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In the session “Innovate with Our Human-Centered Approach and Learn from Customer Stories” at SAP TechEd 2020, we heard some SAP customers speak on how the end-to-end, agile human-centered approach to innovation helped them turn ideas into fully productive, unique apps delivered at scale that drive real business outcomes. Here, we will home in on what one of the panelists, David Boloz, Assistant Director of Technology at Boston University (BU), had to say about BU’s user experience culture shift and how it has translated into tangible, positive business outcomes for the university around SAP Fiori.

The story of BU’s UX culture shift starts with the relationship between BU and the SAP AppHaus, part of SAP T&I Customer Innovation: Together in a lighthouse project, they re-imagined the benefits enrollment experience for faculty and staff at BU, shifting from paper-based processes to an intuitive app. After the engagement, Boston University (BU) embedded the design-led approach into their culture. This was achieved thanks to design thinking sessions hosted by the SAP AppHaus, and through harnessing the SAP Fiori design system. The SAP AppHaus has continued with coaching the BU team to bring the human-centered approach to innovation into BU's organization.

Reimagining employee user experience: Calling on the SAP AppHaus

Universities, as centers of academic research and excellence, are responsible for coordinating thousands of students and faculty members, all striving to add to the world’s knowledge. At BU, there are over 35,000 students and 13,000 faculty and staff members. To keep things up and running means dealing with a large set of internal business processes ranging from financial and resource planning to human resources (HR) services. For employees to enroll in their benefits, such as health, dental, and retirement plans, they need to keep HR informed about significant life events.

For BU employees, that originally meant using a complicated paper application to enroll in benefits, and a time-consuming manual process to make adjustments after qualifying life events.

Employee satisfaction has been proven to add to a company’s overall success, so it makes good business sense to ensure employees have a positive user experience when using systems and processes provided by their employer.

BU had some ideas for improving their employees’ experience with enrolling in benefits and brought in the design team from SAP AppHaus in Palo Alto to collaborate with them on a lighthouse project. Upon the completion of user research, the SAP AppHaus team introduced BU to the design thinking mindset in the form of a two-day ideation workshop. The task was to reimagine their employee benefits enrollment system and transform it into a single, intuitive application to increase the employee satisfaction rate.

BU combines the right process with the right technologies

BU had already been using SAP technologies for several years before they decided to adopt the design thinking mindset. In 2014, BU became an early adopter of SAP Fiori, deploying an SAP Fiori launchpad with a gateway central hub on-premise. In 2016, they went live with mobile use cases around SAP Cloud Platform as well as SAP Web IDE and followed with upgrading to SAP HANA on-premise.

BU is continuing to accelerate their SAP Fiori adoption by using SAP Fiori elements, an SAP Fiori app development tool based on SAPUI5 that provides users with pre-made user interfaces (UIs) for the most common SAP Fiori application scenarios (read more on how to speed up development with SAP Fiori elements here).

However, BU recognized that developing a tool with a great user experience for their employees would not only be achieved with the right technologies but also with an effective design process. As David explains: “We were looking to change our culture, with a focus on user experience. We wanted to work with experts in the design thinking process. That’s really where we needed the most change.”

Design thinking finds a home at BU

Figure 1: SAP's human-centered approach to innovation

The design thinking mindset has since come to find a stable home at BU, thanks to the training of BU leaders and teams as well as consulting support provided by the SAP AppHaus. The demonstrated survey and interview techniques for user research have allowed David and his colleagues to feel confident about gathering a lot of information without disrupting end-users too much. For example, creating persona journey maps helped highlight how many different touch points end-users were currently using and how this could be made more efficient. David explains, “Those visualizations were terrific for both IT and business. It was also great to see the enthusiasm in the teams to be creative!”

Furthermore, David and his colleagues feel able to effectively synthesize the collected data on the end-users’ needs to efficiently problem-find. The SAP AppHaus colleagues also demonstrated the value of receiving feedback on low-fidelity mock-ups before committing to building. “That was great for our teams to see the value in that,” David adds.

Most employees reported a high level of user satisfaction with the new employee benefits enrollment application, which enabled them to submit forms easily and confirm benefits eligibility following qualifying life events such as marriage or having a baby. Moving away from paper processes and streamlining the process also brought about profound improvements for HR representatives, relieving the burden on them especially around high peak seasons and due dates.

Figure 2: BU employee user satisfaction before and after the transformation of the employee benefit enrollment system

Recommendations from David

BU has successfully cultivated a user-centric mindset to carry into all their future projects by mirroring SAP’s human-centered approach alongside using SAP technologies. David together with his team and BU’s IT department can practice what they learned from the SAP AppHaus colleagues and scale the discover, design, and deliver phases as and when necessary. This has also enabled them to begin the formalization of standard project lifecycle deliverables and deliver phases. What does David have to say to those who are considering using the human-centered approach to product innovation in their organization?

For developers, David shares the following tips for success, “Not everything needs to be solved in a UI or technology fix – the business process is also super important”. Using the techniques in this approach ensures you are building a tool that will really help all personas involved in the process. David also emphasizes the importance of scaling. “There are certain times where we can gain efficiencies in the process by scaling it based on the complexity of a use case or business need.”

Secondly, David recommends balancing the design thinking principles with reality. “Scheduling two-day workshops may seem easy but in reality, it’s hard to get the end-users time to commit to that. So be creative, be flexible, but stay to some of the fundamentals and find that happy medium.”

“It’s a journey… we are still learning ourselves, so don’t get frustrated at any hurdles, and continue to work on the things that will help improve your organization. We’re trying, we are seeing great results and we are building on it each and every day,” he says.

And scaling works nicely. “We’ve done many projects now using some of these same techniques, and I couldn’t be more proud of the team who have taken some of those best practices and tailored them to what is BU.”


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