SAP relents, will provide new UI technology at no extra charge

Users had called for Fiori and Screen Personas to be delivered as part of maintenance

Bowing to pressure from customers and competitors, SAP will provide a series of recently released, next-generation user interface technologies at no extra charge.

Screen Personas and Fiori will now be included with SAP software licenses, while customers who already bought the products will get a credit they can use as part of future purchases, SAP said Tuesday at the Sapphire user conference in Orlando.

Fiori is a rapidly growing set of lightweight, mobile-friendly applications based on common processes from SAP's flagship Business Suite, while Screen Personas gives users the ability to rejigger Business Suite screens to suit their liking or job role.

In recent months, SAP user groups agitated publicly for both products to be free, citing SAP's poor track record over the past couple of decades with respect to the user experience.

SAP initially held steadfast against the criticism. But newly minted sole CEO Bill McDermott may have since decided that a high-profile concession on pricing could put a signature initial stamp on his tenure.

"Some customers as well as our user groups said SAP shouldn't charge for [Fiori and Screen Personas]," McDermott said during a keynote address Tuesday. "You know what? I agree."

Fiori now covers 300 of the most-used processes in the Business Suite and reduces keystrokes by 75 percent, McDermott said.

SAP isn't leaving all the money on the table, as it will offer customers design and implementation services they can use to adopt Fiori and Screen Personas, according to Tuesday's announcement.

Fiori will be "the new [user experience] for SAP software" across multiple types of devices, according to a statement. Screen Personas, meanwhile, will be blended into SAP GUI for HTML, which is aimed at casual users.

In addition, SAP executive Sam Yen has been appointed chief design officer of the company.

User groups such as DSAG (German-Speaking SAP User Group) had argued that the user interface improvements should have been included as part of the annual maintenance fees customers already pay.

"SAP has recognized that attractive surfaces are an important trend among users and this must be served within maintenance expenditures," DSAG board member Andreas Oczko said in an emailed statement Tuesday. "Now SAP customers can evaluate whether SAP Fiori and Screen Personas are suitable for their business or not, without having to take into consideration additional licensing costs."

The announcement is good news for SAP customers, said Philip Adams, chairman of the UK and Ireland SAP User Group, in a statement. "A survey we've just run showed the vast majority of organizations expected Fiori to be provided as part of maintenance and that additional licenses would put them off using it. With companies paying up to 22% in support and maintenance fees this isn't surprising."

More than half of the survey's respondents said they'd adopt Fiori within the next year if SAP provided it as part of maintenance, Adams said. "This should be a win-win for SAP and our members. Fiori should improve user satisfaction and as a result we wouldn't be surprised to see user adoption of other SAP software increase."

Also Tuesday, SAP announced the beta release of River, a rapid application-development platform that was hatched under the watch of former technology chief Vishal Sikka, who left the company last month as part of a management shakeup.

Overall, SAP's announcements reflect a growing recognition among enterprise software vendors that customers demand a consumer-like feel to their business applications, particularly as millennials make up an increasingly larger part of the workforce.

"Fifty percent of Gen Y say they would rather lose their sense of smell than their mobile device," McDermott said during the keynote.

It's also a response to competitors such as Workday and NetSuite, which recently introduced user-interface upgrades at no additional cost to customers.

McDermott is the first American to be sole CEO of SAP, and appears bent on making his mark on a company that despite its success has long endured criticism for the complexity of its software.

"We see a dream for a simpler SAP, and a simpler customer experience," McDermott said during the keynote. "I realize there are those of you, especially the pundits, that say we can't. Those that are eager to point out to me that SAP has been too complex. That's a fair point. No doubt about it. That's why there's a chip on our shoulders. We will beat complexity. SAP is simple from now on."

One other way SAP is trying to change is through simpler pricing. The complexity of SAP's price list has long been a sore spot for customers.

But as of April 1, SAP rolled out a new price list that consolidates products into blocks, said Rob Enslin, president of global customer operations, during a press conference Tuesday.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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