.  Almost everyday there is a clip  about customer x,y or Z, or cool project abc  on the internal TV,  but this doesn’t seem to seep out beyond the confines of starship enterprisey.   

Zoli picked up on the Microsoft SME marketing campaign, he knocks it for poor execution, but it is at least an innovative approach.

I wonder if we could get a couple of  solution managers at SAP  to what the X-box folks have done. As  Scoble puts it:

Ahh, the future of tech evangelism is Laura Foy doing her shtick for Microsoft’s On10 YouTube style (she works in the evangelism group, same group I worked in).

The enterpriseyest of the them all, IBM, is in second life. And jokes about the mainframe on YouTube. 

Craig and the SDN guys get  community and conversation,  but we need a lot more of that sort of thinking.

Think  Gapingvoid, and re-read the cluetrain.

 I don’t just want to see SAP mentioned more on Techcrunch. I would like TechCrunch runnning  SAP.  And Vinnie,  how about this poster in Frankfurt airport?



Complexity is uncool.  Everybody keeps telling me that. 

I’ve just read an interesting post over at Parallax.  In this post  Niel discusses how some clever chaps in the consumer space have developed some really simple tools to do neat photo manipulations.

I noted that this was like taking 0.1% of the functionality of Photoshop and making it understandable by 99.9% of the population.

He comments.

When it comes to Web 2.0, providing less features to a broader audience may actually be more valuable

He suggests that the same may  happen in the enterprise space…

I’d just finished that when  serendipity arrived in my inbox.  Mike Tschudy, a colleague of mine based in Palo Alto, forwarded me this post from Joel  Spolsky of  Fog Creek Software.

long time ago, I wrote: “A lot of software developers are seduced by the old ‘80/20’ rule. It seems to make a lot of sense: 80% of the people use 20% of the features. So you convince yourself that you only need to implement 20% of the features, and you can still sell 80% as many copies.

“Unfortunately, it’s never the same 20%. Everybody uses a different set of features. In the last 10 years I have probably heard of dozens of companies who, determined not to learn from each other, tried to release ‘lite’ word processors that only implement 20% of the features. This story is as old as the PC.

He goes on (actually just go and read the whole post..)

Devotees of simplicity will bring up 37signals and the Apple iPod as anecdotal proof that Simple Sells. I would argue that in both these cases, success is a result of a combination of things: building an audience, evangelism, clean and spare design, emotional appeal, aesthetics, fast response time, direct and instant user feedback, program models which correspond to the user model resulting in high usability, and putting the user in control, all of which are features of one sort, in the sense that they are benefits that customers like and pay for, but none of which can really be described as “simplicity.”

If you’re using the term “simplicity” to refer to a product in which the user model corresponds closely to the program model, so the product is easy to use, fine, more power to ya. If you’re using the term “simplicity” to refer to a product with a spare, clean visual appearance, so the term is nothing more than an aesthetic description much in the same way you might describe Ralph Lauren clothes as “Southampton WASP,” fine, more power to ya. Minimalist aesthetics are quite hip these days. But if you think simplicity means “not very many features” or “does one thing and does it well,” then I applaud your integrity but you can’t go that far with a product that deliberately leaves features out. Even the iPod has gratuitous Solitaire game. Even Ta-da List supports RSS.

Somehow I need to reconcile this with the complexity culture discussion.

I guess I’ll use this again…

 Einstein said it best, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” 

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I’ve written about SAP GRC in the past, but figured it was time for an update.

At the recent analyst meeting, Doug Merritt covered SAP’s GRC story. It is well worth a watch.  He clearly articulates SAP’s strategy and progress to date. Slides here.  Doug looks after GRC, Analytics and Usability, an important job indeed.  He came from PeopleSoft a couple of years ago and has done a great of job of balancing “I’ve got a whole lot of great new ideas” and respecting our weird Walldorfivian ways. 

Business is good, strong Q3, product development on track, strong road map and the go-to-market is going well. Since  launching GRC, the analyst firms have picked up on term, so rather than play catch up I think  there is an element of (and I hate this term), shock, horror, thought leadership.  This GRC  market is growing rapidly, and it not just about SOX.  Risk Management, in the longer term, will be very significant.  (see demo here)

 The SAP site for GRC  took me to a Deloitte podcast with Lee Dittmar from Deloitte ,  Robert Worrall, CIO, Sun Microsystems; Holly Roland, Senior Director, SAP GRC Solutions Marketing, SAP; and Steve Taylor, CEO, Resolver Inc. You need to register on the Business Trends Quarterly site to listen. 

IBM’s purchase of Consul vindicates SAP’s  Virsa purchase, does this mean that the compliance space is consolidating already?

IBM to acquire Consul risk management, Inc. “Auditor-in-a-Box” Software Deal To Help Protect Clients From Internal Users Accessing Unauthorized Information

ARMONK, NY — December 5, 2006: IBM today announced it has entered into an agreement to acquire Consul, a privately-held software company headquartered in Delft, Netherlands with a principal office in Herndon, Virginia. Financial details were not disclosed. The acquisition is subject to regulatory approvals and is anticipated to close in the first quarter of the 2007 calendar year. Upon approval, Consul will become part of IBM’s Tivoli software unit.

I haven’t seen the Consul product.

I’m suprised that Oracle haven’t bought something in this space.  I would have thought a cool compliance product that could connect across dozens of products orginally from different vendors  would be just what the doctor ordered. 


My house is full of Lego. It is fabulous stuff unless you step on it in the dark without any shoes on. McKendrick on ZDNET, whose blog is well worth a regular read, brings up the Lego analogy in the SOA context.

Is LEGO block-building a valid analogy for SOA application building? I think it very adequately captures the essence of what SOA is about, though it’s understood that SOA building is much more complex. ‘Erector set’ of course may better describe it, because it involves some nut-and-bolts work rather than simply “snapping” components together.

Perhaps we could pull some definitions together and conclude that the ‘enterprise’ is a series of interconnected businesses that can be snapped together on demand, like LEGO blocks, to serve specific market needs as they arise

Lots of other folks use the Lego analogy. If you Google SOA and Lego you would think that Lego is an SOA company.

Potsdam University, near Berlin, has received considerable funding from Hasso Plattner, An SAP founder and former CEO. He also lectures there a lot, and is determined to help build the next generation of software developers and designers at the HPI. Hasso also does a lot at Stanford. Having been one of the original SAP founders you could forgive him for getting out the pipe and slippers, but he seems busier than ever now. He keeps an eye out for new ideas for SAP, but he has a real passion for the next generation.

As an aside, speaking of Lego, there is a project going on at the HPI to make the .NET run-time available on the Lego Mindstorm platform. By the time my kids get a bit older, I may find myself stepping on a global supply chain. SAP on a Lego brick here we come.

But seriously, watch Hasso Plattner talking about design. It isn’t a presentation aimed at financial investors and analysts, but at the developers and designers of the future. It may give you a different insight into SAP.

There is a full 90 minute lecture on the HPI site (you will need serious bandwidth to download it) and a shorter highlight cast. (He has a wicked suit on)

It is a brilliant lecture, he speaks with a deep passion, and a profound grasp of the history and the future of our industry. I’d suggest that every single SAP employee listens to this, in fact anyone in software should, whether you are a SOA wizard, or deeply into user experience, or even better, both.

About quarter of the way through he made this comment.

The Lego bricks are not the model for corporate or enterprise software. Lego bricks are not the model for architectural models. No architect in the world uses Lego for models, and they are a few magnitudes simpler than enterprise software.

And later he said.

The ones that are running around and saying this is bricks and we just put them together are misleading you, regardless of how prominent they are

I’ll take a bet, I put money on it…that I’m right.

There is lots more to this podcast, but if Hasso says stop talking about Lego in the context enterprise software, then perhaps he is worth listening to. No more pictures of Lego on slide 567.

Other tidbits from Hasso….. The coffee cup story is a classic, as is the Porsche Cost Accounting programme grinding the production to a halt, the fingernail incident, people centric design, big companies and innovation, Excel, Kitchens, SOA, Complexity, Hackers R Us, Spiderwebs, the design process, IDEO, desirability, vitality, feasibility, most software is hated, outside-in, Apple, Steve Jobs, Engineering and Design relationship, Waterfall methods sucked 30 years ago, SAP naming conventions, distributed databases in the 1990’s, ideological thinking, prototypes, the history of ABAP, Dietmar Hopp, Powerpoint, SOA is not a value in itself, a demo of a SAP-GIS mashup-composite thingy, post its, and a video clip about a design workshop at SAP Labs, empathy first, we had the luck to have our first office at the customer, I learnt everything about account receivables by watching, and he finishes with a neat SAP Bash.

I’ve read Jeff’s post about the culture of complexity and I’d agree that often we make things too complicated, but then, watching Hasso, one point struck me. He said something like cars today are much better than cars from the 1950’s, they are also a lot more complicated.

As Einstein said, everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Disclaimer: Lego is an SAP customer!

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Most of the Enterprise Irregulars blogging coverage of this week’s  SAP analyst event was neutral to mildly negative.  Look at Dennis, Jeff, Jason, Dan.  I’ve had a rather busy couple of days,  so I’ve only the viewed the Webcast this evening. 

Vinnie commented as follows:

Reading the posts from SAP’s  analyst summit from fellow Irregulars – Dennis, Jeff, Jason, Dan  I think it may be time to embargo news for SAP also. It’s just lots of big ticket/low payback projects (SOA, Compliance, Duet), fixation (on Oracle), self-delusion (Shai saying SAP will have 10,000 customers on SOA by end 2007, compared to 400 today; Peter Graf suggesting  there are no integration costs around SAP. News to SAP’s not-so-small SI ecosystem).

Like Mark, I hope Vinnie continues to blog about SAP, even if he does  knock us. It is good to have the dialogue.   I don’t think that he does the event justice though. Look and  listen yourself and make up your own mind.   

It seems to me that Josh Greenbaum went to a different event.  He is really positive.

In the category of overall market leadership, SAP took the biggest leap of all, and landed squarely in the process. On the morning of the second day of the conference, SAP’s Peter Zencke unveiled what the company calls a “SOA by Design” platform that effectively will let a mid-market company switch on or off a select set of processes that in turn will yield a pre-configured MySAP system. To answer one of Dennis Howlett’s questions, this will in turn be potentially available in SaaS mode, which of course is exactly what the mid-market would love to see. The Zencke demo was definitely a live demo, running on a system back in Waldorf, and complete with a “server not found” error message. But it had the right effect: highlighting not only SAP’s ability (thanks to its partnership with IDS Scheer) to model complex business processes in a SOA environment, but also showing that, underlying the theory of SOA and the theory of model-based deveopment are some very serious and extensive business processes that SAP owns and can deliver to its customers’ advantage.

It is a pity that the second day isn’t on line yet. I hope the analyst relations folks stick it up soon. I’d like to watch the Peter Zenke  demo. (I’d guess that having board members that have a passion for and deep grasp of code  is a whole lot better than being run by investment bankers.)

The mid-market project has been called A1S internally, and mentioning outside SAP  was theoretically taboo.   It is a relief now that the A1S story is now out in the open.

The blade centre model is a take on SaaS that some of the SaaS priesthood will deem impure, but I think proof will be in the delivery. 

Now the  “go to market story ” must come together.  Many of brightest developers here at SAP have been working hard over the last couple of years, it is now time for the marketing folks to do their job. I hope the messaging will be simple and compelling. The product will  be.  I have seen it and it rocks.

I do worry that we have a tendency to overly focus on the recipe  and not on the meal. 

Jason also covered the Citigroup’s Thill & AMR talk software session.  Lots of positives for SAP there, and some key things we need to focus on.

Bruce cautioned that SAP and Oracle need to do a better job at articulating the value proposition of their new SOA-based platforms, because many customers remain unclear about how the technical aspects of the new platform really benefit them in terms of improving business process.

Bruce and Shep agreed that it all comes down to SOA and converging the marketing hype with business value to customers. Both Oracle and SAP are spending a ton of marketing dollars and messaging on SOA; yet their customers remain very confused and unclear about the value proposition.

In a recent note Jim Shepherd commented

One of the best indications of a technology maturing is the vendors finally stop talking about it. We may finally be reaching that point with service-oriented architecture (SOA).

I’m hoping that we stop talking about SOA, and just show the applications that use it. 


Many sales presentations are cruel and unusual punishments for prospects.  They get locked in a dark room, see some screens and have lots of slides read to them in a jargon language they don’t understand. Sometimes I’m sure they sign the deal just so that they can see daylight and their friends again.

Anyone who does presentations should read Presentation Zen

However,  herewith a blast from the past.

A few years ago here in starship enterprisey  we put together a little play for a presales training course.  We called it the Bistro.  Eric, the Chef was especially impressive.  As this was pure theatre, we don’t have a recording. 

A sales presentation in one act

Cast: Roger, sommelier and Maître D’ at the Enterprise Bistro. Eric, Chef. Philip Kangaroo. Matthais and Katja, customers.

Music playing  – wait until everyone is sitting down….

Enter Roger, sommelier and Maître D’ at the  Bistro.

Roger: Welcome to the Enterprise bistro. The best in the world. We have over 9000 customers, we have Michelin and Gartner Stars, we have more potato peelers than anyone else. We are the best. We are not arrogant. We love vegetarians. We are Global leader. Check out the gastro-quadrant. 

Lots of famous people have eaten here. We have references.

Enter customers (Matthias and Katja)

Look around for a chair. Ignore everything that Roger is saying. Use lots of expressions to show consfusion as to why there is no menu or chair….Remain standing.

Roger: We even have a french cook, and he isn’t on strike.

 Enter Eric the Chef.

Eric: I am a chef not a cook!!!  (Mix in lots of complicated french) before you eat we will show you some more powerpoints.  Let me tell about what we will make you eat today.

17 cloves of garlic, 4 onions, 6 stems of rosemary, 1 pinch of salt, 12 mgs of monosodium glutonmate, 1 fish, 1 cow, 1 kangaroo, various parts. 

We have 7 microwaves . We have 678 knifes from Germany and we have over 6000 people peeling potatoes in our state of the art peeling centres in Bangalore and Palo Alto. 

Roger puts the wine on the table

Roger: Here is your wine, it is the best red wine in the world. It is from South Africa.

Matthias:- We don’t drink wine!

Roger: Wine is best business practice you must have it. We have benchmarks to prove that it will improve the ROI of your meal.

Katja: We are from the international vegetarian society!

 Phillip (in kangaroo suit) enters stage left and hops around, Eric eventually catches him and brings him to the table.

Eric: Here is your steak it is a global steak. We bring the best from around the world into our restaurant we will configure it for your requirements. The plate will come with the next version as we have redesigned the look and feel of the plates. Your partner should have brought the chairs.  But rest assured we have best potatoes.

Matthias and Katja: Perhaps we should go somewhere else?


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I have decided  to share my secret demo weapon with you today,  partly because it ties into to the process-UI theme that I’ve been discussing in recent posts

It is also time I found a new secret weapon.

The GUI issue is one I have been battling here at SAP since I joined in 1995, and it was a factor behind doing the start up thing in 2000.    I suppose much of my work career has been spent competing with applications that look “sexier” than SAP does.

I wrote sometime ago about my Italian experience with GUIs.

As a presales guy, I have been on the receiving end of SAP’s clumsy GUIs for years. Time and time again, customers would tell me, SAP has the functionality, but PeopleSoft is prettier and sexy.

The best response to this was from an Italian  guy who wanted to buy SAP, but his US boss wanted PeopleSoft.

He said:”boss, in italy women she is sexy. in italy, some cars, like ferrari she is sexy, but graphical user interfaces, she is not sexy”

The room echoed with laughter and SAP won the deal. Grazie..

I also think that customer and partner GUI innovations will help kick GUI butt here.  But it is more than a GUI thing. It is a design thing.  We have hired some bright folks from diverse places like eBay and Apple, and there is a new design mentality starting to seep in here.  The consumer stuff is relevant, and we would be mad to dismiss  or underestimate its impact on the enterprise space.

This video clip was sent to me by a chap in the HR IT department at a customer a few years ago. His HR director had asked him to go and get some e-HR.  He used the video  to explain why putting a cool front end on an old process and system spagetti doesn’t help.  It creates an expectation that the process can’t deliver on.  Eat the broccoli before the ice cream. It also explains why you can’t just give a messed up process to an outsourcer and expect miracles.

I use this a lot. It means I have to talk less.

Prospects tend to expect death by powerpoint from SAP, and this never fails to get a laugh.  In fact, with this video I don’t need any powerpoints. 

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I’ve just left City airport in London – homeward bound should get home at midnight.  I left Frankfurt on the 7.00am flight, a long day for vendorprisey, so this post will say nothing of significance.  (Actually I’m finishing this up at home now)

If you were expecting a tussle with Vinnie or Nicholas Carr you will be disappointed.   I’ve noticed there is a bucket load of commentary to digest about the SAP analyst meeting, some positive, some not. I’ll return to that tomorrow.

On  the flight out I listened to the test match day 4 summary podcast from the BBC.  By the time I’d landed,  day 5 was over, and In case you are wondering, the Australians beat England again, exposing England’s long tail. Not much has changed since 1882

The highlight of Harris’ tour was a game billed as an “English XI” against “Dave Gregory’s Australian XI”; it was this game that later got recognised as a Test. Lord Harris’ side was weak, with a long tail. 

That folks, is the original meaning of the long tail.  

The Aussie commentator, former wicketkeeper, Ian Healy  summarises the 5th day  here.  

My German and American colleagues are amazed-baffled that I can get pleasure from a game that lasts five days, but the Indian colleagues  and I lament the lack of legal cricket coverage in Germany, despite the power of Internet radio and TV.  Clicking refresh on the cricinfo text based coverage is not quite as good.  I have been known to read a whole test match though. 

BBC, Channel 9,  if you are reading this the  long tail of cricket fans is in Walldorf.  I reckon we could even pick a side. I will be scorer and 12th man. 

I also listened to two of the recent  Redmonk podcasts. The combination of James and Cote is always interesting.  It a blast of contrasts.  James is all fireworks, Cote all silkysmoothlaidbackness.  James managed to remind me about CICS.  Cote interviewed the Rednun, Anne. I look forward to hearing and reading more from her. Her blog is in my RSS feed.

 I would like Cote to do a podcast of a  bedtime stories for geeks who can’t put down their blackberries at night.

“Hi, this is Cote on Redmonk Radio,  put down your blackberry now, close your eyes, and listen to the story of the three elastic cloud servers and the declarative ajax fairy.”

“Tomorrow, if you are very good, I’ll tell you the tale of how Ruby found her rails.”


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James Governor  has a  post about T-mobile using Adobe Flex as a front-end to SAP HCM (Training and events management)

The application in question is an employee-facing application, used for scheduling staff training sessions, including ongoing mail reminders and automated customised PDF documents for participants. It accesses SAP back end systems with a rich user interface. If you want to download the application it is open source and available on Flexcoders.

I found a gem in the comments

James –
I think things like this are only good for SAP and here’s why. SAP sucks at UI, they always have and they probably always will; the shift you are starting to see is that SAP has finally decided as a corporation that they can’t compete in the UI space, specifically on the web. From a business perspective they need to be focusing on the stability and diversity of their business applications, namely what they are best at. My CIO has said it a million times before, he can’t remember the last time someone said one of our R/3 systems was down. However, I can never remember him saying that people truly enjoy using them :-). SAP needs to allow customers to create new paths to their own data — you are starting to see this with the widget and scripting communities. Personally, though I am not sure the SAP customer base is ready to make these type of decisions for themselves. Customers have always bought a total solution from SAP, from database to UI so, it is interesting to see companies that are unafraid of those choices. As for the agile stuff, I am stewing on a new blog, I’ll be sure to trackback here.

Dan has a newish blog, I’ll be watching it with interest.   He is presenting something about SAP and Ruby at the SAP analyst’s conference. (Think it is this week) Look forward to reading about that.  I understand there will be some other announcements there too.

Dan nails SAP’s strengths and weaknesses in one paragraph.

But I’m not sure that he is right about SAP realising that it can’t compete on the UI. What we have realised though, is that we need to encourage customer and partner based UI innovation, not constrain it.  There is no “one” SAP GUI anymore, he is spot on about the multiple paths, and his concern about whether the customer base is ready for this is valid too.

 If you are interested in SAP UI strategy, I suggest you head over to SDN and read this blog post  from Filip and download the white paper. I’ve written a bit about my take on SAP UI strategy here.  Guiding customers to the right UI will become more important.  Choice creates freedom, but it also creates confusion.  Customers need more guidance here, that’s clear.  

I read Kathy Sierra  regularly.  She is the queen of user experience, and a must read.  I’d like to see her visit Walldorf and talk to our user design folks.  We have much to learn.

Workshipping at the user temple

(beware enterprisey rant)

I do worry though, as Bill Thompson does, about the dictatorship  of the UI.  (tip Vinnie)

Web 2.0 marks the dictatorship of the presentation layer, a triumph of appearance over architecture that any good computer scientist should immediately dismiss as unsustainable.

I can’t comment on the merits or demerits of AJAX,  I’ll leave that to the Rednun

I have a problem  with end-user idolatry.  It is just as bad as ignoring the user.  Sig, what do you reckon?  

 Read this manifestos from over at  gapingvoid 

1. Over 50% of any piece of software is communication with its end-user. To build good software a developing team should spend at least 50% of their time thinking about what and how they want to communicate. Preferably even more.

2. We want to create good software. And we want to collaborate with others to help them make end-user experience a central focus in all of their development efforts.

3. Shaping interaction is a privilege and we consider it an art.

4. With privilege comes responsibility. Our prime responsibility as software developers is to make sure people have a good time using our software.

It sounds lovely, doesn’t it.  It may work if you are developing computer games, but I think it misses the point of why companies need business applications.  If it was all about user happiness, it would be better  to hire a bus and give the users  a day at the seaside.

Maybe I’m being enterprisey here, but surely your responsiblility is to make sure the business runs better and faster? Sure, happy users is part of the story, but  I don’t think that the end-user should be the centre of the business application design.  The business objectives  should be the centre.

Things like  lower delivery costs,  more flexible shipments, faster to market, less defects,  satisfied customers, better forecasting,  market share growth-That is what enterprise software is about.

If your design principles are purely centered on existing user happiness, then you will continue to build a better horse and carriage, but I don’t believe you will move things beyond where you are today. 

The user of the system is not always the customer.  To put it bluntly, a financial system  should not be  designed to make accounts payable clerks happy.  It should make the  real customers happy, the CFO and the owners and investors in the business. They should have the confidence that the numbers in the system reflect the business reality. It should designed to track, control, record and predict the financial status of the business.  Most of the data that flows into a finance system does so without user intervention.  The end-user is not the centre of attention, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them.

Building better processes often means changing the current status quo, and making the current user community uncomfortable.  I’ve lost count of the number of payroll folks I’ve met who want the system to look exactly like the old one. 

 I’ve mentioned before that process automation Nirvana is to have no human involvement at all. 

There are many places though, where a great user experience is key for process success. There is much to learn from the web 2.0 design  innovations, we need apply them  in the enterprise context.  Here at SAP we need to get better at the end-user experience, but not at the expense of our focus on a better business process.

I’d suggest you have a look at Dale’s post

So, counter intuitive though it seems, using business objectives and outcomes as the pivot point for your thinking can lead equally to the adoption of canned processes from the likes of SAP, and the embracing of relatively unconstrained Web 2.0 and social computing ideas.

He is working on book with Jon Collins, Neil Macehiter and Neil Ward-Dutton,  called The Technology Garden  they are hoping to improve the business value that their IT systems and people deliver. I look forward to reading it. It is all about building bridges between the sandals and the suits.  Goodness indeed. I’d like to see what their SaaS definition is !-)


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