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This isn't your father's enterprise software

Katherine Noyes | March 16, 2015
When Patrick Benson joined Ovation Brands back in September 2013, he was given a tall order: modernize an array of legacy IT systems that could no longer keep up with the restaurant-chain conglomerate's business processes.

Until fairly recently, that wasn't too much of a problem at SaskPower, as employees who used the company's legacy tools regularly eventually got used to them. "We have a lot of systems that were built many years ago for basic tasks such as approving work orders, notifications and time sheets," Smith said. Functionally and technically those tools worked just fine; besides, few employees had experienced anything in their personal lives to compare them with in terms of usability.

It's a different story today. Not only are consumers of all ages and levels of professional experience embracing mobile technologies outside of work, thereby escalating their personal ease-of-use expectations, but an older generation of senior professionals is gradually retiring. Coming up in its place is a new generation unwilling to settle for anything less user-friendly than what they've grown up with.

"These employees have the latest, greatest technology at home, and they expect to have as good or better technology at work," said Smith, whose department focuses explicitly on end-user enablement. "When they get a personal smartphone, they open the box and typically it contains a device, a charger and a set of earbuds, and they are up and running in minutes — no learning, no manual, no training course. Our employees have the same expectations of our internal systems."

Today, SaskPower is focusing on extracting some of the more complex functionality from its existing enterprise systems such as SAP ERP technology and building it instead into mobile apps or other simple, narrowly focused tools. "Our target audience is the casual user — the person who may not use the complex system every day, and therefore is not a power user," Smith said.

Among the results are apps for workflow and time-sheet approvals, for example, designed specifically to be intuitive for non-expert internal users. SaskPower supports only iOS for its mobile users, and it has embraced SAP Mobile Platform for custom development. Last year, it built 29 custom apps — many of them based on SAP, but some working from Lotus Notes functionality instead. It has also implemented three apps so far featuring SAP's recently launched Fiori interface.

Indeed, it's clear that the larger software companies building the current generation of enterprise applications are well aware of this evolution in user preferences.

"The topic of user experience is something we've been working on a lot," said Simo Said, vice president of product marketing for enterprise applications and user experience at SAP. "We have clearly seen a shift in demand from business users."

In developing the Fiori interface featured also in its newly launched S4/Hana enterprise suite, for example, SAP aimed to ensure that users would have to take a maximum of three steps within the system to arrive at the insight they're after.


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