SAP ERP customers gain options for improved UI

But a next-generation Business Suite has yet to come into view

Options are growing for SAP ERP (enterprise resource planning) customers that want to snazz up the system's screens, both for the enjoyment of end-users and improved productivity.

SAP recently rolled out version 2.0 of Screen Personas, which gives users the ability to personalize their SAP based screens based on preference and job role. The update introduces a new version of Personas' Microsoft Silverlight-based client as well as an HTML version.

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Both clients come as part of a single download and installation, according to a recent company blog post. The Silverlight and HTML clients "run independently and do not interact," solving "different problems in different use cases," according to the post.

However, the updated Silverlight version offers better performance and scalability, with support for all browsers containing a Silverlight plug-in.

Microsoft has only committed to supporting Silverlight, its attempt to compete with the likes of Flash for rich media and Web development, until 2021. SAP is building Personas with backward compatibility in mind, meaning customers' installations won't break if and when it switches to another format, the company said during a webinar earlier this year.

SAP is already looking into alternatives and has "plenty of time" under Microsoft's time frame for Silverlight to make a transition, according to the company.

Meanwhile, the HTML-based Personas provides a lighter-weight option, requiring no client installations, with the tradeoff being a smaller feature set, according to the post.

SAP has made other moves recently in the user-experience realm. Last October, it showcased a product called AppDesigner, which allows users to create simple applications in a drag-and-drop manner.

Yet another product, Fiori, features more than 25 cross-platform applications focused on the most popularly used SAP functions and processes.

Third-party vendors are also offering alternative ways to interact with SAP back-end systems. On Wednesday, Synactive announced a new version of its GUIXT Liquid UI client for SAP, which provides access to the system from iOS devices.

In one sense, SAP's UI-related endeavors provide it with a hedge against the fact that no new major version of its flagship Business Suite is in sight.

SAP announced the current edition in 2009 and has committed to mainstream support for the release until 2020. SAP is also rolling out a series of enhancement packs that it says provide new features without the work involved in a full-blown upgrade.

In light of the ongoing UI work, a next-generation Business Suite may feature a radically overhauled interface.

"We are committed to delivering the most exciting user experience in the industry," SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe said during the company's Sapphire conference in May.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com.

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