The next BriefingsDirect business innovation thought leadership discussion focuses on the heightened role and impact of total user experience improvements for both online and mobile applications and services.
We’ll explore how user expectations and rethinking of business productivity are having a profound impact on how business applications are used, designed, and leveraged to help buyers, sellers, and employees do their jobs better.
We’ll learn about the advantages of new advances in bringing instant collaboration, actionable analytics, and contextual support capabilities into the application interface to create a total user experience.
To examine why applications must have more than a pretty face to improve the modern user experience, we’re joined by Chris Haydon, Senior Vice President of Solutions Management for Procurement, Finance and Network at Ariba, an SAP company. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Chris, what sort of confluence of factors has come together to make this concept of user experience so important, so powerful? What has changed, and why must we think more about experience than interface?
Haydon: Dana, it’s a great question. There is the movement of hyper-collaboration, and things are moving faster and faster than ever before.
We’re seeing major shifts in trends on how users view themselves and how they want to interact with their application, their business applications in particular, and more and more, drawing parallels from their consumer and how they bring that simple consumer-based experience into their daily work. Those are some of the mega trends.
Then, as we step down a little bit, within that is obviously this collaboration aspect and how people prefer to collaborate online at work more than they did in traditional mechanisms, certainly via phone or fax.
Then, there’s mobility. If someone doesn’t really have a smartphone in this day and age, certainly they’re behind the eight ball.
Last but not least, there’s the changing demographic of our workforce. In 2015, there are some stats out there that showed that millennials will become the single largest percentage of the workforce.
All of these macro trends and figures are going into how we need to think about our total user experience in our applications.
Gardner: For those of us who have been using applications for years and years and have sort of bopped around — whether we’re on a mobile device or a PC — from application to application, are we just integrating apps so that we don’t have to change apps, or is it something more? Is this a whole greater than the existing sum of the parts?
Haydon: It’s certainly something more. It’s more the one plus one equals three concept here. The intersection of the connectivity powered by business networks, as well as the utility of mobile devices not tied to your desktop can fundamentally change the way people think about their interactions and think about the business processes and how they think about the work that needs to be done throughout the course of their work environment. That really is the difference.
This is not about just tweaking up as you open up a user interface. This is really about thinking about personal-based interactions in the context of mobility in a network-oriented or network-centric collaboration.
Gardner: When we think about collaboration, traditionally that’s been among people, but it seems to me that this heightened total user experience means we’re actually collaborating increasingly with services. They could be services that recognize that we’re at a particular juncture in a business process. They could be services that recognize that we might need help or support in a situation where we’ve run out of runway and don’t know what to do, or even instances where intelligence and analytics are being brought to us as we need it, rather than our calling out to it.
Tell me about this expanding definition of collaboration. Am I right that we’re collaborating with more than just other people here?
Haydon: That’s right. It’s putting information in the context of the business process right at the point of demand. Whether that’s predictive, intelligence, third party, the best user interfaces and the best total user experiences are bringing that context to the end user managing that complexity — but contextualizing it to bring it to their attention as they work through it.
So whether that’s a budget check and whether there is some gaming on budget, it’s saying, “You’re under budget; that’s great.” That’s an internal metric. Maybe in the future, you start thinking about how others are performing in other segments of the business. If you want to take it even further, how are other potential suppliers doing on their response rate to their customers?
There is a whole new dimension on giving people contextualized information at the point where they need to make a decision, or even recommending the type of decisions they need to make. It could be from third-party sources that can come from a business network outside your firewall, or from smarter analysis and predictive analysis, from the transactions that are happening within the four walls of your firewall, or in your current application or your other business applications.
Gardner: It seems pretty clear that this is the way things are going. The logic behind why the user experience has expanded in its power and its utility makes perfect sense. I’m really enthused about this notion of contextual intelligence being brought to a business process, but it’s more than just a vision here.
Pulling this off must be quite difficult. I know that many people have been thinking about doing this, but there just isn’t that much of it actually going on yet. So we’re at the vanguard.
What are the problems? What are the challenges that it takes to pull this off to make it happen? It seems to me there are a lot back-end services, and while we focus on the user experience and user interface, we’re really talking about sophisticated technology in the data center providing these services.
Cloud as enabler
Haydon: There are a couple of enablers to this. I think the number one enabler here is cloud versus on-premise. When you can see the behavior in real time in a community aspect, you can actually build infrastructure services around that. In traditional on-premise models, when that’s locked in, all that burden is actually being pushed back to the corporate IT to be able to do that.
The second point is when you’re in the cloud and you think about applications that are network-aware, you’re able to bring in third-party, validated, trusted information to help make that difference. So there are those challenges.
I also think that it comes down to technology, but technology is moving to the focus of building applications actually for the end user. When you start thinking about the interactions with the end user and the focus on them, it really drives you to think about how you give that different contextualized information.
When you can have that level of granularity in saying, “I’m logging on as an invoicing processing assistant”, or “I’m logging on as just a casual ad-hoc requisitioner.” When the system knows you have done that, it’s actually able to be smart and pick up and contextualize that. That’s where we really see the future and the vision of how this is all coming together.
Gardner: When we spoke a while back about the traditional way that people got productivity was switching manually from application to application — whether that’s an on-premise application or a software-as-a-service (SaaS) based application — if they are losing the benefit of a common back-end intelligence capability or network services that are aware or access an identity management that’s coordinated, we still don’t get that total user experience, even though the cloud is an important factor here and SaaS is a big part of it.
What brings together the best of cloud, but also the best of that coordinated, integrated total experience when you know the user and all of their policies and information can be brought to bear on this experience and productivity demand?
Haydon: There are a couple of ways of doing that. You could talk here about the concept of hybrid cloud. The reality is that in most companies for the foreseeable future there will be some degree of on-premise applications that continue to drive businesses, and then there will be side-by-side cloud businesses.
So it’s the job of leading practice technology providers, SaaS and on-premise providers, to enable that to happen. There definitely is this notion of having a very robust platform that underpins the cloud product and can be seamlessly integrated to the on-premise product.
Again, from a technology and a trend perspective, that’s where it’s going. So if the provider doesn’t have a solid platform approach to be able to link the disparate cloud services to disparate on-premise solutions, then you can’t give that full context to the end user.
One thing too is thinking about the user interface. The user interface manages that complexity for the end user. The end user really shouldn’t need to know the mode of deployment, nor should they need to know really where they’re at. That’s what the new leading user interfaces and what the total experience is about, to take you guided through your workflow or your work that needs to be done irrespective of the deployment location of that service.
What’s been happening recently? This week, I think, you’ve gone general availability (July 2015) with some of these services. Maybe you could quickly describe that. Are we talking about the on-premise apps, the SaaS apps, the mobile apps, all the above? What’s happening?
Haydon: We’re really excited about that. For our current releases that came out this week (see a demo), we launched our total user experience approach, where we have working anywhere, embracing the most modern user design interactions into our user interface, mobility, and also within that, and how we can enable our end users to learn the processes and context. All this has been launched in Ariba within the last 14 days.
Specifically, it’s about embracing modern user design principles. We have a great design principle here within SAP called Fiori. So we’ve taken that design principle and brought that into the world of procurement to put on top of our leading-practice capabilities today and we’re bringing this new updated user experience design.
But we haven’t stopped there. We’re embracing, as you mentioned, this mobility aspect and how can we design new interactions between our common user interface on our mobile and a common user interface on our cloud deployment as one. That’s a given, but what we are doing differently here is embracing the power and the capability of mobile devices with cloud and the work that needs to be done.
One idea of that is how we have a process continuity feature, where you can look on your mobile application, have a look at some activities that you might want to track later on. You can click or pin that activity on your mobile device and when you come to your desktop to do some work, that pinning activity is visible for you to go on tracking and get your job done.
Similarly, if you’re on the go to go and have a meeting, you’re able to push some reports down to your mobile tablet or your smartphone to be able to look and review that work on the go.
We’re really looking at that full, total user experience, whether you’re on the desktop or whether you are on the go on your mobile device, all underpinned by a common user design imperative based upon Fiori.
Gardner: Just to be clear, we’re talking about not only this capability across those network services for on-prem, cloud, and mobile, but we’re taking this across more than a handful of apps. Tell us a bit about how these Ariba applications and the Ariba Network also involve other travel and expense capabilities. What other apps are involved in terms of line-of-business platform that SAP is providing?
Haydon: From a procurement perspective, obviously we have Ariba’s leading practice procurement. As context, we have another fantastic solution for contingent labor, statement-of-work labor and other services, and that’s called Fieldglass. We’ve been working closely with the Fieldglass team to ensure that our user interface that we are rolling out on our Ariba procurement applications is consistent with Fieldglass, and it’s based again on the Fiori style of design construct.
We’re moving toward where an end user, whether they want to interact to do detailed time sheets or service entry, or they want to do requisitioning for powerful materials and inventory, on the Ariba side find a seamless experience.
We’re progressively moving forward to that same style of construct for the Concur applications for our travel and expense, and even the larger SAP, cloud and S4/HANA approaches as well.
Gardner: You mentioned SAP HANA. Tell us how we’re not only dealing with this user experience across devices, work modes, and across application types, but now we have a core platform approach that allows for those analytics to leverage and exploit the data that’s available, depending on the type of applications any specific organization is using.
It strikes me that we have a possibility of a virtuous adoption cycle; that is to say, the more data used in conjunction with more apps begets more data, begets more insights, begets more productivity. How is HANA and analytics coming to bear on this?
Haydon: We’ve had HANA running on analytics on the Ariba side for more than 12 months now. The most important thing that we see with HANA is that it’s not about HANA in itself. It’s a wonderful technology, but what we are really seeing is that the customer interactions change because they’re actually able to do different and faster types of iterations.
To us, that’s the real power of what HANA gives us from a technology and platform aspect to build on. When you can have real time analytics across massive amounts of information put into the context of what an end user does, that to us is where the true business and customer and end-user benefit will come from leveraging the HANA technology.
So we have it running in our analytics stack, progressively moving that through the rest of our analytics on the Ariba platform. Quite honestly, the sky’s the limit as it relates to what that technology can enable us to do. The main focus though is how we give different business interactions, and HANA is just a great engine that enables us to do that.
Gardner: It’s a fascinating time if you’re a developer, because previously, you had to go through a requirements process with the users, but using these analytics you can measure and see what those users are actually doing, or progressing and modernizing their processes, and then take that analytics capability back into the next iteration of the application.
So it’s interesting that we’re talking about total user experience. We could be talking about total developer experience, or even total IT operator experience when it comes to delivering security and compliance. Expand a little bit about how what you are doing on that user side actually benefits the entire life cycle of these applications.
Haydon: It’s really exciting. There are other great companies that do this, and SAP is really investing in this as well as Ariba, making sure we’re really a data-driven, real-time, thinking company.
And you’re right. In the simplest way, we’re rolling out our total user experience in the simplest model. We’re providing a toggle, meaning we’re enabling our end users to road test the user experience and then switch back. We don’t think anyone will want to switch back, but it’s great.
That’s the same type of experience that you experience in your personal life. When someone is trialing a new feature on an e-marketplace or in a consumer store, you’re able to try this experience and come back. What’s great about that is we’re getting real-time insight. We know which customers are doing this. We know which personas are doing this. We know how long they are doing this for their session time.
We’re able to bring that back to our developers, to our product managers, to our user design center experts, and just as importantly, back to our customers and also back to our partners to be able to say, “There is some info, doing these types of things, they are not on this page. They have been looking for this type of information when they do a query or request.”
These types of information we’re feeding into our roadmap, but we are also feeding back into our customers so they understand how their employees are working with our applications. As we step forward, we’re exposing this in the right way to our partners to help them potentially build applications on top of what we already have on the Ariba platform.
Gardner: So obviously you can look this in the face at the general level of productivity, but now we can get specific with partners into verticals, geographies, all the details that come along with business applications, company to company, region to region.
Let’s think about how this comes to market. You’ve announced the general availability in July 2015 on Ariba, and because this is SaaS, there are no forklifts, there are no downloads, no install, and no worries about configuration data. Tell us how this rolls out and how people can experience it if they’ve become intrigued about this concept of total user experience. How easy is it for them to then now start taking part in it?
Haydon: First and foremost, and it’s important, our customers entrust their business processes to us, and so it’s about zero business disruption, and no downtime is our number one goal.
When we rolled out our global network release to a 1.8 million suppliers two weeks ago (see a demo), we had zero downtime on the world’s largest business network. Similarly, as we rolled out our total user experience, zero downtime as well. So that’s the first thing. The number one thing is about business continuity.
The second thing really is a concept that we think about. It’s called agile adoption. This is again how we let end users and companies of end users adopt our solutions.
We have done an awful lot of work, before go live, on educating our customers, providing frequently asked questions, where required, training materials and updates, all those types of support aspects. But we really believe our work starts day plus one, not day minus one.
How are we working with our customers after this is turned on by monitoring, to know exactly what they are doing, giving them proactive support and communications, when we need to, when we see them either switching back or we have a distribution of a specific customer group or end user group within their company? We’ll be actively monitoring them and pushing that forward.
That’s what we really think it’s about. We’re taking this end user customer-centric view to roll out our applications, but letting our own customers find their own pathways.
Gardner: If users want to go more mobile in how they do their business processes, want to get those reports and analytics delivered to them in the context of their activity, is there an organic path for them or do they have to wait for their IT department?
What do you recommend for people that maybe don’t even have Ariba in their organization? What are some steps they can take to either learn more or from a grassroots perspective encourage adoption of this business revolution really around total user experience emphasis?
Haydon: We have plenty of material from an Ariba perspective, not just about our solutions, but exactly what you’re mentioning, Dana, about what is going on there. My first recommendation to everyone would be to educate yourselves and have a look at your business — how many millennials are in your business, what are the new working paradigms that need to happen from a mobile approach — and go and embrace it.
The second lesson is that if businesses think that this is not already happening outside of the control of their IT departments, they’re probably mistaken. These things are already going on. So I think those are the kind of macro things to go and have a look at.
But, of course, we have a lot more information about Ariba’s total user experience thinking on thought leadership and then how we go about and implement that in our solutions for our customers, and I would just encourage anyone to go and have a look at ariba.com. You’ll be able to see more about our total user experience, and like I said, some of the leading practice thoughts that we have about implementations (see a demo).
Gardner: I’d also encourage people to listen or read the conversation you and I had just a month or two ago about the roadmap. There’s an awful lot that you’re working on that people will be able to exploit further for total user experience exploits.
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