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SAP S/4HANA for Retail: Implementing an Intuitive User Experience

When retail companies implement SAP S/4HANA for Retail, it’s important they keep the end users in mind who will be interacting with the system on a daily basis. An important goal is for users to accept and embrace the technology – after all, it should make their lives easier – and by driving good usage of the system, retailers can improve their data quality that powers their analytical tools. With the introduction of Fiori for S/4HANA, SAP has enabled a much more personalized and modern user experience compared to the SAP GUI used for SAP ECC. However, tailoring that experience for a specific retailer’s user base can be challenging during an implementation that inherently involves so many activities: configuring the system, testing custom programs, building interfaces, converting data, etc. How does building an intuitive end user experience fit in? And what part of the project will focus on it? The end user experience should not just be an afterthought of a broader implementation project, but rather a theme that begins in how the project team is structured, is incorporated heavily in design, and influences change management activities throughout the project.

Taking an Agile Approach and Incorporating Product Management Best Practices in SAP S/4HANA for Retail

Building an intuitive user experience necessitates iterative design. SAP implementations commonly use a waterfall methodology, where requirements are gathered at the beginning, the solution is designed and tested, and the final product is ready for production use. By taking an Agile approach instead, end users are incorporated throughout the full process. By building components of functionality, providing demonstrations to the users, and getting the users’ feedback, we’re able to accomplish three key goals:

  1. Understanding how they use the tools and interact with the system
  2. Incorporating their feedback into the product backlog of features and future enhancements
  3. Gaining their acceptance of the functionality early on in the project

Instead of delivering the tools and functionality to end users, the project should be structured as a collaborative effort where users are involved throughout the design process. The backlog can then be constantly reprioritized to evaluate the functionality that will offer the highest ROI or impact to the user experience.

The challenging part of this concept, though, is how to keep this Agile development engine running in the midst of a broader SAP S/4HANA for Retail implementation that likely has a phased waterfall approach. It is important to determine what milestones or phases of the project still need to be met; for example, integration testing may require certain functionality to be ready, even though development is ongoing for certain features or enhancements. When working with a System Integrator, it’s especially imperative to agree on how scope is defined and how changes will be managed. It can be nearly impossible to define the full scope of work before getting any user feedback – and as feedback is received, priorities can quickly change to focus on features with higher ROI. To avoid competing objectives and misaligned expectations, the process for managing the backlog and evaluating competing priorities should be defined up front and supported by the project governance.


Another key tenet is considering why users need the functionality and how they are using it. We want to give the users enough information to make good decisions and troubleshoot issues on their own, while not overwhelming them with too much data that they miss what is important or relevant. We want to build guard rails into the applications to encourage clean data entry, without creating tools too inflexible to accommodate the ever-changing day to day needs of the business and user. What can be automated may have a different answer than what should be automated, especially when prioritized against the product backlog and the budget. All of these questions require finding the right balance, which comes from better understanding the users’ needs. As feedback is continuously provided and incorporated throughout development, the project team can focus their resources on the functionality that will offer the most value to the end users.

When we consider ways to improve usability, we want to be sure to pick the right tool for the job – and this can come from asking the right questions:

  • For which form factor are we designing – will the user be accessing this functionality from a desktop computer, tablet, or handheld scanner?
  • What decision is the user trying to make – should we build an application for the user to interact with, or would a report that can be exported to Excel be a more efficient way for them to reach that decision?
  • Do we need to spend extra time and money for custom UI5 development to add all the bells and whistles – or could we use ABAP RESTful to quickly create a simplified Fiori application?

Keeping these types of questions in mind throughout the project will not only lead to a better user experience, but it will also help avoid costly mistakes that arise from building the wrong tool for the job.

Change Management

As with any large SAP implementation, change management is an important aspect of the project to facilitate a smooth go live and acceptance of the final product. Incorporating user feedback throughout the design and build process creates an opportunity to frame things in the right perspective early on in the project. We’ve found the below three focus areas to be important when considering user experience.

  • If the company is transitioning to SAP from a legacy system, the users may already be familiar with the look and feel of their current solutions. Be careful to not just redesign the legacy tools into SAP S/4HANA for retail as the default requirements.
  • Understanding and evaluating the business process is a prerequisite step before designing the end user tools or applications. By asking if there is a better way to do things, you may realize that some processes can be simplified for the user.
  • Managing user expectations and being transparent with the backlog prioritization will improve their acceptance of the final product. Just because they provided feedback or suggestions, doesn’t necessarily mean that those features will be in the next release – everything is prioritized against the backlog and the budget.

Store Portal Implementation for Grocery Co-op

In a relevant example, Clarkston recently partnered with a grocery store co-op to implement S/4HANA for Retail, which included a custom Store Portal application. This application was a critical component of the project and was designed as a suite of custom SAP Fiori applications for store users to manage their store specific product data and pricing.  The project team leveraged the Agile approach to ensure  end user feedback was captured and incorporated as follows:

  1. Required functionality decomposition – identified the discrete capabilities to be developed, tested, and demonstrated individually
  2. Product Backlog – organized a list of capabilities that were continually evaluated by effort, complexity, and priority throughout the project
  3. Agile Delivery – within a broader waterfall SAP implementation, the Store Portal team worked on a unique schedule with daily stand up meetings, two-week sprints, and recurring demos of the new functionality
  4. End User Playback – by sharing demonstrations of each capability, the end users’ suggestions were incorporated into the backlog and prioritized against other functionality

This approach created a more transparent process where the users understood that not every suggestion would be included in the first iteration of the applications, but instead would be added to the backlog and evaluated based on priority. It also reinforced the users’ acceptance of the system, which was evident in how quickly they embraced the new tools and functionality after Go Live.

SAP S/4HANA for Retail Key Takeaways

End user experience is a critical aspect for retailers to consider when planning an SAP S/4HANA implementation. By engaging end users throughout the process in an Agile manner, the implementation team can build the right functionality and support change management efforts for the project. Though it may seem counterintuitive, the iterative design process can actually lower the total cost of ownership of your SAP systems by optimizing the end user tools up front and improving user acceptance, instead of delivering a set of tools to end users that is used incorrectly, creates inefficiencies, or is outright rejected.

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Tags: SAP, SAP S/4HANA, Retail