User mindsets are driving the future of applications

Jonathan Becher

Jonathan Becher is the chief marketing and communications officer of SAP.

Rishi Diwan

Rishi Diwan is vice president and head of product management for sports at SAP.

Sami Muneer

Sami Muneer is vice president of product management for sports at SAP.

Jonathan Becher, Rishi Diwan, and Sami Muneer of SAP describe how tapping into user mindset is a new horizon for applications.

Interview conducted by Vinod Baya, Bo Parker, and Bud Mathaisel

PwC: Jonathan, what is changing the most in the enterprise applications business today?

JB: I think what’s disrupting enterprise applications is the realization that we were subjugated to false tradeoffs over the last 30 years. We believed we had to choose between all the data or real-time data; choose between complexity or simplicity; choose between beautiful user interfaces or completeness of vision. We believed we had to choose between OLTP [online transaction processing] or OLAP [online analytical processing]; choose between systems of record or systems of engagement.

Whatever your definition of application is, all these false tradeoffs that we believed existed in the last 30 to 40 years don’t really exist. We’re finally realizing there are no tradeoffs; we live in a world of applications. We must do all of these things. There is automation and engagement; it is batch and real time; it’s complex and simple and so on.

PwC: How will applications in the future be different from the ones in the past?

JB: The designs of the past were based on automation. For instance, the CRM [customer relationship management] solutions were designed for forecasting revenue for the week, month, or quarter and to automate the process so a person doesn’t need to call people on the phone or e-mail spreadsheets around. Also, the solutions were designed for the five, six, or ten sales operations people who report to the VP of sales or to the board. They were designed for a relatively small number of people who want a specific bit of information—not designed for the masses. People who use it, the salespeople, are not the people who usually get the benefit. For example, if 10,000 salespeople use the system at a large company, the benefit was designed for 70 people who are actually tracking the pipeline.

Almost every application in the last 20 years has that vice, which is the people who use it aren’t the people who get the benefit. What’s starting to happen is the system is being designed for the people who use it the most, and they’re the ones deriving economic benefit. So, if it’s for salespeople who are traveling, it might help them find the shortest path to the next sales call, to get tips on what services their customers might be interested in, and so on.

“The metaphor we’re moving to is where the systems adjust to the user.”
—Jonathan Becher

Another important difference is that in the past, we users always had to adapt to the way the systems were designed. We get training manuals; we do courses. This approach has changed. The metaphor we’re moving to is where the systems adjust to the user.

PwC: Can you share an example?

JB: Sure. The application we built to help football teams draft players has the features I described. This example is about sports, but in business there are parallels to talent management or hiring talent from a large pool of candidates.

If you’re a professional football team and you want to draft players, a limited number of people are in the draft and everyone’s competing for the same players. Traditionally, every team has approached this problem the same way. They do linear optimization, in which they say, “We’ll see who runs the 40-yard dash in such and such time, who jumps the highest, who catches the most, and so on.” They all have the same set of data, and they all try to do linear optimization: “I want the fastest wide receiver; I want the heaviest lineman.”

Imagine if you said instead, “We don’t want to find the player with the best stats overall. We want to find the best player for our system in our current environment.” That may not be the single fastest wide receiver.

PwC: How is the development process different for this application?

JB: The approach we used in developing this application is called design thinking. We started with the San Francisco 49ers [American football team in San Francisco] but we now have applications that are useful for other football teams and eventually for other sports. I’ll let Rishi and Sami, who are leading the development of the applications, provide the details.

RD: For us, design thinking is observing users in context and focusing on the overall experience. The application that we built for the San Francisco 49ers is now called SAP Scouting.

So far, enterprise software has focused on the big problems that are common across enterprises. But the various roles or personas have issues of their own. So, increasingly we see applications targeting specific roles and personas in specific industries. We identified and studied four personas relevant to the SAP Scouting application suite: the general manager, player personnel executives, the scouts, and the trainers. The designs focus on specific personas with specific experiences in the application.

Although the personas have unique needs, we observed that there is also a hierarchical collaborative flow in how decisions are made. So the application needs to support each of the personas as well as respect the hierarchy within the group—in a sense, recognizing that some personas provide input, others make the decision, but there is rich collaboration in sharing information and point of view. As Jonathan was saying, the application benefits everyone who uses it and not a select few.

SM: Our goal with design thinking was to understand what they’re trying to do, how they do it, and then work backward to the design of the experience in an application. Typically, about 12,000 players are in a college draft. The scouts go out and collect a lot of information. They’re in schools, jotting down notes and watching film. They capture the notes in shorthand. They come back to the hotel and type their notes into the computer, and so on. Essentially they aggregate lots of information and opinions on the prospective players.

By understanding first what the 49ers are trying to accomplish, it led us to the realization that the app needed to do three things. The first is to efficiently assess and compare players. The second is to respond to events quickly. The third is to understand and recognize patterns in the data and their predictive utility.

PwC: How is design thinking changing the way you develop applications?

RD: It’s all about user experience. To us, being experience focused includes two elements: one is that interfaces are pleasing to look at, and the second is that they are relevant to the task at hand—so, contextually aware. By focusing on these two elements, we could take a lot of complexity out of their current experience. As an example, our scouting app initially targeted 20 or 30 screens; by focusing on the user’s context and developing a model of how they think about the decisions they need to make, we reduced it to 2 screens.

Our scouting app initially targeted 20 or 30 screens.
“The goal is to present information in a way that’s cognitively easier to process.”
—Rishi Diwan

The app should also be designed to make it easy for users to do what they need to do. The goal is to present information in a way that’s cognitively easier to process. Whereas before they had tables and numbers that take time to scan, we created designs so users can make the quantitative judgment at a glance and then very quickly focus on the qualitative side. The human reasoning is much more involved in the overall experience, but we take away the stress of wading through a lot of information.

SM: Because coaches, scouts, and executives aggregate lots of information, the key challenge for us was to understand how they assess this information. The variance in the user personas is huge. They have a certain way of expressing; they have a certain way of understanding. They all take pride in their analysis and experience. You can’t throw charts at them or have the computer drive their behavior. They’ll check out right away. You need to understand their mindset.

They have to look at the software and understand what they need to. They need to know what they need to know at that point in time and not anything more. That’s where design thinking comes into play. The expression of the information must be in the context they are in. Why organize information in a way that doesn’t help them do what they need to do, whether it is comparing players or responding to events or another context?

PwC: How do you understand the mindset?

SM: We ask them lots of questions. We ask them, “Why do you care about this information? How do you normally consume this today? What artifact do you use? Now you’re looking at the information, so what are you trying to understand? What do you want to do next? Why? What would you like to do that you haven’t been able to?”

We try to get at that flow and draw it out. We also try to get at what would be ideal scenarios for them. If they had the best scenario, how would they do it? Often they get very animated. They say, “I wish I could just click on this; I wish I could just go like this; I wish I could just look at this; that’s what I have never been able to do before.” That feedback gives us the mental model. That also helps us understand where they want to go next. And that gives us an idea of the map of their mindset.

“We use design thinking as a way to translate from implicit knowledge, gut, and experience to explicit and systematic knowledge that helps the institution collectively.”
—Sami Muneer

These maps are not process-centric; they are pattern-centric. We try to understand the underlying patterns, and that informs the design of the software because the patterns are the scenarios we need to support. We use design thinking as a way to translate from implicit knowledge, gut, and experience to explicit and systematic knowledge that helps the institution collectively.

PwC: What have you learned about the dynamics between the users and the software?

SM: They’re talking to the system and the system is talking back, and that leads to the next question. It’s more of a dialogue that helps them go to and fro, but the dialogue happens to be based on the context and the circumstance. Sometimes they just need some quick information. Sometimes they really want to go deep and ask a lot of what-if questions. They may want to know what it is they don’t know, so they’re in an exploratory mode.

Having that power to just know something is transformative. Once they get used to it, they feel helpless without the software. They’re constantly saying, “I want to know this player. What about this?” And they think of something else and ask the next question. The questions they have are the things they’ve worked through in their mind.

PwC: Are there any challenges that you need to address?

SM: As a result of our design thinking study and application, they are thinking and learning themselves. Their patterns of behavior are changing as they become more effective and efficient with the software. This sets up a new dynamic between the software and the user as they learn and change over time.

PwC: Are the domains where you are applying design thinking and developing such apps different from previous domains? It looks like they are more about knowledge-centric work?

SM: The scouting process is much more analytical or knowledge-centric. It’s not like PLM [product lifecycle management] with structured projects and so forth. In a way, we do collect and store the information in a system of record that is the underlying foundation. Where design thinking was most important was the human interface to that information in a new, contextual, nonintrusive way.

PwC: What is the impact of your work with the sports application across other products and solutions?

JB: Everything we do is using design thinking. Our design thinking professionals engage with customers all over the world and conduct workshops. We have had situations where customers are skeptical about the workshop. But often at the end of the workshop they say, “Oh, you’ve got to come and see.” We’re getting in the mind of the customer and being empathetic. In two days we simulate actual work. We try to understand, “At this point, why did you do this?” We are getting to their mindset.

PwC: What is the impact of what you are doing with design thinking on your existing solutions and their path forward? What should CIOs be aware of?

JB: I’m going to oversimplify the answer and in doing so skip a million really important things. But the biggest change that happened in SAP in the last year is that HANA has rapidly matured from an in-memory analytics tool to a completely rethought database and platform for applications. Design thinking provides a way to design any new experience and express it in a future application on HANA. This provides the freedom to think beyond traditional boundaries and have a platform to realize the dream in a simple and yet powerful way.

HANA is now under everything, including the old transactional applications, in a way that’s mostly invisible to the average CIO and runs faster without change to the application. Additionally, if all you really want is an analytical application that takes data out of your core transaction systems—and now increasingly web, social, and mobile sources—HANA can do that in a simpler way than building a big data warehouse in the sky. This way HANA can drive a better user experience across all the interactions and analysis in real time using systems you already have.

Lastly, leading CIOs—especially those who partner with the business to take advantage of new opportunities—are running new, dramatically rethought real-time applications built on HANA. Examples include predictive maintenance, real-time MRP [Material Resource Planning], personalized health, and several applications built by startups on HANA.

What we have done is disrupt ourselves, so the end customers see very little disruption whatsoever.