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By Boris Hecker; interview by Silke Ecker, SAP User Experience, SAP AG – December 21, 2006
ICOD stands for Industry Composite Development. Now what does that mean? Developing a business software application, the size of about ten to fifteen screens, tailored to the needs of a specific industry, i.e. Public Sector, Aerospace and Defense Industry or Health Care makes it easier to grasp.
But ICOD is more than development of another piece of software. With Industry Composite Development, SAP goes through their products for 16 industries with a fine-tooth comb, in order to find out where business processes deserve a brush-up in visual design and usability in general.
Industry Solution Management was invited to hand in project proposals, with the following criteria: A use case and a high-level specification of requirements are in place, software development complies with Enterprise Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and a customer is willing to support the project. Only project proposals meeting these requirements will make it to the decision board that will handpick the projects to be tackled in 2007.
Figure 1 : Boris Hecker presenting the iCOD project (photo: G. Waloszek)
"Once a project fulfills these criteria, we can identify it as a strategic UI design front-runner project", says Klaus Weber, Senior Vice President of Industry Development and member of the ICOD decision board. He underlines that "senior level management support from all parties involved is a must" and that "full User Interface Design support will be assigned to such a project to boost user-friendly design."
Indeed, SAP takes it seriously, when it comes to designing key applications.
Usability experts from the User Experience department see to it that the projects follow the User-Centered design process (UCD). First of all, UI experts analyze and evaluate quantity – and quality! – of user research that has already been accomplished.
Second, they support Solution Management with interviewing end users to verify the use case for the software and thus guarantee that the software faithfully reflects the user's work processes and meets their needs. UI designers (UIDs) take the role of the users' advocate. They foster listening to end users' requirements – which might not always be congruent with the requirements an IT specialist or department manager has identified.
Next, usability specialists bring in their expertise by helping to structure each development process in clear-cut short units, so-called "sprints" with well-defined results to be delivered before the next unit can start.
What is more, getting away from long-term project management that heavily relies on planning at the project start "once and for good," the next generation project management leaves sufficient room to respond to changes. The findings of the previous sprint can directly be integrated into the following. According to HCI experts, these iterative, incremental cycles prove to be the right way to better usability.
Figure 2: UCD process for Composites – emphasis prep phase (click image for larger version)
Figure 3: UCD process for Composites – implementation phase (click image for larger version)
"With this new agile process, we put into practice what HCI experts recommend", says Boris Hecker, lead UI designer for ICOD development, who pulls the strings for a range of about fifteen ICOD projects. "We bring the distinct communities of software developers and UI designers together. Software engineering and HCI methods need to be as closely integrated as possible, and the users have to be given an active role throughout the process," he is convinced. It is crucial to motivate teams consisting of software developers, solution managers and UI designers to apply this new process. Having successfully applied it in 2006, more pilots are scheduled to start at the beginning of 2007.
While being in an early phase of ICOD, yet, Boris is "pleased to hear that our colleagues and customers already see the benefit that these new UI methods and processes bring to the software product."
Andreas Gebauer, ICOD Program Lead, certainly agrees with the agile manifesto proclaimed by HCI experts: "Putting individuals and interactions first, means for us that we are ready to adapt our software development process in a way that our customers and end-users will be fully satisfied with our composite applications."