A Conversation between a Business Process Expert and an SAP Solution Manager
Sinem: Thanks for inviting me to share my SAP xApp Analytics story with the Business Process Expert Community. This gives us the opportunity to connect with other customers who might be exploring SAP xApp Analytics.
Anirban: And thank you, Sinem, for launching this “blogolog.” Perhaps the best way to start our new series is by quoting from your experience directly:
“In just one month, we were able to customize five areas of functionality to meet our strategic requirements, put the software into production, and demonstrate its value. That’s fast.”
Anirban: So it’s my great pleasure to introduce Sinem, the face behind this Whirlpool success story. And what better way to learn about the SAP xApp Analytics experience than talking with Sinem, one of the early adopters ….or let me put this way ….. one of the early innovative adopters of SAP xApp Analytics.
I now invite Sinem to take us through the SAP xApp Analytics journey at Whirlpool and share her insights about the “wow factor.” But before we get to that “wow factor,” we’d like to find out why Whirlpool decided to start a pilot project with SAP xApp Analytics.
Sinem: Whirlpool is always searching for new technologies and tools that will help us improve the way we do business. When we learned about SAP xApp Analytics we decided to set up a team of four developers and start a pilot project in November 2005, even though we didn’t have a business case to support our development. We considered this more of an exploration than anything else. Whirlpool believes that end-user feedback is an important factor in the company’s future technology and tool selections – and we saw this project as a way to get that feedback.
Anirban: What can you tell us about the project itself?
Sinem: We’re a global company with more than 60 manufacturing and technology centers. So that’s a lot end-user feedback. We took five weeks to design, implement, and test five dashboards. For testing we used our Latin American and Australian systems. Then we presented the results to several business groups at Whirlpool headquarters, Whirlpool China, Brazil, Mexico, Europe, and Australia.
Anirban: Five weeks doesn’t seem like a long time for all of that. What was your impression?
Sinem: Although I have a technical background, I had never worked on SAP software before joining Whirlpool. So I was a bit concerned about that. But what impressed me most about SAP xApps Analytics – besides its look and feel – is its simplicity: it doesn’t require any previous SAP experience. The pilot project not only gave me exposure to SAP NetWeaver BI and SAP BEx [SAP Business Explorer], but also helped others understand the value of process modeling and Visual Composer [SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer].
Anirban: Can you tell us a bit more about how you used process modeling in the context of your work with analytics? How did that help?
Sinem: What I mean by “process modeling” is that once the back-end system development is complete, the front-end design becomes a matter of deciding how and where to place the information displays on a dashboard. Instead of talking about Boolean logic and if-then-else cases, we can use everyday language. That really made it easy for technical and nontechnical stakeholders to understand each other, especially during requirements analysis and definition. Plus we could update models on the fly. As we got better at the modeling, we could quickly and easily create new prototypes, review them with users, and then make those changes for another round of reviews – in hours not days.
Anirban: And what was the impression of your business users?
Sinem: Like me, they were impressed with the animation – and how easy everything was. But we call the animation the “wow factor” because that really caught everyone’s attention. Plus development with Visual Composer is a WYSIWIG [what-you-see-is-what-you-get] approach. To change or update the layout of a dashboard; you just drag-and-drop and connect different objects. Finally, our users were really excited about the rapid prototyping. Instead of waiting days to see their suggestions implemented in the dashboard, they could see the results in just a few hours.
Anirban: Sounds great. But…. I think you know what I’m going to ask next. Anyone who’s worked on a project like this knows that there are a few moments – or days – where things just don’t go right. What can you tell us about the downside of Whirlpool’s project?
Sinem: You are right Anirban. We had moments of challenge and frustration. Since we were working on Visual Composer 1.0, we ran into some technical and usability issues. For example, in a few cases we couldn’t do the things we wanted to do, like coding. Or we’d get an error but the error message didn’t make any sense. We also had some frustration with the way Visual Composer is designed. Let me give you a couple of examples:
There’s no way to cancel a search, like a “cancel” button, if you accidentally click on “browse for queries.” And there’s no way to get an alphabetical list of all of the queries within a specific system. However, we kept track of all the issues we ran into, and we gave the list to SAP as a result of our pilot.
Anirban: Thanks for being so candid. So now that you’re looking back on your project, is there anything you wish you knew before starting the project?
Sinem: There are definitely a few things I would do differently. First of all, I would start to version our models much earlier than we did. I’d also reconsider where we developed our models. If you develop models in the “public” folder, you have to have the admin role to unlock a model if it gets locked accidentally – if someone’s PC gets hung up or if Visual Composer crashes. When Visual Composer crashed in design time, all the models we were working on were locked up. It happened more than once, and we often worked at night when there was no administrator around. We found a workaround to keep our project on track, but it took us more time than it should have.
I think I may have underestimated what I needed to do to “sell” SAP xApp Analytics to the business units. Even though we now have five models in production, it was a hard sell. Managers understood the value of dashboards, but they still wanted to be able to slice and dice the data and have ad hoc reporting. C-levels users really like dashboards because they want to see the big picture. Managers really want to be able to drill down more than one layer. So I really needed to set the expectations of C-level users versus managers before starting the implementation cycle.
Anirban: What are your take-aways from this project?
Sinem: I hadn’t thought about this approach before, but I was impressed with iterative development and how much the users got involved in the prototyping. I think that really improved the communication between developers and users – and we got much better results in a short amount of time. And because the tools are easy to use, some of the business users were willing to try them – and we didn’t have to spend a lot of time bringing everyone up to speed. Plus the project made me really think about when to design the backend, like the InfoCubes and queries, and when to start the design of the interface.
Anirban: Sinem, thanks so much for sharing your experiences and insights.
Sinem: My pleasure. I hope that we could provide some real-world insight from a customer’s perspective. But now I’d like to turn the discussion back to the BPX Community.
Anirban: Good idea. I think you helped to get rid of a lot of doubts about how to get started with composite applications for analytics. But now we need to hear from the community about their experiences.
Sinem: Since the interactive iterative approach worked on our project, I think we should take the same approach here. Let’s get a discussion going in the BPX Community on /community [original link is broken].