My name is DJ Adams. Like many of my friends & colleagues, including Brenton, who has kindly allowed me to write a guest post here, I work in the SAP world. Until recently, User Experience (UX) was not a phrase that was uttered all too often. That all changed with the advent of Fiori. Fiori as a UX approach across the spectrum of SAP products, rather than just a specific UI toolkit.
Of course, for business users, this humanisation of SAP, moving from the SAPGUI-based kitchen sink transaction paradigm to the person-centric, role-based concept of a Fiori app (one role, one task, three steps, or thereabouts), is wonderfully embodied by the Fiori philosophy in the context of the classic business workstation triumvirate – screen, keyboard and mouse. And there are wonderful design guidelines that help folks like you and me build consistently intuitive interfaces that make for the target UX.
But as we move from that classic business workstation, beyond the chains that tie us to the desk, how does that UX morph and adapt? Well certainly, with the power of the awesome UI5 toolkit and its built-in support for creating responsive UIs, we can move away from the desktop to mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, and continue working. Is that the end? No, certainly not. UX is about more than the screen, keyboard and mouse, it’s even more than the screen (with touch input). There are alternative approaches that have been around for a long time, and will be here for a good while too. Let’s look at a couple of them.
I’ll start with another input channel entirely – voice. That is, voice input, and voice output. Back in the mid 1990’s, my SAP career had me working in the Oil & Gas sector, and I built integrations between SAP systems and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems.
One I particularly remember was a system that I built that allowed companies to check on their orders for downstream products. All done via that most comfortable of I/O devices – the telephone.
And today that concept is more than alive and well. The owner of this blog that I’m honoured to be posting upon, my friend and colleague Brenton, amply demonstrated this in a post earlier this week: Demo: Voice activated S/4HANA with Amazon Echo. It’s a lot more modern than the IVR system that I used all those years ago, but the concept is the almost the same. Moreover, with the advances in computation, we can use natural language both for input and output.
And then there’s the humble keyboard. Yes, the keyboard also exists in the context of Fiori, but here I mean the keyboard combined with a very simple visual interface. The command line, effectively, where all the user enters, and sees in response (or is sent in ‘push’ mode) is text. Back in 2002 I posted an article “Is Jabber’s Chatbot the Command Line of the Future?” where I talked about various chat based systems and the proliferation of bots – non-human participants that interacted with the humans on the channels they frequented.
These bots provided information in response to direct requests, indirect requests (beautifully embodied in Infobot), and also piped up under their own steam to impart important information on events. They even took and published meeting notes.
I’m a big fan of the simple “two-dimensional” command line. The Unix shell and all its derivatives (such as those found on Linux and OSX based systems). And that command line is reflected in the interface to conversational systems. I’m a long time Internet Relay Chat (IRC) user, and now a big Slack user. And of course I’m partial to a bit of Jabber / XMPP too. I find the power of the command line, when interacting with humans and non-humans (and where that boundary starts to blur) immensely appealing.
It might be to do with the fact that I’m a proud mainframe dinosaur, and look back wistfully on my 80×25 green screen days. But I think it’s that the command line, the simple text interface, the conversational style, is the lowest common denominator in many ways. This lowest common denominator effect means that users of all types can participate, and machines of all types too. The hardware requirements are not high. All you need is a simple display (not even graphical), and keyboard input. And imagination.
For me, that’s the crux of UX.