We live in a world of better software, and it’s partly because the software we have today is more sensitive to the way we want to use applications and data services.
As recently as a decade ago, users with their head in deep transactional systems of the type SAP is known for would be required to engineer the fabric of those applications to get them working and functioning in the way they wanted. That’s not the case today.
SAP T-Code History
Application engineering in the SAP world came down to the use of transaction codes. Sometimes known as t-codes, they are a way of shortcutting and preprogramming application function customizations that would otherwise have to have been initiated using menu navigation.
As useful as application menus of any kind are, they have their shortfalls. Menus can be time-consuming to work through, they can shelter hidden functions from users in deeper submenu options, and they often fail to connect multiple functions in one single step. Back in the day (and remember we’re talking not much past the year 2000), SAP viewed t-codes as a super-useful functional quickstep, much like shortcuts and macros that you might find in other well-known operating systems.
While use of t-codes across the SAP landscape will undoubtedly hang around in some deployments for many years, the company’s efforts to automate a higher degree of that application engineering for users in real-world use cases has characterized many of its product innovations in recent times.
Today’s business users expect consumer-grade experiences in their day-to-day use of business applications. SAP has been pushing toward that evolution with some major platform changes, developments, and acquisitions.
First introduced in 2013, SAP Fiori aimed to provide consumer-style application experiences for common business functions from the start. By making business applications work and look more like consumer applications, SAP’s mission was to bring all staff members into contact with ERP functions and tools.
SAP Fiori is now known for its ease-of-use route to business functions including vacation leave request approvals, travel expense management, timesheet data, sales order creation, customer invoicing, purchase order tracking, and more. The concept is simple: If we can make these functions easy enough for any user (often in a mobile app), then why should the admin and finance departments of any business need to shoulder the burden of working in code? If users take control of these tasks, they get them executed faster, the business runs more efficiently (and typically more profitably), and everyone has a better experience.
Experience as a Technology
So, that experience word has progressed. What was once a hard-coded ABAP developer customization, eventually became an intricate menu instruction. What was once an intricate instruction eventually became a transaction code. What was once a transaction code, became an SAP Fiori design language instruction to create a role-based consumer-grade user experience.
But there is still more “experiential” progression.
SAP Fiori clearly continues to be a strong part of SAP road map development strategies. But the experience-centric know-how that SAP Fiori has amplified is now joined by the experience management technology that SAP brought in with its purchase of Qualtrics XM in late 2018. As SAP noted in an official statement about the acquisition, “Experience data (X-data) focuses on obtaining and tapping the value of outside-in customer, employee, product, and brand feedback. Combining Qualtrics’ experience data and insights with unparalleled operational data (O-data) from SAP software will enable customers to manage supply chains, networks, employees, and core processes better.”
This all comes back to the very first line in this story. Software can now be more sensitive to the way we want to use it. This means that applications can be more aware, more attuned, and more cognizant of what the user base demands.
XM Now Comes of Age
Building Experience Management (XM) into modern application stacks means users help shape the evolution of applications themselves. Suddenly the IT department can start talking about XM-design strategy and begins to look at what users think at a far more granular level than was ever even previously possible.
The IT department is now realizing that users are also customers. The notion of allowing customers to shape the way your own internal applications work is arguably a pretty significant step compared with how this has happened in the past. This is not requirements management for software systems that are going to market; this is XM analysis from the inside out, and now, from the outside in, too.
ASUG members might be wondering, “How do I formulate an XM strategy? Where do I start first? “Is this an SAP-only play in terms of technology platforms? Are there any major guidelines and methodologies to be aware of?” We are certainly aware that it’s not an SAP-only play. But staying within the realms of what SAP is doing with Qualtrics XM, there are four major pillars where XM must be applied. And it’s generally going to be a pretty silo-busting experience to make all four happen.
The Four Pillars of XM
Experience engineering needs to be evidenced across:
- Employees: We need to know how people feel about the technology they use to perform their jobs every day and what they think would help them work better.
- Customers: This is perhaps the easiest area to see, as we experience this every time we get a survey after an airline flight or give our feedback on our encounter with a customer service agent. In this hyper-competitive world, the customer is at the center driving many business choices.
- Product: We need to find out what aspects of product (or service) performance our users want more of, less of, or something different instead of. (Do these sneakers, frying pans, movie services, or bagels make you feel good and want more, or do they deliver a flat experience?)
- Brand: we actually want to know how customers and employees feel about the brand that is presented to market.
Overall then, we can be safe in stating that XM has come of age. We’ve all heard of the consumerization of IT. Nobody disputes the need for intuitive usability in every technology. After all, when was the last time you read an instruction manual?
Experience management builds loyalty for long-term platform adoption and has been used since the dawn of time for every business (or indeed human) transaction ever made from pioneering frontiersman traders to the shopkeepers and general store owners of the post-war years through the 1950s and onward. There’s no reason experience shouldn’t keep reinventing itself for the digital age. Now it just has.