Duet and the tyranny of email.

Leendert van der Bijl has begun to blog. Goodness indeed. I’m keen to see more SAP partners/consultants blogging, especially in the HCM-HR space.  I believe Leendert is a fellow signed up member of the South African SAP ecosystem mafia. If you look across the globe at any major SAP project, somewhere there is a South African keeping it on track. It is a pity that the SA cricket team couldn’t be reconfigured this way.

In a thoughtful post, Leendert challenges the basic premise of Duet. Read it, see what you think. Here is a quote.

So,: Bill French said ’email is where knowledge goes to die’. I largely concur with this.

But along come SAP and Microsoft with Duet, which threatens to dump workflow processes and even reports in my inbox. I am against that.

I am in the camp who thinks that Outlook is the wrong vehicle for bringing better usability to the broader user community. In fact, I believe the time has come for a new SAP HCM user interface and improved processes running on a thick-client, a smart-client with desktop and web components, mind you. Maybe more on that later.

I’ll agree  with the email is where knowledge goes to die statement. Even with a fancy search tool, I know that there are gems buried in my .pst file.  It took me ages to find a really cool presentation on Canada Post the other day. Actually the only way I found it was to email someone I thought I’d emailed it to in case she still had it. She did. phew. Thanks Karen. 

When Duet was first mooted, some folks in SAP went into a sulk, saying that this would erode the ESS market and undermine the portal.  My response is that we don’t choose how customers access our applications. Instead of the user coming to SAP, SAP should come to the user.   It is arrogant and self-centred for us to assume that customers want to access the system our way.  That doesn’t mean we should abdicate UI and design responsibility to someone else, but that we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the user, and make it easy for others to do so. If the market demands access via mobile device, twitter, Wii , command line or a toaster then we should deliver or at least enable it.

Reality is that the occasional management user, the toughest nut to crack, lives and breathes in Outlook today. This reminded me to go back and look at a report by Dale Vine from Freeform Dynamics on the state of the Desktop.  This graphic is from that report on the Register. (Freeform Dynamics is a must read site)


This is today’s reality. It is true there are lots of new challengers to Microsoft’s desktop dominance, Google apps, Zoho, and so on. Wikis are beginning to replace lets put everyone on cc in enlightened pockets, but email’s and outlook’s  dominance will not fade overnight. Optimal or not, it is life as we know it today.

As Dale notes,

The other big implication of the findings is that whichever way you look at it, despite predictions of the death of desktop applications as part of the trend from client/server to server and web based computing, office suites and messaging clients are not going to budge from the desktop in a hurry.

But Duet is bigger than Outlook and email, and SAP’s UI strategy is bigger than Duet.

Let’s briefly explore the Duet scope first.

 It is a lot more than just outlook/email. I’d suggest  checking out the duet.com site for more details.  At Sapphire in Atlanta got a lot of coverage, so the replays there are well worth a look too.  Kimberley-Clark discussed their experiences here.  The roadmap for Duet is developing too, and at least according to what I heard in Atlanta, there will be a lot happening with sharepoint in Duet 3.0.  See what Jeff Raikes from Microsoft had to say.

Duet 3.0, expected once SAP has updated is business suite, will stretch into structured and unstructured work through the addition of wikis, blogs and collaborative, virtual workgroups through the full inclusion of Microsoft’s SharePoint Server, and will also let customers build their own integration scenarios through Microsoft Office tools – likely to mean Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO). “We are working on the list of exciting scenarios,” Raikes said.

As Microsoft’s office strategy changes and adapts, I expect Duet will adapt with it. A year ago  the noise was all about outlook and ESS type transactions, but I don’t see this being the case for much longer. 

BTW, there is a new Duet area in SDN.

SAP broader UI’s strategy. (my take)

Over the years I’ve been very critical of SAP UI. As a presales guy, demoing against “pretty” competitors was always tough.  If I had a euro every time I heard lipstick on a pig I’d be rich. Even recently a customer commented, SAP must have an “ugly” department.  I hate complex more than ugly, but I’ll save that rant for any other day.

Leendert notes:

I believe the time has come for a new SAP HCM user interface and improved processes running on a thick-client, a smart-client with desktop and web components…

He goes on:

Platforms where we can easily publish information or subscribe to information. Platforms where we can easily build our own mashups of information we want to combine and coordinate with each other. Web 2.0 in the workplace.

I’d like to see ‘generalized integration capabilities’ for handling ‘structured data’ relevant to even the core elements of an HR and Payroll system, such as changing my address or bank account information.

He is right, but I’d say this is exactly what we are up to. The work with Adobe on Muse for example, signifies a serious embrace of Rich Internet Applications. (a target for my Vienna blogging)  One of the side benefits of all this SOA stuff is that is has made it a whole lot easier to do alternative interfaces, witness the interest in scripting languages PHP and Ruby on Rails. Widgets also provide new ways of reaching users. Silverlight from Microsoft may also open new interface opportunities. I while ago I had a play with Enso, and Nigel James (from another former colony whose cricket team is quite good) has given it a whirl in an SAP context.  I hope our GUI folks are looking at this sort of thing. There is more to life than drop down menus.

Leendert, I suggest you drop a note to Kim, another SA SAP mafia member, and talk to him about the widget stuff he is up to with payroll data. It sounds really interesting.

Balancing this explosion of UI possibilities with a need for consistency in interaction will be a major challenge. And I think this is what Hasso was on about when he talked about UIs in his Sapphire speech. The last thing we want is an HCM application behaving differently from a CRM application. I think this is less about the UI technology, and more about the design thinking, Design is far deeper than UI. Check the second half of this video. interview with Hasso.

I’d really like to see more of the UI folks at SAP blogging. They could explain this far better than I can.

More on this after Sapphire. I’m keen to find out more about all these appliances. (Duet, Enterprise Search, BI acclerator and so on) 

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5 thoughts on “Duet and the tyranny of email.”

  1. Thomas, I wouldn’t be so hard on email. It’s not the tool’s fault – it’s our inability to prioritize and process the information and tasks that come in (because of the sheer volume). I like what Duet is doing because it makes acting on a task more accessible. It removes the barrier of extra, psychologically draining steps. If you consider David Allen’s workflow concept (book: Getting Things Done), Duet plays beautifully into that.

    The reason people lose gems in their .pst is not the fault of the tool, but of our process for storing data for later use. Most of us don’t have that process.

    If the tools incorporated some simple “prompts” or helpful means for doing that, maybe we wouldn’t be so mad at them. (and if we could stop so much senseless email). The problem is that everyone wants complete flexibility. With that flexibility comes the opportunity for chaos. Which most of us live in.

    I know I focused in on only one aspect of your post. . .

  2. Thomas,

    Carve another notch in your bike frame since, yes, here I am another member of the SA mafia. Isn’t it great !?

    This was a really great post from you – too much to comment on in detail. I also appreciate the intro’s as it were.

    A few comments:

    – I for one am excited about the prospects of integrating with Sharepoint and unstructured collaboration platforms such as wikis under Duet 3.0. I do wonder what this means for SAP’s own collaboration platforms

    – UIs are about look and feel. But they are also the face on the underlying functionality. Without optimal underlying functionality I’d argue that a great UI is impossible. So a really great UI in SAP is possible.

    Having said that, in my view there are a number of core HCM processes in R/3 that can be improved. To radically improve them would also require a new UI. One isn’t really possible without the other. I’ll write a clarification of what I’m referring to here at some point in the future.

    – The complexity in SAP is what I think many of us consulting partners love about SAP. The UI reflects this in many instances. But without that complexity I doubt the options that are being pursued today would’ve been possible.

  3. Thomas,

    Michael Wulf’s (SAP) presentations on HCM Processes and Forms during the HR2006 and HR2007 conferences in the US, as well as Michael Bonrat’s article in SAP Insider end of last year, were exciting stuff. As more customers migrate to ERP 6.0 I have a feeling this is going to get more and more interesting – this work absolutely has a lot of potential.

    These developments have addressed a number of things that I thought problematic in the past. A very simple example solved with Processes and Forms (and solved prior to this with MSS PCR development) involves changing an address and then wanting corresponding tax address information to be changed – or at least highlighted – along with it.

    HCM Processes and Forms will allow ‘standard’ R/3 process design to be improved upon to a significant extent, I think. I look forward to working more with this technology to get a clearer idea of what the boundaries are and how far one can go with it to deliver flexible and effective processes to SAP customers.

    Some of the things I find most appealing about Process and Forms are the ability to perform process measurements, integration of the worklist, integration with the EIC, and easier workflow enablement.

    Some of the things I find less appealing is that this functionality is browser-based, integration of the worklist since the UWL can do with some improvement and that it seems to be fairly HR focused at the moment. However, it may not be too much of a problem to integrate Payroll and Benefit processes as well.

    An example of where an HR process integrates with a Payroll process is where an employee separating from a company has to receive a separation check within 24 hours, according to labor law in certain jurisdictions. So the process is ideally: send payroll a worfklow once HR is done with the separation process. Well, it’s not always clear when HR is done with the process – did they skip some parts so they’re still waiting for information? will there be more than 1 separation so all checks can be cut at the same time? and so on.

    It would have been great to see this in a desktop-web client – it would’ve opened up whole new ways of improving processes and user experience. Maybe it’s a question of one step at a time …

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