SAP Sapphire: Unilever ‘strives for UI as good as Apple', says global CIO

By Sooraj Shah
05 Jun 2014 View Comments

Consumer goods firm Unilever strives to match iPhone-maker Apple in the way it produces applications for its employees and its third-party distributors, according to its global CIO, Willem Eelman.

Eelman was addressing the media at a roundtable discussion that took place at SAP Sapphire in Orlando, Florida.

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He said that when he first started his role as CIO more than four years ago, there was an "achilles' heel" with SAP.

"It was a fantastically engineered product but its UI hadn't kept up with modern trends and the demands that younger people were putting on the UI," he said.

He said that he was very vocal about this to SAP, urging the firm to embrace "design thinking", and improve the UI of its core products.

"We wanted to expand usage and adoption of SAP within the company because when this happens it drives value. But we felt at times that it was an inhibitor of usage and adoption and also resulted in high costs for training and retraining because we had employee churn.

"The argument [from SAP] was that users love those screens, and perhaps this was true of a financial clerk, but the truth was that only someone who had worked five to 10 years with the same application and knew how and where to find what [would enjoy using it]," Eelman said.

Eelman suggested that it was a "massive training challenge" for someone new because usability of SAP's UI wasn't determined by intuition, but rather reliant on experience.

Unilever has since worked with SAP to improve this in design workshops, being one of the first brands to trial SAP tools such as Fiori and UI5.

"We have significantly overhauled the UI together with SAP to make the product much more appealing and make it easier for our users, particularly in R&D and customer management," Eelman stated.

And he is keen to ensure that Unilever, which owns brands such as Dove and Magnum, has a similar impact to Apple, which also used SAP's technology to underpin its App Store.

"Very few people know that SAP's technology underpins the App Store. Apple has fused the SAP product with a significantly improved UI, and if you can do that then you're in the sweet spot of driving adoption in your business," he said.

"Apple have proved you can do it because they've done a brilliant job and I hope we can get to that level as well. We strive to create really appealing apps that people would like to use for three reasons: because they work, make them more efficient and because they're easy to use - that's the Holy Grail for proper user design," he added.

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