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R/2 keyboard, R/3 mouse, S/4 language input

SAP has taken a wrong turn: Instead of consolidating menus, screen masks and processes, a ChatGPT-like voice input is to be put over the disastrous UI. Why does SAP always start solving problems from the wrong side?
May 1, 2023
This text has been automatically translated from German to English.

The realization that SAP software is complex and that navigating the menu trees is not trivial is not new. At a recent meeting with SAP executives, I was euphorically and excitedly told that experiments are to be conducted with new types of voice commands. Vision: A controller needs key figures from a subsidiary and should be able to communicate this request to the SAP system by voice in the future.

Our CFO would throw out the door any controller who couldn't deliver the numbers to his boss within a few minutes via keyboard and mouse. The group expects its employees to master the tools of their trade and know where the data is hidden. Admittedly, the data they are looking for is often hidden deep in the SAP system. But to find it, we have excellent SAP training. So there is no need to get into endless small talk with an IT system.

SAP does not know how we existing customers work - and this is a tradition! There is a lack of experience and knowledge on the young SAP board, so pointless experiments with voice input are carried out on the basis of our license fees. In finance, people usually work hard and play less with mouse and microphone. The experts like to keep their hand resting quietly on the keyboard; their eyes are focused on the screen; and clear commands are used to control the system. The outcry was enormous when, with R/3, there was suddenly a mouse next to the screen and keyboard. Where was the mouse? Under which stack of paper was it hidden? For an efficient workflow, moving the hand from the keyboard to the mouse to click on a menu item and back again is extremely counterproductive.

(I also discussed the problem - keyboard, mouse and keyboard - with editor-in-chief Färbinger and he confirmed the challenge: He always spends a long time using the mouse to find the right menu items in the Adobe InDesign layout program, while his knowledgeable graphic designer achieves the result within seconds with just a few keyboard shortcuts. Chief editor Färbinger revealed something else to me: Speech input would not help him either, because he does not know the layout vocabulary and thus hours would pass until he explained to the system what his layman's wish is now).

The past R/3 disaster consisted not only of the mandatory use of a mouse, but also of the lack of a keyboard buffer. Experienced users knew the sequence of the screen masks and their input fields. Thus, fast, anticipatory work was possible until the time when SAP deactivated the keyboard buffer in the first R/3 versions. Now the user waited until the next screen mask was ready.

Now I was told that with AI-based voice input, these dark IT times are behind us and every user interface can be controlled by voice command in the future. I fear a Babylonian confusion of languages and have a counter proposal: SAP should optimize the GUI with AI help, streamline the processes and the AI should restructure the menu trees with its infinite knowledge. Thus, rather than spreading artificial intelligence over an ailing and inefficient system like frosting over a failed cake, analyze and orchestrate the architecture of the entire ERP with the help of AI, resulting in a truly user-friendly system.

I think that AI like ChatGPT can excellently absorb and consolidate the existing knowledge while trawling the vastness of the Internet. If ChatGPT has analyzed all the Abap code and studied all the Abap literature, perhaps the AI software can become one of the best and fastest Abap programmers. If the AI repeats this research in the areas of ERP, CRM and SCM, a revolutionary S/4 successor could possibly emerge. However, I would describe as dangerous and stupid the attempt to use AI to conceal and whitewash the shortcomings and deficiencies of an existing system. Even a poor ERP system does not become more logical or better with an AI add-on.


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