Posting Date: September 13, 2003
SAP Insanity (Part 1)
SAP is an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning System) and a whole lot more. Unfortunately, it is difficult to implement and configure, and novice users find it to be overwhelming. The good news for SAP is that just about any person who has used it will tell you that it is very powerful. Furthermore, once it is installed and configured, and users are properly trained, it can provide significant ROI for a company.
I have direct experience with SAP. The user interface has frustrated me very much, although I keep telling myself that it is a good system. I know that expert users love it. So, I stick to it and keep learning. But, I need to express some frustration with the interface so let's take a look at the login screen.
I want to point out three things that drive me nuts. First, in the upper left hand corner (Item 1) you will see a strange looking icon. It sort of looks like a rectangle with a trapezoid of some sort on top. It allows you to restore, minimize, and move the window as well as some other special functions. I don't have a problem with the functionality but I do have a problem with the contrast. The light blue on the dark blue is terrible. This same color scheme shows up all over. It is the default color scheme, and while I like the colors, I hate the low contrast. It makes it difficult to use the interface.
Secondly, to change your password you need to fill in your username and password and then click on the New Password button (Item 2). I've needed to change my password a few times in SAP and each time I really have to think about what to do. I always want to just click the New Password button. I'm not allowed, of course, then I need to think back about how I did it in the past, or look up the process in an old email or database. Maybe I'm just being picky, but it just doesn't make any sense to me. The process doesn't feel right.
Finally, the password field is poorly designed. Before you start typing, the field is filled with asterisks (Item 3). That's right, before you type the field has information in it. First time users are always, and I mean always, confused by this. I've been using SAP for a while now and it still confuses me. On the good side, when you type at least the cursor moves. But other than that, the password field is terrible. In my opinion it completely violates the population stereotype of password field design.
Unusual that the 'new password' button sits above the login area. Does language also require a code? Or is this a funny looking pull down? If its a code ... help!
1. I agree that it is strange that the New Password button is above the password area. It just begs to be clicked, especially if you want to change your password!
2. Language does require a code. Unfortunately it is not even a drop down. On the other hand, you can configure the system such that it isn't necessary to enter a language selection.
The first thing needed to clean up that interface is to remove all those damn numbered arrows. They clutter up everything.
There's one thing I'd like to see with these on-line critiques: some discussion of how these flaws might affect the business bottom-line. It is the only real way we'll influence those who might pay for our services. So, the interface is lousy - so what? Why should I care as Mr. Managing Director?
As you say, many people acknowledge that SAP can be difficult to use and hard to customise. Yet, it is very successful. We've got to start making some good business arguments. Hopefully at a more credible level than those offered by Mr. Nielsen..
I have never heard a good word about SAP from a user. I've heard it turns getting a pencil into an ordeal, but in all fairness, maybe that's how it cuts costs. My opinion is that it's the product of overcontrolling Teutonic bean-counters. But that's just me, and this is only hearsay at this point. I'll get a chance to see for myself soon since it is of course coming everywhere to a company near you.
It is my experience that an implementation strategy by 'implementation partners' may in fact be influencing the SAP 'expert user' (we called them Subject Matter Experts). These folks are made user go-to people, heroes in their companies. I believe that they believe their livelyhood depends on successful use of the software, hence are extraordinarily positive about the software itself.
Also, in some implementations, a social stigma is attached to anyone criticising the methods of implementation, the softwarea, or the implementation partners. Again, expert users adopt an attitude of 'everything is fine' when in fact things may not be fine.
I would not suggest that this is limited to SAP implementations. More likely it is attributable to implementation partners and corporate cultures.
Also, the cost of an SAP implementation undoubtedly leads to a culture of 'everything is fine'. Senior executives may adopt an attitude of 'if we are spending this much, the #$@$#@ project better be going well'.
Thanks for the opportunity to comment.