by Aaron Lazenby, May 2014
At Oracle CloudWorld San Francisco in early 2014, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison noted customers’ rapidly changing expectations of enterprise applications. “The system has to be so easy that even a CEO can use it,” he joked.
Kidding aside, Ellison hit on an important truth: Even as business processes become more complex, users want applications that are simple to use—on any device. This is a new challenge, says Oracle’s Jeremy Ashley, vice president of the Oracle Applications User Experience group. “Even up to 10 years ago, the expectation for enterprise applications was that they were complicated systems used to run complicated operations,” he says.
Here, Profit talks to Ashley about how his team meets the demands of increasingly savvy, mobile users who expect continuous improvement in the applications they need to get their jobs done.
Profit: How is your team responding to Ellison’s challenge?
Ashley: We see it as an opportunity to change the current mindset, which expects users to navigate into an application from a single entry point. It may be a world-class system with all the bells and whistles, but it can be indifferent to whether you’re using it for a small task or a large task.
Unless you are a professional doing a specialized task—a payroll clerk who spends most of the day using a payroll application, for example—you want to have a very minimal, efficient touch with the system. This is human nature: Your motivation to do anything has to be at least equal to or greater than the difficulty of the task.
That’s why we’re creating a simplified user experience. We have a three-step approach that we call Glance, Scan, and Commit. With Glance, you are just looking to make sure that everything is running smoothly. Scan is when you see something you need to research a bit more or take quick action on, without opening up the full application. When you Commit, you’re going to sit down for two or three minutes or half an hour to write an appraisal or deal with payroll.
Profit: What is key to designing a solution that works?
Ashley: In my own background, I’m trained in industrial design. I went into that area because it was about exploring problems and creating solutions. To achieve good design, we need to understand what the problems really are. Good designers don’t jump in straight for the solution. They work to understand the truth of the situation.
Some of the most valuable work we do is our ethnographic studies, where we go out to study our customers at work. We observe employees using the applications for a few days. What are the actions they take most commonly? They need to be able to get there without having to take unnecessary steps. That’s where we get the real answers.
The customers who work with us to collect this feedback don’t have IT or design on the top of their minds. They are thinking about outcomes.
Our team works on both cloud and on-premises systems, and good user experience is still good user experience—regardless of where you deploy it.
Profit: How has designing for cloud changed your process?
Ashley: Our team works on both cloud and on-premises systems, and good user experience is still good user experience—regardless of where you deploy it. It’s not as though we are on two tracks; on-premises users use modern applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Amazon and have the same expectations as cloud users. They both want to be able to glance at the most convenient interface and quickly know what’s important and what they have to do next.
But we’re seeing new advantages working with cloud. For example, we can send smaller bits of information to the user, increasing performance tremendously. For us, it’s all about how to get that bigger data over to a user as quickly as possible, so they can learn whether they need to make a larger commitment to what they’re doing.
Also, we do a lot of testing with customers before we release a product. Cloud allows us to put out an A/B test with slight variations in interfaces. Then we see whether there is a difference in user patterns from one to the other. This means we can have much shorter release cycles now. We can understand and modify more quickly, allowing our customers to experience improvements as we make them.
Simplicity is not something that you give to a particular level of employee. All of your employees have tasks that should be easy to do, as well as experiences when they must choose to do more-complicated actions.
Aaron Lazenby is editor in chief of Profit.