On Machiavelli, SAP and Fiori

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy May 21, 2013
The launch of SAP Fiori set off plenty of chatter in blogs and Twitter. There was a lot of confusion and discussion around pricing topics. As always with SAP, life is never that simple. There's a lot to understand.

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Coffee or tea break time. This is a long story with a lot of meat.

While much media attention at SAPPHIRE Now focused on HANA Enterprise Cloud, a modest amount of coverage around Fiori got a LOT of tongues wagging.

Jon Reed's analysis of the Fiori announcement is a good starting point. He says:

“Consumer grade UI” is a big piece of the HANA/cloud/mobile puzzle. During Executive Board Member Vishal Sikka’s Thursday keynote, Sikka brought Sam Yen on stage to demonstrate 25 new “Fiori” apps (Yen owns the unenviable job of transforming SAP’s UIs).The apps looked appealing, though a fellow attendee told me they had a Windows 8 vibe, which may not be the comparison SAP was ultimately hoping for.

According to Yen, these Fiori apps address 80 percent of SAP users and 45 percent of SAP system usage. To drive the point home, SAP showcased an already-live customer, Colgate Palmolive, which talked up Fiori’s ease of use and deployment. Colgate gave particularly high marks for Fiori’s mobile look.

In earlier conversations, I distinctly heard Hasso Plattner, co-founder SAP say that one of the side effects of HANA cloud is that it allows SAP to release much needed resource to renewing the user experience or UX. And while competitors will likely ridicule SAP for its new found UX religion, the clunkiness of SAPGUi is beyond embarrassing. It's a deal killer. So from my perspective, I give SAP good marks for not only recognizing the issue but starting to tackle it. Unfortunately, life with SAP is never quite that simple.

The cynic in me sometimes thinks that SAP deliberately obfuscates so that folk like me and many others end up having to clarify things they can't articulate well. The more charitable view is that SAP continues to struggle around anticipating obvious questions and ends up confusing itself.

Reading so you don't have to

I spent a good half day reading around Fiori, various technical documents, poring over the SAP store where you can find Fiori, reading some excellent if long discussions on the topic (Graham Robinson's post and subsequent discussion are well worth the study time) and tilting at the Twitter gallery before ending up with a list of questions that any decision maker would likely include in their RFI.

The main problems I see center around licensing and deployment cost although there are plenty of technical discussions in the mix. Naomi Bloom threw a curve ball:

This was tangentially amplified by Vijay Vijayasankar's argument that 'free does not work most of the time.' Vijay partly almost gets there in his thinking but not quite. In comments, I said:

Information wants to be free we are told but the cost of production has to be met from somewhere. Other things should be bundled – as in included – that’s not really free but has the dimension of ‘feeling’ free.

This is a knotty problem because SAP is charging $150/user for a bundle of 25 Fiori apps. Rick Bullotta picked up the theme in comments:

Offering something “free” is different than providing evolved/bundled capabilities to existing customers, who have already invested a great deal in licenses, and who are paying usury rates for annual support. I think it would be fair to say that SAP has not delivered huge progress towards an improved user experience over the past 10-15 years or so, despite more than a few attempts.

... While ridiculous claims of the “death of IT” are being dredged up again, absurd as they are, there’s some substance in the concept of the “death of traditional IT” – and it would be a net positive for the customers, and the entire ecosystem for that evolution to occur. The ones who stand to lose are those who represent status quo. As Machiavelli so correctly stated in “The Prince”:

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things; for the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order”

To that and other points, Sam Yen was good enough to provide a swift and detailed response.


Here is the Q&A paraphrased for brevity in places, some emphasis in italics. I have added color from the buyer side:

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Q: $150 - is that the price for the 25 apps bundle?
A: Yes it is.

Q: If per bundle then what if I don't need some of the apps?

A: We designed and deliver the bundle in a way that each of the 25 apps can be deployed separately as a standalone deployable unit. To your question, simply deploy only that apps that you need.

Comment: This may well give rise to some complex calculations and negotiations inside larger organizations. I can envisage situations where many road warriors might need a good number of the applications, while others need very few. The obvious imbalance in cost per user based upon perceived consumption will figure heavily in discussions.

Q: Is there a maintenance component or is this one off?

A: We are offering an optional maintenance component for 2 years with 1 year option for additional year.

Comment: Maintenance will be something users should consider seriously because you can be sure that there will be a number of refreshes over two years.

Q: What's pricing like for any new apps/bundles?

All upgrades for the delivered 25 apps will be delivered with no additional fees for customers covered by maintenance and support contract for the product. In the future we will keep investing in "horizontal" apps (broadly and frequently used business functions) but also will consider to [go] deeper in the verticals where it make sense and [where] we see customers demand. For both routes we will consider adding more apps into this bundle (most likely from the additional "horizontal" apps portfolio, these will be covered by the current license.) In addition, we might introduce other bundles or standalone apps offerings.

Comment: User organizations should lobby SAP for new apps. Vertical markets present special challenges and users should watch to see how SAP responds.

Q: Are these 'real' apps or UI refreshes with a bit of magic included? (apologies if that sounds crude)

These are real apps based on business process and backend services simplifications using SAP NW GW and advanced, responsive designed based, HTML5 (SAPUI5) consistent user experience across all devices – smartphones, tablets and desktop.

Comment: There will be continued discussion on this topic as customers make comparisons with both competitive solutions and, in the case of HR, comparisons with emerging and existing UIs from the SuccessFactors stable. This is perhaps the most difficult area for SAP and its customers to traverse.

Q: I'm hearing conflicting stories. On the one hand the site talks 'instant value' elsewhere I am hearing consultants salivating at the thought of backend work required to get these up and running. Which is it?

A: The first release of SAP Fiori is provided as an on-premise solution. Based on our beta program experience, the average deployment time for the apps vary between 1-3 days depends on the number of apps to deploy all done by the customers local IT with minimal remote support required by our teams.

Role based, personalized and flexible deployment options that allow IT to efficiently extend, deploy and maintain the application - SAP Fiori can be rolled out to end users in multiple ways – as a collection of apps with a single launch pad, as multiple Web apps, or it can be consumed from SAP and third-party portals. Also, SAP Fiori can be configured to give access to subset of apps based on user roles.

Comment: There was a lot of talk on Twitter on this topic. My sense is that consultants and SIs will get a shock. These are not native web apps but can be accessed via a secure browser connection. That makes deployment (relatively) simple. It also seems that implementation at the back end will also be easy and should be as these are relatively lightweight apps.

Q: Assuming there needs to be some work at the back end then at what level does this become economical? I'm thinking that if (say) 1,000 seats cost $150K then is there some sort of parity for consult/integration at that level?

See answer above. In addition, it very much depends on the consultant level. The "deployment/integration" cost depend on number of apps and not number of users.

Comment: on what I have seen, there should be minimal change management,largely because these applications have a 'self evident' feel to them.

Q: As it relates to Google and Chrome. Can you provide some color on the relationship please?

A: In general, we (SAP) embraces technology market standards and our SAPUI5, following this belief, implemented in 100% compatibility of the HTML5 market standard definition and spec, SAP Fiori front end developed using SAPUI5. Google embraces the same market approach and Google Chrome is currently the most HTML5 standard compatible and optimized browser engine in market. Running SAP Fiori within Google Chrome showed the best experience results, however, all other HTML5 supported browsers like Safari, Firefox, IE9, IE10 showed great results as well and 100% support SAP Fiori UX and functionalities.

Comment: There are many organizations that run earlier versions of Internet Explorer. These are not HTML5 compliant and IT organizations will have to consider the impact of any non-mobile browser updates. They will also have to consider whether Chrome becomes a first class mobile citizen. That may not be a problem in BYOD situations but will be a challenge for Blackberry shops. More generally, users can view this as the first step in what will be a forced march into the future for many organizations. THAT IS A GOOD IDEA.

Final thoughts

  • Refactoring complex ERPs is hard and especially so for a suite that has many hundreds of processes and thousands of transaction screens. Simplification where it matters and can add value is a net good. Fiori should therefore be welcomed.
  • Ask for more reference customers. Colgate Palmolive has a global license for SAP products ans is almost always an early adopter. Regardless of where you are in the product adoption lifecycle, learn from their and others experience.
  • As observers note, many SAP shops are still using very old UIs despite SAP's past efforts at modernization and simplification. This cannot continue in a world where so much is moving towards much newer UIs. Enlightened CIOs are voting with their wallets, gaining experience of new ways to do things and pushing SAP aside. If Yen's team can rapidly expand Fiori's footprint without significant disruption then maybe, just maybe, SAP will have the bones for a sensible business case that counters external threats while imposing a forced march upgrade. If that happens then user organizations will need to factor in additional transition costs.
  • Contrary to what some think, I don't see a huge opportunity for change management consulting. Unless it is an imperative, resist consulting overtures for this service.
  • There is a sense that Fiori was hurried out the door so users can expect a lot of fixes in the coming months.
  • Don't expect world class service today. I notice that questions are currently taking several days to answer. SAP will fix this.
  • Fiori is not available world-wide but in a limited number of countries. This is due to licensing issues in different jurisdictions. Again, SAP will fix this but the upside is that customers get to try in one or two locations before considering a full  rollout.

Images from SAP Newsroom and Fiori web pages

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