Archive for December, 2006

I’d like to throw my mouse away.

Strange thought but hear me out.

I am not really serious. The whole world is too attached to their mice, but this is what I would like to achieve: to be able to drive all applications from the keyboard with out having to resort to moving my right hand 15 cm to the right to grab the mouse to have to click on a button or menu item because there is no other way to activate the action.

As I mentioned in my recent UI Musings post there should be several ways to achieve the action I want to achieve: Menu item, button and shortcut key.

This is all very easy to achieve and it annoys me when applications don’t provide shortcut keys. It annoys me even more when the same action has a different shortcut key for the same action on a different screen.

This is even achievable even with a web application. Look at Google. Reader, gmail, calendar and a host of others provide shortcut keys for the most frequently used actions. This makes for ease of use and enjoyable user experience. Granted some of these shortcuts take a little while to learn but once you get them down it makes for faster navigation.

Some of the banking sign in applications I use have nice little JavaScript code to automatically move the cursor from one field to the next when the 2 characters it is expecting are filled. This simple thing make using those applications a joy.

These things are the 20% that remains after the 80% that matters has been completed. They are ‘nice to have’ but they sure do make applications easier to use.

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5 Things you (probably) didn’t know about me

Ha!

What happens when you see your entire blogroll has gone nuts doing this whole ‘5-things’ thing? You can just see it coming.

Thanks Thomas for tagging me. So for your reading pleasure here goes…

1. 30 kangaroos used to live in my back yard. OK, so the back yard in question was 3000 acres and they lived in the bush paddock at the far end of the farm. They are such graceful animals in full flight.

2. I am a university dropout. I dropped out of an Architecture degree before later doing a information technology degree. My results were much better the second time around.

3. I have performed for royalty. When I was younger, oh so much younger than today, my high school took a musical on a tour of the UK doing about 20 shows in about 25 days. At one of those shows Prince Edward, who was then the arty royal working for the Really Useful Theatre Company, was in attendance.

4. My favorite musical is Les Mis.

5. As for sport I am passionate about cricket and cycling to the exclusion of pretty much every other sport including football aka soccer, AFL aka Aussie Rules or footie, rugby (both codes), basketball or anything really. The Ashes and those three weeks in July are the top of the sporting calendar for me. Roll on 07-07-07 when Le Tour leaves from London.

Ok Alvero and Demian consider yourself tagged.

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Multiple App servers and BSP debugging

My current client was having shocking performance on its SAP development system. This is not a good thing. There were many consultants getting quite frustrated and annoyed.

So after the time it takes to get these type of things organised they deployed a new app server for us. Hooray. Improved performance and happy consultants.

Here are some reminders for when you are trying to debug SAP Business Server Pages (BSP) applications you need to:

  1. Make sure you are connected to the right client. If your breakpoint is in client 200 it won’t stop at the breakpoint if you are logging onto client 300 with the browser. The best way to do this to absolutley make sure is to append sap-client=nnn to the url where nnn is your client number.
  2. Make sure are you pointing your browser at the right application server. You can either save a bookmark / favorite to the right app server or you can use the test from within transaction SE80 (the development workbench) or transaction BSP_WD_WORKBENCH (the web client workbench). Using ‘test’ does not guarrentee that the right client will be chosen as there may well be a default client set up in the Internet Connection Framework (transaction SICF).

So if you have a set a breakpoint in your BSP and you are not hitting it, check these two points. If you have set it all up correctly then your logic may well be at fault! That is probably why you are debugging.

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UI Musings

There has been a lot flying around the blogosphere this last week about user interfaces.

It was kicked off by James at Redmonk with his review of a case study of a Flex app linking to SAP. Dan then left a great comment. Thomas, Craig and Anne all jumped in and then James posted again based on Craig’s post.

The joy of blogging – Naked Conversations indeed.

Well for what its worth. Here is my take on user interfaces.

I love the old Apple logo which had the users face slammed into the into the computer monitor. Its symbol that the user should be able to work easily and closely with the machine rather than having a fear of it.

I fully appreciate Thomas’s point when he says…

The user of the system is not always the customer. To put it bluntly, a financial system should not be designed to make accounts payable clerks happy. It should make the real customers happy, the CFO and the owners and investors in the business. They should have the confidence that the numbers in the system reflect the business reality. It should designed to track, control, record and predict the financial status of the business. Most of the data that flows into a finance system does so without user intervention. The end-user is not the centre of attention, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them.

I hope by not ignoring them Thomas allows for making the process efficient and thus increasing productivity.

As The Other Systematic said in the comments…

If my usability expert saves one minute daily for 150,000 employees by making their workday more efficient and reduces call volumes by 30-40%, it’s an accounting exercise, not a group hug.

This is the nature of UI at the enterprise level. Making the back end process efficient. One of my recent customers was needing to reduce headcount and thus more transactions were flowing into the financial system via interfaces rather than via the AP / AR teams. At the same time there was a process to make those entries that did need to go via the data entry teams as streamlined as possible.

It doesn’t need to be flashy. It needs to save a mouse click here and a screen there. All these small saving add up.

To me the use of accelerator keys is critical in user interface development. I am a heavy user of accelerator keys, but I am a tech geek who sits in front of a computer for a living. The user should have several ways to access a particular function depending on how they like to work. A button if it is a key function like printing a document, a menu item (File->Print) and a shortcut key stroke (Alt+F, P) or a direct keystroke (Ctrl+P). The menu item should have the accelerator keys underlined and the direct keystroke should be next to the menu item and in the tool-tip of the button. That way a user can do tasks the easy way, by click on a button and then learn the quicker way.

The best advice I read to learn the direct keystrokes was to rollover the menu and then read the keystroke combination and then stop using the menu and use the direct keystroke.

User Interfaces don’t have to be flashy, but they do have to be functional and they have to make it easy and dare I say easy and intuative to use for the new user and fast to use for the expert.

I think I will be musing more on this subject.

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Twitter.com

Craig sent me an invite to twitter.com yesterday.

All it seems attempting to do is answer the question – ‘What are you doing now?’

It is of course a social networking type thing built with agily type methods and probably RoR.

What is cool is that it is effectively a broadcast system. If I link up my mobile phone or IM then any message I leave will be sent to my friends, either by SMS, IM or an RSS feed.

Why is this useful? Not sure yet. I think the jury is out on it but hey, you could check it out too or you could view my profile. Ahh, except I am in secret mode so I have to let you in to my inner circle.

It certainly is doing something very simple to appeal to the largest possibly audience, as Niel explains in this post and the UI is very clean and easy to use.

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SAP Notes – new bookmarklets

I have just written a new post on SDN describimg how to create a bookmarklet to create a set of links to a number of SAP Notes. I also created a bookmarklet to navigate to an SAP Note if you know its number.

You can find the post here.

There is also a file containing the bookmarklets in links so they are easier to add to your bookmarks or favorites. Copying text and making sure it is all on the same line is a little tedious.

The links would not work either here on wordpress or on SDN as they parse the javascript out of the links.

Note about SAP Notes: you will of course need a SAP Marketplace login to be able to access them.

Just another day in the office

I remember about a year ago I was working with one of my clients on their HR systems. I was called in to finish off some details that another consultant could not complete as they were required for a project elsewhere. One of the applications I was to modify I had designed and implemented for them about 3 years earlier and to still have it working productivly was a little gratifying.

If you want the details – it was a bespoke JSP/Servlet application running on iPlanet (Sun ONE server) doing some project cost tracking by providing a nice little webby interface and recording the entries into the HR time infotypes (1000 and something or other) using JCo and BAPI’s. This information was then amalgamated using the WBS elements and that data was fed to a cost accounting system (not SAP – shock horror!)

Now, this was a big client, big enough to have people all around the world and a global HR system to take care of paying them and keeping track of the international payroll rules, let alone the number of specific country payrolls they were running.

But the fun part was this. One day we had a phone conference to pull all the stakeholders together. The developers from the outsoucing company were in Mumbai, their project managers were in Dubai, the servers and their administrators were in Amsterdam and the project sponsor and yours truly were in London.

4 timezones, one meeting.

Just another day in the office.

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