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July 17, 2008
Posted by Thomas Otter under design
, IT Related
| Tags: design
Sometimes design and engineering are about big and complex stuff. Suspension bridges, common rail diesel engines and polish payroll.
Sometimes design and engineering are about stripping things down to the barest minimum, with focus on a single purpose.
Like my new emergency bike pump.
It weighs 55 grammes but produces enough pressure to pump a tyre up to 11 bar. It is made of carbon fibre. My hope is that I never have to use it.
I also have a big heavy floor pump, which I use several times a week.
In theory, they both do the same thing. But they couldn’t be more different.
When designers and developers sit down to think about enterprise software, they need to go deeper than just what the software is supposed to do. Not only do you need to get into the mind of the user, but you need to get into the mind of the user in the specific context in which they will use your solution.
Too often with enterprise software we end up lugging floor pumps up the hill.
Technorati Tags: ERP
June 30, 2008
Posted by Thomas Otter under design
| Tags: chess
I used to be a vaguely competent chess player, and now, with my eldest child beginning to play, I’m renewing my interest in a game that gave me much happiness as a boy. She is learning from the same book I did 30 years ago.
Via JP’s post on cemeteries, I was reminded of the Staunton Chess set.
(from flickrstream of alanlight, thanks)
Chess had been around for ages, and just about everybody used different piece designs. After all, the sets were often handmade, and there was very little formalised international chess. This began to change in the 1800’s, as chess boomed.
A gamesmaker, John Jaques, released the set in 1849. It was called the Staunton after the most famous chess player of the time. Staunton was heavily involved in the marketing of the product, and wikipedia reckons this was one of the first examples of celebrity marketing.
A set of Chessmen, of a pattern combining elegance and solidity to a degree hitherto unknown, has recently appeared under the auspices of the celebrated player Mr. STAUNTON. A guiding principle has been to give by their form a signification to the various pieces – thus the king is represented by a crown, the Queen by a coronet, &c. The pieces generally are fashioned with convenience to the hand; and it is to be remarked, that while there is so great an accession to elegance of form, it is not attained at the expense of practical utility. Mr. STAUNTON’S pattern adopts but elevates the conventional form; and the base of the Pieces being of a large diameter, they are more steady than ordinary sets.
There are different theories as to the design of the pieces. The romantic theory is that Nathaniel Cook, Jaques’s brother in law, designed them, inspired by the Victorian infatuation with Greek architecture. Elgin marbles and so on….
A second theory is that Jacques designed something himself that was easy and cheap to mass produce.
The reality is probably a mix of the two.
The design is great because it does several things.
1. reduces confusion through simplicity
2. The pieces are easy to recognise from several angles. Many design clues help you recognise the pieces. (height, weight, outlines, and small details)
3. They are stable, thanks to a heavy base
4. They easily repeatable due to mass production, and therefore cheap.
5. All the pieces work well together
6. They are aesthetically pleasing, but don’t compete for attention with the game itself.
These are good principles for software.
1. A purpose
2- easy to use, lots of unobtrusive clues
4. repeatable. (more industry, less craft)
5. great look and feel
6. work well with others
7. A means to an end
Too much software is built like pre-staunton chess sets. Too ornate, too idiosyncratic, too instable, too intrusive and too expensive.
December 27, 2007
Posted by Thomas Otter under design
A very dear friend of mine, a Designer here at SAP, kindly gave my kids Christmas presents. All the presents were very thoughtful, perfect for each child’s personality, but the present that his family gave my boy is simply gorgeous. Automoblox. This stuff should be on metacool.
The design of the toy car makes me want to enlarge it and drive it very fast around a track.
They are easy to dismantle, and then reassemble into a truck, van, or a saloon car. A profoundly beautiful combination of classic materials, simplicity, aesthetic, design and purpose. I will let you know what my boy thinks of them once I stop playing with them myself.
The automoblix website is well worth a visit, the picture gallery is super.
I could make all sorts of metaphors here with SOA or the enterprise isn’t sexy debate, but that wouldn’t be in the yule spirit. But next time, when someone says that design doesn’t matter, I’ll show them these. Congratulations to Calellodesign.
Technorati tags: design
December 19, 2007
Posted by Thomas Otter under HR Technology
There is a fresh zephyr of openness wafting through the corridors here in Starship Enterprisey.
Two years ago, if you had said to me that an SAP solution manager would go on video to talk about a product that is not yet in general release, and that this video would be just stuck out on the Internet for anyone to watch, I would have called for the people in white coats and a jacket with straps on the outside, pronto.
In this video, Jeremiah Stone discusses the solution manager role in the Business ByDesign team. He also explains how SAP is working with ADP to build out the HCM and Payroll offering. He provides insight into the SAP-ADP relationship, the design process, and the challenges involved in getting all the bits working together. He has glugged the customer centric cool-aid, and he gets the HR space.
ADP isn’t a big noise marketing company, they just get on with it. You could say they have been doing software as a service since 1949, depending how you define SaaS.
SAP and ADP have been partnering in the large global account space for several of years now.The GlobalView offering is going really well, with huge growth in Europe and China. The partnership recently won a significant BPO award.
The joint offering for Business ByDesign takes this a step further, working very closely on the solution from its fundamental design upwards, as well as the service offering and the go to market. SAP-ADP relationship is strong at the executive level, but it is with Jeremiah and his colleagues where vision becomes a viable solution. These guys and gals are living the Rumplestilkin 2.0 test. Piece of mind as a development goal. Sweet.
Thanks to the KPS team for putting this video together. They are doing some cool stuff here at SAP with podcasting, pushing the boundaries of traditional learning. Goodness.
December 3, 2007
Posted by Thomas Otter under design
, HR Technology
I began this post on the plane on the way back from a dark and damp Stockholm.
For the last 2 days Design Services Team and my team have been running a workshop with 17 customers. We applied the DLI to try and figure out what makes Millenials tick, and what impact this might have on HR policies, practices and systems. With all the talk about this new generation, all the assumptions about Facebook, social networking and so on, we felt it vital to do some deeper analysis in the HR context.
Where better than Stockholm, home to some of the world’s most online people?
The workshop was kindly hosted by TeliaSonera, in their awesome Vision Center. (This deserves its own post) An ideal setting, and my deepest thanks to the TeliaSonera HR folks for their support.
On day one the team described the DLI process, and we explored the market research we have done at SAP and elsewhere on Millenials. We then headed out to spend several hours with students from the ultra cool Hyper Island Design and Business School. It was the most impressive learning space I’d ever seen. (This magazine will give you an idea of what they get up to. Thanks to the management for letting us wreck your classes)
We took turns to interview students, with the other two team members taking lots of notes. We explored four key themes. The team I was in looked at the physical workspace requirements.
The next day we interviewed a second set of students, this time from another campus – Uppsula. The students were studying engineering and economics,. This was to act as a counterpoint to the designer übercoolers we’d met the night before, but the results were remarkably similar. Thanks to all the students, they were really helpful and patient with us oldies.
Then we moved the notes onto post its, with one post it per point. Then we clustered and synthesised the points by themes. Then we developed light weight persona, storylines, brainstormed and prototyped some high level solutions. It was hard work and rushed, but it was great to see things move from nebulous concept via 100’s of post its into a fairly coherent prototype. We then presented the findings back to the groups.
This workshop was powerful for a number of reasons.
1. I believe we gave the participants access to a methodology that they could use to explore solutions back in the office.
2. We also gave them some exposure to how the development process at SAP is changing for the better.
3. The Design team received some direct feedback on current customer experience, which they videoed.
4. We realised that we had a whole lot of theoretical assumptions about Millenials that didn’t always stand up to examination of real world users.
What surprised me the most was Facebook, or lack thereof. Far from being the centre of the universe that I’d heard and expected it to be, almost all the students said it wasn’t a big deal, and they were unlikely to use it professionally. Several were very negative about it, one student even said he’d ban it. Many said it was a fad, and that they only looked once a week or so to check for parties. There was a richer awareness of privacy issues than I’d expected.
Social networking clearly has its place with the millenials, but the message we got from the student we interviewed was relatively clear, Facebook isn’t it. Instant Messaging was much more important, and nothing beats a face to face meeting over a coffee.
So as we think about building systems and processes for this new generation, let’s not forget the role of a good espresso in building a strong business and a great network.
More to follow on this in the next few days.
BTW: The next HR Best Practice meeting will be in Milan, January 30-31. We are focusing on HR analytics, KPIs etc.. Agenda should be out shortly, but if you’d like to know more drop me a note.
September 21, 2007
Warning. A year or more of NDA makes for a rambling gush.
Most of the launch coverage in the blogsphere has been positive, even some of SAP’s more strident critics are upbeat about the vision and progress. Dennis provides an extensive review of the enterprise irregulars coverage. Herewith my take after watching the cast and reading a goodly number of posts.
A1S now has a name. I heaved big sigh of relief that there is no number in the name, and personal pronouns are absent. I really like the prominence of the word design in the name. Design thinking needs to be at the centre of what SAP does, so seeing it in a product name is a damn good way of reinforcing that.
Having a sharp focus on a defined segment of the market helps SAP defeat its biggest competitor in the long term. SAP’s biggest competitor isn’t Oracle, Microsoft, or even the cannibals. It is complexity. This is our Bauhaus moment.
It is also good to see SAP’s leitmotiv, Integration so prominently mentioned in the presentation. The message is as relevant today as it was when the company was formed.
Testing and learning.
Several months ago I spent a day testing the HR part of the solution. I hired an employee, gave them biographical and compensation data, work schedules, and so on. I didn’t need any training, and I didn’t look at a manual. Sure I found some bugs, but this stuff works. The commitment and intensity of the development team really impressed me.
I’m with James Governor on the GUI form. The 5 shades of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit Baby Blue doesn’t really do it for me. But this is version one.
Leo mentioned ADP in his presentation. More than any company in the world, ADP understands delivering software as a service at a competitive price point at a profit. By working closely with ADP SAP will learn alot about what it takes to really scale this offering profitably. ADP gets hugely significant new channel to market. So it is a win-win. This relationship points to a new form of partnership.
Fine young Cannibals.
I’ve not figured out all the cannibalising discussion, but to me it boils to down to brand management. It is a challenge that successful product companies have to deal with all the time, whether they sell toothpaste, mainframes, high end bicycles, golf clubs, processor chips or cars. It takes skill and timing to manage a product portfolio.
James Governor told me that IBM have managed multiple product lines for years, and did it well. Consider the As/400 and the RISC line….His post is spot on.
…BusinessByDesign is exactly the kind of shop that would traditionally buy a packaged application running on an AS/400. The kind of customer that would forget about its server and put it behind a drywall…
This reminded me of an interview that Hasso Plattner did in 1997. (exact unedited transcript)
HP: Yes. The idea of R/3 was to build a system for the AS 400. AS 400, small computers, so we wanted to cover the low end of the market, because R/2 was well established on the high end. We had no intention to shut down the R/2. So R/3 was meant to cover the low end of the market. Now we can’t run on the AS 400. It didn’t work, physically didn’t work. C was not there, and all the ingredients of SAA never arrived in those days on the AS 400. Now it was obvious that SAA will collapse. The Whitewater Project collapsed in IBM, Advanced Manufacturing Project in Atlanta. They shut this project down. Two thousand people working on a manufacturing system. Our biggest threat ever. And Office Vision was struggling, and later abandoned. We said now we have to move on Unix and we go for the low end of the market. Despite we had this experience of nearly unlimited computing power, we were only limited by the database, a simple database computer. The capacity of the database computer.
The first prospect in Germany for R/3 we thought is a so-called medium sized market company dealing with screws. They are a large screw dealer. When we learned more about the company, the company had two billion in revenues in 1991. The company was operating in eighty countries in the world. So this mid-sized market customer all of a sudden had one of the largest warehouses in Germany, was–
as far as transaction rate is concerned–larger than the largest R/2 customer in operation. That means from day one all these ideas how we go for the low end of the market got stalled
There are black swans lurking in the most unlikely places. The genius of Plattner, Hopp, Tschira, Zencke , Kagermann and the gang in the 1990’s was to exploit it. Changing your mind decisively is a rare skill. Peter Zencke played a vital role in that decision back then, so the chance that SAP has forgotten the power of a serendipitous challenge accepted is slimmer than a Kate Moss look alike contest line up.
And on a sartorial note it was good to see HPK wearing a different tie.
Technorati tags: SAP
September 10, 2007
I’m not talking about a Barcelona chair
(from flickr of suttonhoo)
nor a 1972 911 Carerra RS
(from Ulfbot’s Flickr)
no, not even the latest Campagolo Record.
My number one design icon is the billy bookcase from IKEA.
Seeing the Bauhaus thing last week made me realise why. Form follows function. Everything about it, from packaging, the assembly, and the integration is absolutely without waste. (note to self re-read the the laws of simplicity blog)
Billy even manages to provide amusement.
I bought another 4 yesterday, and I noticed that they had halved the width of the packaging by making the backboard crease vertically rather than horizontally. Clever,as they are much easier to carry for the store staff and easier to load into the car. It meant I bought one more than I’d planned to. We have about
11 15 billy bookcases at home. Unfortunately IKEA don’t sell extra walls, at least at my shop. pity.
IKEA run SAP for HR via the ADP Globalview offering, and a couple of weeks ago I spoke to Albert Martens, HR Director at IKEA. In passing, after discussing HR systems, I mentioned that I’d like to see a shallower version of the Billy, optimised for paperbacks. He opened up the customer request system while I was on the phone and entered it there and then.
Building direct customer feedback to the designer is not only good for product development. It is a remarkably effective way of building customer engagement. I firmly believe that SAP’s strongest competitive advantage is our customers and partners, but only if we listen to them. At the risk of repeating myself, start ups have to guess what to build. We just have to ask. This is what we mean by co-innovation, but this is only the beginning.
September 10, 2007
More design ramblings.
On friday I got to visit the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart. It was built in the late 1920’s, opening in 1927. The architects involved were Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud, Victor Bourgeois, Adolf Gustav Schneck, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Bruno and Max Taut, Hans Poelzig, Richard Döcker, Adolf Rading, Josef Frank, Mart Stam, Peter Behrens and Hans Scharoun.
Le Corbusier and his fellow architects aimed to strip down the house to its simpliest form. There is beauty in the stark, simple lines of the buildings. Their goals were to create cheaper, healthier, more practical and liveable spaces.
This is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s apartment block.
Luckily the development has been saved after it was condemned to destruction by the nazis, bombed by the allies and then neglected. It is an astounding spot, and it showcases some many of the innovations that we take for granted in homes today.
The buildings are by no means perfect, and sometimes the gap between the vision and the engineering and technical reality were too great to bridge. The tension between design and engineering is palpable. I wasn’t expecting to be awed, but I was. The tour was excellent, both for the architecture and the history.
Le Corbusier house. It looks as if it was built yesterday, not in 1927. You can go inside.
The visit to the mercedes museum and the Weissenhofstiedlung made me think a lot about software. Both the 300SL and many of the bauhaus buildings depend on a excellent chassis to function effectively. Without a stable platform, nothing really works. The separation of the chassis from the body enabled Benz and co to make huge leaps foward in strength, shape, handling, cost and weight reduction in the car. The same point could be made about the use of a load bearing frame in buildings, with the walls etc merely acting as a skin. This dramatically expanded the realms of possibility, both for interior space and external volume.
The same argument can be applied to the need to split data, process and visualisation in software application design.
It also made me think back to a post I wrote in defence of concrete. Good software is partly about achieving a balance between design and engineering, with design helping to push engineering forward, and vice versa.
At its core, the Bauhaus movement is about “art and technology – a new unity”. Weissenhof is a pretty good place to go and think about software. Oh, and I need to read a bit more. And next time I’m in Berlin, I’ll need to go here.
Enterprise software can learn a lot from Bauhaus.
Thanks to my colleagues for organising the trip, and to my brother for a quick Bauhaus recap and indoctrination.
September 9, 2007
Posted by Thomas Otter under Germany
This friday we had our betriebsausflug. A department outing. I’m not sure if this is a German thing or an SAP thing, but I can’t help thinking of school outings for grown ups. A fine thing indeed. We drove down the motorway to Stuttgart, visited the Mercedes Benz museum and then had a guided tour of the Weissenhofstiedlung. (more in a later post on that)
The museum is fabulous. I was flabbergasted that in 1909 Benz built a car with over 200bhp that had a top speed of over 230 kms. But more than anything I was captivated by the beauty of good design.
I wish I’d had a real car design expert with me. (the gearhead in me enjoys the metacool blog) but the audio service at the museum was pretty good.
I learnt something about the 300SL that I didn’t know. The gullwing doors were an innovative answer to a challenge that the new chassis design had created. The race car was built to be light and strong with a new tubular construction form, but the structure made it impossible to add a normal door, this would have sacrificed the torsonal strength.
So the designers came up with this.
Mercedes-Benz needed a lot of convincing to turn the racing car into a production model, but it is a good thing they did.
Technorati tags: mercedes
July 6, 2007
Posted by Thomas Otter under SAP
I rode the 1st stage of the Tour de France from London to Canterbury last weekend, with about 4500 other folks. 200kms, relatively (but cumulatively 1800 v.m) flat. I was vaguely unhappy with my time, but that was because I’ve not really trained consistently this year. It did take longer to drive back than it did to ride it, but that is London traffic rather than my speediness.
My friend Mark, on the other hand put in a few miles consistently, everyday; and did far better than he (and I) expected to. To succeed in any endurance sport, you need to adjust your life to include regular training. A little, often is a whole lot better than a big burst every now and again. (unless you are Jeff Jonas)
What does this have to do with software?
Quite a bit, if only metaphorically.
Building great looking and user centric enterprise applications can’t really be done in bursts. If every few years you sit up and say whoops the GUI looks dated lets fix it, you are doomed to play catch up.
This is similar to going out and buying a new wheelset, frame or seat, it will make you feel better and improve things slightly, but in six months’ time you will open the cycling magazine and see something lighter, cooler and more expensive. Then on the road some guy on a 15 year old bike will drop you anyway. (Trust me I know)
There are no short cuts to success in endurance sport. It takes a long term commitment. Start slow and build up. Once you have a strong base, you identify your weaknesses and work on them. Once you know your body, analyse and listen to it . From that you can apply periodisation and tune the diet. With the right approach you are able to persuade your body to innovate itself, to adapt, to continuously improve. And then you can invest in the equipment to give you the edge.
So, for enterprise applications, focus on the design. Work regularly with the users, not in a vague way, but as part of a detailed plan. Make the user part of your life. From a base of good design, you will be able to leverage whatever new technology and techniques come along. You will be able to assess them from a position of strength, and pick the ones that work best for the job at hand, not because it is the latest fashion.
In cycling, if you have a strong base, you are in a better position to experiment and innovate, be it with equipment, diet or technique.
A concrete example of this would be to compare Lance Armstrong and Jan Ulrich. Ulrich was probably genetically stronger than Armstrong. But Ulrich partied through the winter, and then had to go on a panic caloric deficit plan just before the tour. Armstrong, on the other stayed in shape all year, and could spend the time before the tour fine tuning his technique, mental preparation and specific, stage level preparation. (more here)
In his own words,
I won using hard work, single minded devotion to a goal, dedication, exhaustive preparation and training, physiological and mental advantages, pain and suffering, innovative technology, teamwork and sacrifices that came with a price in my professional and personal life…
If a software company has a strong design led focus, it will be building applications that users want. From this position of strength it will quickly be able to assess, exploit and even invent new techniques of user interaction, in other words, innovate. If not, it will be jumping from fad to fad. Blown off the back of the peleton.
We can all learn a lot from Lance Armstrong.