The Radio Frequency Communications Division of Harris Corporation—an international communications and information technology company—is an early implementer of the new Agile release. “I’ve never seen a division so excited about an upgrade,” says Frank Farls, software engineer in Harris’ corporate information systems department. “They’re really hyped up about it. The UI upgrades are really great. The interface is cleaner, with less scrolling and moving the screen around to get to the data. Once we get Agile fully implemented, we expect to see lots of time being saved by our engineers.”
Oracle’s emphasis on user experience enhancements for release 9.3 reflects a move across all Oracle applications to emphasize a common user experience. Agile applications—historically Windows-based—were known for their user-friendly interface. When the software migrated to the Web, it lost some features and functionality. But with release 9.3, Oracle developers increased the usability and interactivity of Agile’s enterprise Web applications and improved ease of use. “We wanted to create a competitive advantage by increasing end-user productivity and giving users a really exceptional user experience,” says Joel Nave, group manager in the Oracle Applications User Experience team.
Steve Van Lare, vice president of Agile development at Oracle, believes an interface upgrade must reflect improvements at the application core. “Rather than simply painting on a veneer, we took the risk to really rewrite things from scratch,” he says. “The challenge was to keep some things users expected, but deliver information in a different way that was still smooth and comfortable.”
Oracle’s user experience strategy for release 9.3 emphasized customer engagement throughout the process, including research, product design, and customer feedback. According to Farls, customers like Harris provided their requirements to the Oracle user experience team early in the process. “Product enhancements used to be made in a black box,” he says of earlier development processes. “Oracle is unique in that they got us involved up front. I know our teams were happy to participate.”
Several new features are garnering particular attention, including common desktop features such as drag-and-drop, copy-and-paste, and inline table editing. Users applauded the Type Ahead feature, which predicts what a user is typing and displays suggestions, significantly reducing time spent on data entry.
Extensive customer engagement yielded new product features that came directly from customer feedback. Release 9.3 includes a Navigator feature that allows users to easily move data around the application, mimicking Post-it-Note functionality. Indeed, some features reflect specific requests from Harris that improve user access to information. “Our engineers really wanted to have multiple windows and the ability to freeze columns,” says Harris’ Farls. “We just wanted to freeze the part number, but Agile 9.3 is flexible enough to freeze any column, personalize it, and save it. We’re really happy to see this in this release.”
Oracle’s Applications Unlimited strategy emphasizes moving applications to a modular, connected framework. According to Oracle’s Van Lare, this means moving Oracle products toward a common set of goals—goals that are reflected in release 9.3 of the Agile applications. Farls applauds the interoperability between Applications Unlimited applications, which is critical for customers. “We’ve become a de facto Oracle shop over the years because the best-in-class applications we implemented were bought one by one by Oracle: PeopleSoft, Siebel, Agile, and Hyperion,” he says. “The more these applications can look and feel the same, the better it is for our users.”