It’s not a new insight that SAP software is complex, and navigating their menu trees is no small feat. At a recent meeting with SAP executives, I was informed, rather euphorically and excitedly, that SAP will be experimenting with new types of voice commands. Their vision was the following: an employee needs key figures from a subsidiary and will now be able to communicate this request to the SAP system through voice command.
Our CFO would throw any employee out the door if they couldn’t deliver their boss the figures within a few minutes via regular keyboard and mouse. The company expects its employees to master the tools of their trade and know where data is concealed. Admittedly, the data they are looking for is often hidden deep within the SAP system. But to find it, we have excellent SAP training, so there is no need to engage in endless small talk with an IT system.
Making things worse instead of better
SAP seems to make it a point to not know how their customers use their products. The lack of experience and knowledge in the young SAP board is evident, which in turn leads to senseless experiments with voice inputs which are then financed through our licensing fees. In the financial world, people usually work hard and play less with mice and microphones. Experts like to keep their hand resting quietly on the keyboard, their eyes focused on the screen, and prefer to use clear commands to control the system. There was an enormous outcry when, with R/3, a mouse suddenly joined the previous arrangement of a monitor and keyboard. A mouse can easily be lost under a stack of papers and is inefficient. Having to move your hand from the keyboard to the mouse to click on a menu item and then back again is extremely counterproductive.
(I also discussed the problem of moving from the keyboard to the mouse, and back again with Editor-in-Chief Färbinger, and he confirmed that the new set up was challenging. He often wastes a good deal of time using the mouse to find the right menu items in the Adobe InDesign layout program, whereas his more experienced graphic designer achieves the same result in seconds with just a few keyboard shortcuts. Färbinger also admitted that a speech input option would not be of much use to him either. He does not know the layout vocabulary by heart and would probably spend hours explaining to the system what it is he wants in layman’s terms.
The past R/3 disaster mandated the use of a mouse and excluded the use of a keyboard buffer. Experienced users were familiar with the screen mask sequences and their input fields, allowing them to do certain processes in advance. That was until SAP deactivated the keyboard buffer in the first R/3 version. Then the system waited until the next screen mask was ready to allow these steps to be carried out, removing the option altogether.
True AI optomization
I was informed that with an AI-based voice input, the dark, medieval times in IT were now behind us, and every user interface will have the option to be voice controlled in the future. I fear a Babylonian-level of language confusion, and instead put forward a counterproposal: SAP should optimize the GUI with the help of AI, streamline the processes, and then the AI should restructure the menu trees with its infinite knowledge. To that end, rather than spreading AI over an ailing and inefficient system like frosting over a failed cake, AI can instead analyze and orchestrate the architecture of the entire ERP, resulting in a truly user-friendly system.
I think AI like ChatGPT, in sifting through the vastness of the internet, are excellent at absorbing and consolidating existing knowledge. If ChatGPT were to analyze all the Abap code and study all the Abap literature available, the AI software could become one of the best and fastest Abap programmers. If the AI were to repeat this research in areas such as ERP, CRM, and SCM, a revolutionary S/4 successor could possibly emerge. However, I would describe the attempt to use AI to conceal and whitewash the shortcomings and deficiencies of an existing system as dangerous and stupid. Even a poor ERP system does not become better or more logical with an AI add-on.
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