Sana Salam on Creating User-Centered Solutions with SAP Fiori

In Italian, the word “fiori” means “flowers.” Three years ago, that’s not a word that would likely spring to mind when thinking about enterprise business applications. SAP, known for creating software that form the digital spine of some of the world’s largest companies, recognized that. SAP’s solution, launched in 2013, was Fiori—a suite of front-end business applications designed to be intuitive, modern and mobile-ready.

Sodales Solutions Inc., the first SAP partner to become a certified Fiori developer, created a method for tackling Fiori projects. Here, Sodales’ Founder and President, Sana Salam, outlines her company’s methodology, which she and her team have refined over the course of completing 26 Fiori projects.

Why Use Fiori?

Simply put, SAP Fiori is the new user experience of SAP. It simplifies complex SAP products into intuitive self-service tasks, ultimately boosting process efficiency and user adoption. SAP created Fiori to solve two major user experience issues:

Traditional SAP transactions involved too many screens and tabs making them daunting and inefficient. SAP Fiori UX reduces the number of clicks by showing only role-specific information and actions on the screen. In some cases, users see about 70% of reduction in the number of clicks with Fiori apps.

Traditional SAP products are module based, where users are required to memorize transaction codes and program names to access and execute various tasks within a process. SAP Fiori UX can break down large processes into simple, discrete tasks and eliminating the need to summon transaction codes from memory.

In some cases, users see about 70% of reduction in the number of clicks with Fiori apps.

Because Fiori is responsive and device agnostic, many SAP customers also use Fiori apps as mobile apps, which opens up new avenues of business solutions that can be applied in more settings than before.

When to Use Fiori

In order to assess whether SAP Fiori is a good solution for our clients, we typically look to see if one or more of the following situations is true:

  • Tasks are time sensitive and completed by users who are on the road. This could be a plant technician reporting an operational breakdown, for example.
  • Users’ responsibilities are not tech oriented. This could be a sales team working with customers.
  • There are complex SAP transactions that need to be decomposed and simplified for better efficiency. A good example of this is the SAP purchase order creation process.
  • The project involves cross-platform processes and sources. Examples of this are recruitment, training and help desk processes.

Applying Design Thinking for Fiori Projects

At Sodales, we’ve completed 29 SAP Fiori UX projects (involving over 100 Fiori UX apps), out of which 11 are targeted for Fiori mobilization. Our design philosophy for Fiori apps is based on the Design Thinking framework—a creative problem-solving technique that brings a disciplined approach to innovation. This framework is especially suited for projects with little or no precedent to help inform an immediate or pre-built solution, but not so exotic as to be beyond the realm of customized Fiori implementations. We use various design thinking tools for managing the end-to-end application lifecycle starting from strategy, budgeting, roadmap, technical feasibility, user experience, requirements and testing.

Step 1: 360° Research

Goal: Get smart quickly with problem discovery.

How: During this phase, we schedule interviews and observation sessions with a carefully selected group of users; preferably from various disciplines. Research phase can be conducted over a span of a few days prior to the workshop, depending upon the availability of information/stakeholders. In some cases, research phase might just be about reading current state documents, analyzing existing studies or conducting phone interviews. Let’s use an example of a customer service process. In this case, we would start off by interviewing and observing various roles/personas involved in the process such as sales agents, supervisors, finance executives and operations teams. These one-on-one interviews allow us to capture unbiased yet personalized feedback and touch points about the problem. We augment insights gleaned from interviews with observation sessions to further understand the unarticulated needs of users. For example, if a customer service agent has to walk to a printer during customer meetings, that interruption might have a negative impact on customer experience.

It can be tempting to skip this step and take our clients’ presentation of their problems at face value and start designing a Fiori solution. But if we don’t take the time in advance to dig deeper into the source of their issues, we might end up solving the wrong problem.

Step 2: Synthesis

Goal: Understand a typical user.

How: During this phase, we spend about 15 to 30 minutes visually describing a typical target user by identifying personal details. In addition to age and gender, we also dive into their challenges, what they see or hear on day to day basis, how they do their work, and what their personal goals are. We strive to put ourselves in the shoes of the user. There are several design thinking tools available for this, such as personas, empathy maps and so on.

Step 3: Journey Mapping

Goal: Map the persona’s current experience. Identify critical problems and opportunities.

How: This step mirrors the intent and design of Fiori, which seeks to create experiences around tasks performed by specific roles, rather than a transaction-focused approach. Journey maps, paired with insights gained from personas, are a powerful way to start thinking about how you can structure your Fiori solution. In this step, we spend about an hour to map out of how our typical user goes through a certain process. We capture specific information about their emotional experience, stakeholders and systems. This allows us to capture the cognitive reasons of why and how users do certain things.

Step 4: Brainstorming

Goal: Rapidly generate ideas. Incorporate best ideas in low-fidelity prototypes.

How: Here, we divide into groups of four to seven people, with each group addressing a specific problem. The groups spend about 45 minutes in brainstorming possible solutions. When forming groups, we try to include people from a wide variety of backgrounds, roles, levels of experience and departments. In our experience, this forced diversity tends to yield more novel solutions than having homogenous groups. For one of our projects, when we paired sales agents with lowest results with sales agents who achieved highest results, we found that the best and wildest ideas came from “lazy” employees who quickly found the easiest shortcut for doing a task. It is generally a good idea to have a project team checkpoint at this stage (designers, IT and executives ) to ensure we are still on track.

Step 5: Storyboard

Goal: Create a visual representation of future

How: This exercise takes about one hour. Each group incorporates the most feasible and promising ideas to create at least one sample end-to end scenario of future. One of the key success factors for this phase is to ensure that we pair at least one executive decision maker with each group. The decision makers act as a moderator to ensure users are not creating something that is not a high priority requirement. The decision makers also help the participants with common understanding of various terminologies. The storyboard use show-and-tell approach. It is important to generate a large quantity of hand-drawn storyboards using as many sample use cases as we can think of. This allows us to conduct hypothesis testing in the next step.

Step 6: Create “Napkin Pitches” and Low-Fidelity Prototypes

Goal: Test hypotheses using rapid prototyping and feedback

How: This exercise takes about three to four hours of collaborative, hands-on work where groups set out to create their napkin pitches. One of the primary goals of hypothesis testing is to assess the feasibility and viability of solutions. This cannot be done just by looking at things at high level. It involves testing the storyboards we’ve created in Step 5 for specific use cases with a variety of day-to-day situations. The hypothesis testing of a service ticket app, for example, might involve several potential scenarios, such as: 1) a technician receives a phone call from customer; 2) the technician is onsite for routine maintenance; or 3) customer service receives a request for return of damaged equipment. Can our solutions work in all three situations?

To answer those questions, it’s important that our prototypes are created with enough detail to test out those scenarios. Such details would include all the required field labels, layouts, and key performance indicators that can enable users to think through the design variations. We use Axure to create detailed prototypes for Fiori, using a library of templates, icons, stencils and controls that SAP has built specifically for Axure.

If you’d like to explore SAP Fiori stencils, we created a quick start guide to get you on your way.

The combination of pre-built Fiori stencils and Axure makes the effort of hypothesis testing negligible; we’re able to build a working Fiori prototype in Axure in as little 5 minutes. Through this process of building and testing our prototypes, we gain further insights into the solutions’ feasibility, giving us the confidence to take our innovation journey to the next step.

The combination of pre-built Fiori stencils and Axure makes the effort of hypothesis testing negligible; we’re able to build a working Fiori prototype in Axure in as little 5 minutes.

Step 7: Implementation

Goal: Set up development project

How: At this point, we’re off to a great start. We can begin planning the development phase of our Fiori project. At this stage, we can create an initial set of requirements as a project scope, as well as the supporting assets for business case approval. We use Axure to extract the documentation and data flow directly from the prototypes we created in Step 6. This documentation is quite detailed and gives us a fair understanding of the possible number of screens, the types of interactions, the user flows for various tasks in Fiori and so on. The visual prototypes created with Axure are also great for engaging executives during business case or budget approval meetings. They give executives the comfort of knowing that we have done our homework, and they create excitement because they can be touched and felt on a smart device just like a real app.

The Upshot

As you’ve probably gathered by now, Fiori makes designing business applications much more compatible with design thinking methodologies. That’s because Fiori encourages designers to move away from thinking about software features and instead focus on roles and tasks. In an article on the SAP Community Network, John Burton pointed out that, “All SAP Fiori apps follow a design principle known as 1-1-3 (“one, one, three”). This means each screen should be designed with a single user (or role) in mind, a single task that this user wants to accomplish, and a maximum of three levels of navigation to perform this task.” In other words, Fiori’s 1-1-3 rule encourages us to focus on one user, one task and three screens. Simplicity drives return on investment.

Fiori’s 1-1-3 rule encourages us to focus on one user, one task and three screens. Simplicity drives return on investment.

The approach we’ve developed further amplifies those returns by allowing us to technically and financially validate the innovation before it is built, making it particularly effective under budget constraints. It lets us evaluate which Fiori apps we should build first and how they can deliver the most value at lowest effort. And it does so with the help of direct user input. “Design thinking has significantly transformed the way of requirements gathering for us,” said Khemraj Sharma, Global Business Intelligence Manager at Karl Storz, a maker of surgical instruments. “It adds personal emotions, which were missing in traditional approaches. It allows users to be fully engaged, and they can express their idea more openly.”

Many organizations use design thinking to solve problems. What sets our process apart, however, is speed. The bulk of this exercise, Steps 2-6, can be accomplished in a single day. Joe McLaughlin, Vice President, Operations and Technology for AAA’s Western & Central New York division, recently ran his team through this exercise and noted that the fast pace resulted in an “energetic, collaborative, and efficient approach to identifying improvement opportunities in key business processes.”

What sets our process apart, however, is speed. The bulk of this exercise, Steps 2-6, can be accomplished in a single day.

Processes are well and good, but what about results? Datta Sapre, an executive in IT Applications at SageNet, whose team also undertook this exercise, told us that the combination of “design thinking and SAP Fiori apps have helped us simplify our business processes resulting in increased user adoption and lower processing times.”

We hope you find this process useful in your quest to build intuitive, user-centric business apps with SAP Fiori.

About Sana Salam

Sana Salam is the president and founder of Sodales Solutions Inc., an SAP-certified partner specialized in Enterprise Mobility, User Experience and Big Data solutions. Before starting Sodales, Sana worked as a turnaround project manager where she revived derailed IT projects. Sana’s passion for helping enterprises simplify their business by humanizing technology led her to found Sodales. Her firm uses SAP technologies and user experience methods to solve business complexities with a design thinking framework. The Sodales team has won several design awards, including the SAP Mobile Apps Challenge for Microsoft Windows 8 and the SAP Google Apps Challenge. Sodales was the first SAP partner to certify a Fiori app. Sodales is driving innovations for SAP customers in the areas of SAP® smart business analytics, IoT apps and SAP® S/4HANA extension apps.