Posted: 27 May 2020 5 min.

Ugly duckling or beautiful swan? Why “look and feel” are important for your digital transformation

Topic: SAP

User interfaces of core enterprise systems finally provide the flexibility and ease of use, not only on the surface but also beneath. In times of crisis, flexibility is paramount for companies to navigate safely and effectively. Nevertheless, to be flexible, you need to look flexible.

Dull, grim and uninviting! For many years, many large companies have found themselves in a somewhat visual paradox: on one hand having invested large sums of money in compelling internal and external communication, great visual design and user-friendly apps and websites – on the other hand, running core systems that still look like an 80’s left-over with simply horrible design all around.

SAP – which is my field of expertise – is one of those systems typically lumped into this category. Its graphical user interface has long had the reputation for being dull, unpleasant, and restrictive. Historically, for companies, this has not only led to high costs of training new employees, but also many challenges in ensuring adoption of solutions running on SAP and a general lack of flexibility, especially when it came to combining data from different data sources. Adding to this, in my experience, the lack of user-friendliness has brought about a weak talent retention in many companies, simply because the most ambitious and hard-working employees eventually grow tired of monochrome GUI screens, tedious TAB columns and outdated analytics.

For companies running SAP, there is some merit in addressing this topic now. Since the launch of SAP’s open user interface, Fiori and SAP’s digital platform as a service, SAP Cloud Platform, SAP’s screens are simplified, user-centric and much easier to interact with than before. Additionally, when Fiori is deployed on SAP Cloud Platform, it is possible to combine data and functionality from multiple SAP and non-SAP data sources and applications, giving a flexibility beneath the surface that simply didn’t exist a few years ago.

At the same time, the new user interface gives an ease of use which just wasn’t there before. Today, SAP can be used in the same way on any device and Fiori is the default user interface on S/4HANA and almost all of SAP’s product suite. Fiori’s user-centricity, when applied intelligently to business scenarios allows a direct flow from insight to action, irrespective of causality. This translates to a more efficient use of the applications beneath the user-interface, not to mention a more engaged, committed and empowered workforce ready to support the business.

Is all of this even important in a time of severe crisis? Absolutely so!

Implementing a digital core solution like S/4HANA essentially allows companies to maintain a robust backbone for their business operations while giving them the flexibility to develop new solutions to respond to changes in market conditions, if not re-thinking the business model altogether.


Where current challenges involve using previously unrelated data sources and persisting on different platforms and resulting business processes needing to be redefined, there may be merit in thinking of solutions using SAP Cloud Platform with Fiori front ends. This may be especially relevant for companies revisiting their supply chains, rethinking their post COVID19 product go-to-market approaches or reconstructing their business plans for the coming years.

I can’t think of a time in history where flexibility, responsiveness and alertness have been more vital for companies looking to transform their business to match a new post-corona reality. I can’t think of a time in history where data availability in real time has been more important in order to support critical business decisions and immediately translate the financial consequences of changes in the global value chain. And I sure can’t think of a time in history where talent attraction and retention have been more critical to navigate through complexity and adding new strategic perspectives to move successfully towards the other side of the crisis.

In this respect, user-friendliness and a compelling front-end design are not only nice-to-haves or visual bling – no, they are actually the foundation for adapting to a new reality, bringing me back to my initial point that in order to be flexible, you need to look flexible as well.

SAP may not yet be a beautiful white swan, but it is no longer an ugly duckling either. Whatever the case, now is definitely the time to reap the benefits of those digital technologies that have taken huge leaps in the last few years. In my view, this is one of the best ways to evolve leadership and workforce capability in order to, hopefully one day, thrive in the new normal.

Forfatter spotlight

David Colgan

David Colgan


Ask me about: SAP, S/4 HANA, Digital transformation, IT strategy, Program management, Digital Finance function, Cloud David is a partner in Deloitte and the Nordic Lead of our SAP Practice. David has a background as a Chartered Accountant but has more than 25 years of experience with SAP transformation programs, where the underlying theme is SAP and financial & digital optimization. David works with Danish as well as Nordic companies advising on SAP-enabled digital transformations and delivering SAP S/4HANA.

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