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SAP launched S/4HANA on February 3rd this year, and we see it as an important milestone in the evolution of SAP: why? Because it takes a major step forward in terms of productivity; previously we’d focused more on taking steps in systemic terms: capability and capacity. There’s still a focus on HANA, in recognition that much of S/4’s benefits are essentially enabled by HANA’s capabilities.

By way of example, imagine you wanted to provide a good, personalised, user experience of granular, relevant-to-role information, and do that for all your organisation's employees. Using a traditional architecture, you well might well find it will be working very hard, and as the number of connected users scales that’ll translate into sluggishness. It is much easier if you’ve got all the relevant data immediately to hand, in memory and without complicated structures, aggregations and so on. You can now confidently serve up the right content - accurate, up-to-date and pertinent - to the right user in the right way and all without the risk of losing their interest (keeping copied of content in memory is one way that Facebook et al scale). So, as well as continuing to extract value from HANA’s capabilities, what are the other key areas of focus? Usability is one, Simplicity the other.

User experience, a good measure of usability, is always an interesting topic, especially when viewed with productivity in mind. When I see a customer on YouTube[1] extolling a 20% jump in productivity of their field teams, due the user experience, then it’s very obvious that that’s a significant opportunity to improve things.

This customer recognised that an easy to use and simple interface would be key to employees’ productivity. So they got iPhones, and they got SAP. Fiori gave users the data they need, for sure. But it also gave them, for instance, exploded views of the generator they’re repairing, along with relevant manuals, parts’ availability, etc. And they get the same consistent high quality experience when booking holidays or submitting their expenses and timesheets.

Talking with some of those involved with this particular customer, a lot of this was down to having the right partners in place - to understand how, why and when field personnel use a device and under what conditions they’re expected to work (in the rain, without power, without a mobile network, without manuals). It also means understanding their journeys through an application as they perform their duties - in other words, there’s a process and a design methodology that allows the rapid deployment of solutions. This simple and intuitive approach includes best practices and design principles, following a universally-applicable approach across the cloud, on premise or in hybrid landscapes. The result - rapidly deployed user applications that offer predictable business outcomes and enjoyable experiences.

S/4HANA’s Fiori-based UX also demonstrated this at its launch: on a browser, on a tablet and on a watch. This is the key to users’ productivity: provide the right information and analyses, yes, but doing that in a way that the users want to consume it and on the device they’re comfortable using[2]: making beautiful applications that people want to touch.

That all said, new technology usually leads, at some point, to people adopting that technology. One of the main concerns that informs many discussions around technology adoption is complexity, or perceived complexity. Does the upgrade you’re about to do reduce your complexity or add to it? Does it provide a fertile turf where complexity can take root? How on earth do you get the complexity out of your data model? Here are some questions you might want to consider.

  1. Wouldn’t it be nice if (for once and all) you could consolidate your scattered information and data sets into one place?
  2. Wouldn’t it be nice if (for once) the upgraded system ran smaller than the one with which you started?
  3. Wouldn’t it be nice if (all the time) you had up-to-date information, no synchronisation issues and an accurate minute-by-minute view on the business?
  4. Wouldn’t it be nice if (every so often) you could choose where to deploy - on premise, cloud, bit of both? Changed your mind again? No problem.
  5. Wouldn’t it be really nice if (whenever you’re asked) you could show which organisation model works best for your business; which business models work best for your organisation; when standard business processes will do; and when customised business processes will maximise your differentiation; which alerts are important, and those that you can deal with later.
  6. And lastly, wouldn’t it be really very nice if you were confident that you could deliver these things? Then S/4HANA’s Guided Configurations are probably for you.

In the list above there’s a range of concerns that all touch on complexity. Simplification with HANA addresses many of this, as SAP has already shown with some impressive numbers. But turning the focus away from addressing the obstacles traditional approaches incur and towards describing an enabling approach HANA engenders, it’s increasingly clear how S/4HANA starts to show those benefits, such as business agility and the capacity to innovate.

Innovation in that it’s the natural platform for a number of initiatives that many organisations say they would like to do, if only they could overcome the existing complexity (see above). Initiatives like:

  1. Internet of Things - monitoring things like beacons, bands, websites and workplaces promises lots of benefits. How are you going to extract those benefits from the veritable ocean of raw data (e.g. even a simple API gateways generates GBs a day) and combine (sensibly) with your business data to get financially-relevant insights? How do you manage the risk and cost of doing such a project - a project that may use new and unproven technology, to garner unanticipatable benefits. S/4HANA is ready for IoT.
  2. Big Data - why spend months managing frameworks to export and store your financial data in Hadoop, when HANA already participates as a Hadoop resource? Why ever duplicate your data again? And how does the business then consume the outcomes (as actions, as insights) your team of Hadoop heroes has harvested? Does your finance director even trust your data scientists?
  3. Consumerisation & Digitisation - why not have a single, simple approach for application development, and user-experience across all your business does? Why not let partners leverage your internal systems via APIs? To quote a one utilities industry customer, “I want the same experience of my enterprise in the shower as when I’m in the office”. To do this means having a responsive business and a means to build desirable applications.

Would your organisation take on such initiatives simultaneously if there was the expectation that a platform could deliver on all three? You wouldn't. Well SAP with S/4HANA shows that you can. By running simple, on a journey that avoids many of the potholes of complexity. You can find about more about all of this at the SAP Innovation Forum, on June 4th, at the Park Plaza hotel in London.

[1] SAP National Grid: Customer Testimonial Video - YouTube

[2] During the current UK general election, device type has shown a strong correlation with behaviour and activities:

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