Well, here we are in 2010.
As I tend to do, I took a look at my goals during the month of December. No, not to make resolutions as I don't believe in them. I believe in goals, which are different than resolutions and possibly the subject of a whole nother blog (if you can find my old MySpace account, there is plenty there)...
But part of the goal setting process is reflection. And while I did that, I realized that it was 10 years ago (November 1999) that I attended my first CWG conference and asked SAP to do something different with their configuration technology.
During that conference, I also asked them "well, since the SCE (now the IPC) just went live and you now have 2 different configurator technologies, what next?" Of course, the answer was really vague, but funny thing is, it turned out to be exactly what they did. Namely "modularize" the software.
So, here we are in 2010 and what has SAP done? Why heck, they are releasing yet ANOTHER configurator in the Business By Design software. The name of this one is the "Core Constraint Engine". While I don't have a ton of details on it, what I have seen tells me it's pretty much the same old thinking wrapped up in a new package. Buy the book "Variant Configuration With SAP" http://www.sappress.com/product.cfm?account=&product=H3070 and turn to the last chapter to read about the Business By Design solution and the CCE.
So, I have to wonder, where is SAP heading now? From what I can gather, not down a road that will break new ground in configuration technologies. Why do I say that you ask??
SAP has made it really clear that they have no interest in interactive graphical configuration. Of course, neither do those folks at the "O" company either.
Get real folks, this is 2010. Textual configurators are so 1990's technology.
What are the websites with the highest hit rates? Graphical, not textual.
To me, the future is pretty clear. If you ain't graphical, the kids of today won't be paying too much attention to your software. Face it, they grew up with graphics and expect things to be presented to them graphically. Imagine the IPhone using textual representations instead of graphical icons..Think it would have sold as well??
I'm already working with college students and grads who look at SAP and throw up their hands...
From what I've seen, there aren't any TRUE interactive graphical configurators on the market today.
There are graphical configurators out there, but I consider them 1st generation.
Why do I call them 1st gen? Because the user still interacts primarily with textual data to do the configuration tasks. Oh sure, they are placing the base graphic, and maybe even resizing them, but the user still has to specify many textual elements to complete the configuration task.
I call 2nd Gen graphical configurators software that allows users to use graphics to interact with each other, dropping into and around other graphical elements with the rules about use firing to ensure valid configurations are arrived at. I don't see the need for much (if any) text during the configuration task. Maybe the prices, but even those can be done in graphical manners.
So what can SAP do if they won't go graphical? Maybe they could leverage the abilities hidden in their ERP system to at least provide and package all of the necessary data elements to the configuration technologies that DO choose to cater to the future...
I can tell you this, certain software vendors have "kind of" built their 1st generation "graphical configurators" around the SAP data. Others simply ignore the big ERP vendors and expect the customer to "somehow" get their data into the app.
The winner in this fight will be the company that can seamlessly get their data from one place to another. SAP has the pieces, but I haven't seen them try and put it together into a cohesive package yet..
But these types of things are coming. It's just a matter of time. If technology grows as quickly this decade as it did in the last decade, we are behind already...
Maybe, if there is interest, I'll continue this train of thought in the future.
Happy configurating folks!!