User Experience Demands for Business Applications Prompts Design to Veer Toward Adoption of Consumer Habits and Expectations
User Experience Demands for Business Applications
Prompts Design to Veer Toward Adoption of Consumer
Habits and Expectations
Transcript of a sponsored discussion on how self-service and consumer habits are having an
impact on user experience design.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Sponsor: SAP Ariba
Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you’re
listening to BrieﬁngsDirect.
Our next technology innovation thought leadership discussion focuses on the
new user experience demands for applications, and the impact that self-service
and consumer habits are having on the new user experience design.
As more emphasis is placed on user experiences and the application of
consumer-like processes in business-to-business (B2B) commerce, a softer side
of software seems to be emerging. We'll now explore a new approach to design
that emphasizes simple and intuitive process ﬂows.
With that, please join me in welcoming our guest, Michele Sarko, Chief Design Ofﬁcer at SAP
Ariba. Welcome, Michele.
Michele Sarko: Thank you, Dana. Thank you for having me.
Gardner: We're glad you’re here. There seems to be a hand-off between the skills that are new
to apps' user interface design versus older skills that had a harder edge to technology. How are
we seeing a shift in the way that software is designed from that user-experience perspective, and
how different is it from the past?
Sarko: It’s more about understanding the end users ﬁrst. It’s more about empathy and universal
design. What used to happen was that technology was so new that we as designers were
challenging it do things it didn’t do before. Now, technology is the table stakes
from which everything is measured, and designers, and our users for that
matter, expect it to just work.
The differentiator now is to bring the human element into enterprise products,
and that’s why there's a shift happening in software. The softer side of this is
happening because we're building these products more for the people who
actually use them, and not just for the people who buy them.
Gardner: We've heard from some discussions at the SAP Ariba LIVE Conference recently about
the need for greater and more rapid adoption and getting people more deeply into business
networks and applications. It seems to me that this user experience and that adoption relationship
are quite closely aligned.
Sarko: Yes, they absolutely are, because at the end of the day, it’s about people. When we're
selling consumer software or enterprise software or any types of
business software, if people don't use it or don’t want to use it,
you're not going to have adoption. You don’t want it to become
“shelfware,” so to speak. You want to make a good business
investment, but you also want your end users to be able to do it
effectively. That’s where adoption comes into play and why its key to our customers as well as
our own business.
Gardner: Another thing we heard was that people don't read the how-to manuals and they
don't watch the videos. They simply want to dive in and be able to work and proceed with apps.
There needs to be an intuitive approach to it.
I'm old enough to remember that when new software arrived in the ofﬁce, we would all get a
week of training and we'd sit there for hours of training. But no more training these days. So how
do people learn to use new software?
Sarko: First and foremost, we need to build it intuitively, so that you naturally apply the patterns
that you have to that software, but we should come about it in a different way, where training is
in context, in product.
We're doing new things with overlays. and to take users through a tour, or step them through a
new feature, to give them just the quick highlights of where things are. You see this sort of thing
in mobile apps all the time after you install an update. In addition to that, we build in-context
questions or answers right there at the point of need, where the user is likely to encounter
something new or initially unknown in the the product.
So it’s just-in-time and in little snippets. But underpinning all of it, the experience has to be very,
very simple, so that you don't have to go through this overarching hurdle to understand it.
Gardner: I suppose too that there's an architectural change afoot. Before, when we had
packaged software, the cycles for changing that would be sometimes years, if not more.
Nowadays, when we go to cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, where there’s
multitenancy, and where the developer, the supplier of the software, can change things very
rapidly, a whole new opportunity opens up. How does this new cloud architecture model beneﬁt
the user experience, as compared to the architecture of packaged software?
Sarko: The software and the capabilities that we're using now are deﬁnitely a step forward. With
SAP Ariba, we’ve been able to decouple the application in the presentation layer in such a way
that we can change the user experience more rapidly, do A/B testing, do a lot of in-product
metrics and tracking, and still keep all of the deep underpinnings and the safety and security right
So, we don't have to spend all of our time building it deep into the underpinnings. We can keep
those two things separate, making us able to iterate a lot faster. That's enabling us to go quicker
and to understand users’ needs.
Gardner: I suppose the drive to include mobile devices with any software and services now
plays a role. We saw some really interesting demos at the SAP Ariba LIVE conference around
the ability to discover and onboard a vendor using a mobile device, in this case a smartphone.
How is the drive for mobile-ﬁrst impacting this?
Sarko: Well, the mobile-ﬁrst mindset is something that we always employ now. This is the way
that we should, and do, design a lot of things, because it puts on a different set of restraints, form
factors, and simplicity. On mobile, you only have so much real estate with which to work.
Approaching it from that mindset allows us to take the learnings that we do on mobile and bring
them back to all the other device options that we have.
Gardner: Tell me a little bit about your philosophy about design. When you look at software
that maybe has years of a legacy, the logic has been there for quite some time, but you want to
get this early adoption, rapid adoption. You want a mobile-ﬁrst mentality. How do you approach
this from a design philosophy point of view?
Sarko: It has to be somewhat pragmatic, because you can't move the behemoth of the company
that you are to something different. The way that I approach it, and that we’re looking at within
SAP Ariba, is to consider new ways to improve and new innovations and start there, with the
mobile-ﬁrst mindset, or really by just redesigning aspects of the product.
At the same time, pick the most important aspects or areas of your current product suite and
reinvent those. It may take a little more time or it may be on a different technology stack. It may
be inconsistent for a while, but the improvements are going to be there and are will outweigh that
inconsistency. And then as we go, over time, we'll make that process change overall. But you
can’t do it all at once. You have to be very pragmatic and judicious about where you start.
Gardner: Of course, as we mentioned earlier, you can adjust as you go. You have more
opportunity to ﬁx things or adjust the apps and design.
You also said something interesting at SAP Ariba LIVE, that you “Know your users better than
they know themselves.” First, what did you mean by that in more detail; and then secondly, who
are the users that are using SAP Ariba applications and services, and how are they different from
users of the past?
Sarko: What I meant by “know the users better than they know themselves” is that we're
observing them, we're listening to them, we're drawing patterns across them. The user may know
who they are, but they often feel like they may be alone. What we end up seeing is that as a user,
you’re never alone. We see countless other users facing the same challenges as you, with the
same needs and expectations.
You may just be processing invoices all day, or you may be the IT professional that now has to
order all of the equipment for your organization. We start to see you as a person and the issues
that you face, but then we start to ﬁgure out how we help not only you in your speciﬁc need, but
we learn from others about new features and requirements that you didn't even think you might
So, we're looking in aggregate to ﬁnd out solutions that would ﬁt many and give it to all rather
than just solve it one by one. That's what I mean by "know your users better than they know
And then who are the users? There are different personas. Historically, SAP Ariba focused
mostly only on the customer, the folks who made the purchasing decisions, who owned the
business decisions. I'm trying to help the company understand that there is a shift, that we also
have to pay equal attention to the end users, the people who are in the product using it everyday.
As a company, SAP Ariba has to focus on the various roles and satisfy both needs in order for it
to be successful.
Gardner: It must be difﬁcult to create software for multiple roles. You mentioned the
importance of being role-based in this design process. Is it that difﬁcult to create software that
has a common underpinning in terms of logic, but then has these different roles?
Sarko: The way that we approach it is through building blocks and systems. We have design
patterns, which are building blocks, and these little elements then get manifested together to
build the experience.
Where the roles come in is what gets shown or not. Different modules may be exposed with
those building blocks to one group of people, but not to the other. Based on roles and
permissions, we can hide and show what’s needed. That’s how we approach the role-based
design and make it right for you.
Gardner: And I suppose too one of the goals for Ariba is to not just have the purchasing people
do the purchasing, but have more people, more self-service. Tell me a bit more about self-service
and this idea that people are shopping and not necessarily procuring.
Sarko: Yes, because this is really the shift that we're trying to communicate design for. We come
to work every day with our biases from our personal lives, and it really shouldn't be all that
different when talking about procurement. I mentioned earlier that this is not really about
procurement for end users; it’s about shopping, because that's what you're doing when you buy
things, whether you’re buying them for work or for your personal life.
The terminology has to be consistent with what we know from our daily lives and not technical
jargon. Bringing those things to bear and making that experience much more consumer-like will
enable our customers to be more successful.
Gardner: We've already seen some fruits of these labors and ideas. We saw an example of
Guided Buying, a really fresh, clean interface, very similar to a business-to-consumer (B2C)
shopping experience. Tell me a little bit about some of the examples we have seen and how far
we are along the spectrum to getting to where you want to go.
Sarko: We're very far down the path of building this out. We've been spending the past six
months developing and iterating on ideas, and we'll be able to market the ﬁrst release relatively
And through the process of exploration and working with customers, there have been all of kinds
of nuances about policy compliance and understanding what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.
And not just for the end user, but for the procurement professional, for the buyer in their speciﬁc
areas, in addition to for the procurement folks behind the scenes. All of these roles now are
thought of as individual players in an orchestra, because they all have to work together. We're
actually quite far along, and I'm really excited to see the product come to market pretty soon.
Gardner: Any other ideas about where we go when we start bringing more reactions to what
users are doing in the software? We saw instances where people were procuring things, but then
the policy issue would pop-up, the declaration of, "That's not within our rules; you can’t do that."
It seems to me that if we take that a step further, we're going to start bringing in more analysis
and say, "Well, you're going down this path, but we have information that could help you analyze
and better make a decision." Is that something we should expect soon as well?
Sarko: Yes, absolutely. We're trying to use the intelligence that we have to make better
recommendations for the end users. Then, when the policy compliance comes in, we're not
preventing the end user from completing their task. We're just bringing in the policy person at the
other end to help alleviate that other approval, so that the users still accomplish what they started
Gardner: We really are on the cusp of an interesting age, where analysis from deep-data access
and deep-penetrating business intelligence types of inserts can be made into process. We're at the
crossroads of process and intelligence coming together.
enhancements in business applications, particularly in the procure-to-pay process?
Sarko: This is an ongoing evolutionary process. We learn from the users each day with multiple
inputs: talking to them, watching analytics, listening to customer support. The product is only
going to get better with the feedback that they give us.
Also, our release cycles now have gone from 12 to 18 months down to three months, or even
shorter. We're listening, learning, reacting, much more quickly than we have before. I expect that
you'll see many more product changes and from all of the feedback, we’ll make it better for
Gardner: Speaking of feedback, I was very impressed with the Feature Voting that you've
instituted, allowing people to look at different requirements for the next iteration of the software
and letting them vote for their favorites. Maybe you could just add a bit more about how that
might impact user experience as well?
Sarko: By looking holistically at all the feedback we get, we start to see trends and patterns of
the things we're getting a lot of traction on or a lot of interest in. That helps us prioritize what we
call a backlog -- the feature list -- so that based on user input, we attack the areas that are most
important to users and work that way.
We listen to the input, every single piece of it. Also, as you heard from last year, we launched
Visual Renewal. In the product when you switch versions of the interface, you see a feedback
form that you can ﬁll out. We read every piece of that feedback. We're looking for trends about
how to ﬁx the product and make enhancements based on users. This is an ongoing process that
we'll continue to do: listen, learn, and react.
Gardner: All of which would of course enhance adoption and the speed of adoption, so that’s
I'm afraid we'll have to leave it there. We've been discussing how self-service and consumer
habits are having an impact on user experience design. I'd like to thank our guest, Michele Sarko,
the Chief Design Ofﬁcer at SAP Ariba. Thanks so much, Michele.
Sarko: Thank you. Have a nice day.
Gardner: And a big thank you as well to our audience for joining this SAP Ariba-sponsored
business innovation through leadership discussion. I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at
Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator. Thanks again for listening, and do come back next
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Sponsor: SAP Ariba.
Transcript of a sponsored discussion on how self-service and consumer habits are having an
impact on user experience design. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2016. All rights
You may also be interested in:
• Business in the Cloud: How Efﬁcient Networks Help the Smallest Companies Do Brisk
Business with the Largest
• How new technology trends disrupt the very nature of business
• SAP Ariba Chief Strategy Ofﬁcer on the Digitization of Business and the Future of
• How New Technology Trends Disrupt the Very Nature of Business
• Procurement in 2016 -- The Supply Chain Goes Global
• Is 2016 the Year that Accounts Payable Becomes Strategic?
• Winning the B2B Commerce Game: What Sales Organizations Should Do Differently
• Can Great Design Really Impact Global Commerce?
• Ariba’s digital handshake helps Caesars up the ante on supply chain diversity
• Detecting and Eradicating Slavery and Other Labor Risks Across Global Supply Chains
through Business Networks
• Ariba elevates business user experience with improved mobile apps and interfaces
• Ariba's product roadmap for 2015 leads to improved business cloud services