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Design Patterns and Guidelines for Oracle Applications
 
New Web site Offers OBIEE 10g Design Patterns, Guidance in Using Them

 

Kathy Miedema

Author: Kathy Miedema, Oracle Applications User Experience
March 14, 2011




When Oracle customers who were looking at customizing their business intelligence dashboards asked how Oracle creates its user experiences, the Oracle Applications User Experience (UX) team saw an opportunity.

A new Web site that offers details about the design patterns behind dashboards for OBIEE, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition, is the result of that opportunity. Now customers have direct access to the actual guidelines, patterns, and decision-support tools that Oracle designers used for OBIEE 10g.

Developing Oracle guidelines and standards

Madhuri Kolhatkar, Director of Applications User Experience, said the idea to share Oracle design patterns took root about 2½ years ago. OBIEE was being integrated into the broader Oracle suite of products, such as JD Edwards, E-Business Suite, and PeopleSoft. “There was a big desire for integrating business intelligence into enterprise applications,” she said. “Customers wanted to leverage information they already have in their enterprise applications for better decision-making.” OBIEE allowed users to create dashboards using data from enterprise systems, such as a supply chain dashboard for a trucking company. The dashboards show all of the metrics that a manager might try to track down, allowing him to display that data in a single dashboard and present it in a graphical way with charts.

As Oracle’s various product suites were building their separate dashboards, using OBIEE, there was a need to set standards, develop guidelines, and create design patterns that all fell under the Oracle umbrella.

“Most of the guidelines created so far have been used by the applications development team for PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Oracle dashboards, and consoles,” said George Hackman, Senior Director of Operations User Experience. “The internal development team is really the original authors and users of these design guidelines. We then conducted usability testing with internal users, we got their feedback, and we incorporated that feedback.”

Once OBIEE 10g rolled out with Oracle Business Intelligence Applications, or OBIA, Kolhatkar said customers seemed to express a need for guidelines and patterns as well. If a customer wanted to customize or create a new OBIEE dashboard, the same patterns and guidelines would be equally important to them. “Our customers were seeing a gap in how to create usable dashboards,” Kolhatkar said.

 “A lot of our motivation to build this site came through our interaction with the Oracle Usability Advisory Board, or OUAB,” Hackman said. The OUAB works with the Oracle UX team on a vision for next-generation enterprise application opportunities. “What we were seeing and hearing was that putting together dashboards was a big headache, and there was no good guidance available on OBIEE dashboards. We had guidelines and ideas about patterns for OBIEE dashboards, but they weren’t available to customers. So we decided to prepare them and externalize to customers.”

Why OBIEE 10g?

“When we were talking about what source patterns should be externalized, OBIEE was a good choice because we had a set of patterns, and the product technology was already available to customers,” Hackman said. “We saw a lot of value in delivering that.”

“With this new Web site, we offer guidance on how to lay out a dashboard, how it should all flow together when the user drills in and drills out, and guidelines about using the right analytics,” he added. “Customers will choose which patterns to use, but there’s a lot of information about when to use a certain kind of chart, and to help customers understand how to make the dashboard usable.”

Building the site

“The goal with this site is to ensure that customers who come to the site will understand at a glance the process they need to follow, and then be able to follow it,” Kolhatkar said. “This is really the design process that we apply for creating Oracle business intelligence (BI) dashboards. We made sure to include decision-making tools to help with that process, and we offer guidelines that help a company lay out and customize their own dashboards.”

Jayanth Ananthakrishnan, an Oracle UX manager who was instrumental in creating and designing the design patterns Web site, said the UX team leveraged the knowledge of internal subject matter experts and the best practices of the industry to craft these design patterns. He said there were several phases to the project:

  • Exploration phase: “We identified relevant BI use cases, created task scenarios, and listed the design patterns,” Ananthakrishnan said.
  • Design phase: “We researched the industry best practices, reviewed patterns from Oracle Fusion Applications – Oracle’s next-generation enterprise software application, which will be released in 2011, and collaborated with other team members to author more than 25 design patterns.”
  • Validation phase: “We conducted three levels of validation -- one with the internal users, the second with subject matter experts, and finally we did an intensive review of all of the material.”

What’s available on the site?

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Image by Pranavdatta Natekar, Oracle Applications User Experience

This image shows how the Web site on design patterns guides a developer through the process of building a dashboard and employs a user-centered design process.

Pranavdatta Natekar, a Principal Interaction Designer for the UX team who worked closely with Ananthakrishnan on creating the design patterns Web site, said he expects the OBIEE design patterns and guidelines to help customers, product managers, and product development teams choose the appropriate designs and guidelines while building BI applications. The design process outlined on the site will guide customers in how to approach design and how to use the site. “The process is quite elaborate,” he said. “The site will help customers make decisions like identifying users and use cases, and tell them how to select and use patterns, and when and how to use guidelines.”

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Image by Pranavdatta Natekar, Oracle Applications User Experience

A decision table asks several questions that help identify the best pattern for a dashboard. This technique prompts the developer to think about the audience for the dashboard, ensuring that the dashboard will provide a good user experience.

Ananthakrishnan said the Web site is divided into three major sections. The Process section explains the process of pattern usage and provides details on the structure of patterns.

The Patterns section offers decision tables that enables users to quickly identify the most suitable pattern. This section also has a complete list of OBIEE patterns and detailed pattern descriptions.

Natekar said the decision tables included on each pattern page contain multiple questions on user roles, data requirements, and business goals.

The Guidelines section displays sample examples from OBIEE 10g, with technical guidelines for OBIEE component usage, and external references to Oracle’s accessibility resources.

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Image by Pranavdatta Natekar, Oracle Applications User Experience

The pattern filter tool helps choose the best visualization for a graph or chart.

One of the big highlights of the Web site is the pattern filter tool, Hackman said.  “From what we hear from customers, choosing the right information visualization can lead to a lot of debate and uncertainty, and this tool really helps with that. It’s an easy and simple way to understand what we’re trying to do with the site.” The patterns filter tool is an Adobe Flex-based dynamic filter tool that helps users choose the right charts, graphs, and analytical tables to represent complex data. The filter tool provides the ability to choose the right pattern by role, by specifying task, and by the kind of data being used, Natekar said.

What will customers get out of this Web site?

“Developing and using standards drives two things,” Ananthakrishnan said. “User confidence is higher because all reports and dashboards are familiar and appear professionally produced, and development time is reduced. This design pattern Web site is to help customers, product managers, and product development teams create a consistent visual experience and leverage next-generation user interface trends as they create and modify components and page layouts in the OBIEE platform.”

“A dashboard can be designed in any way, but creating a usable dashboard is the biggest challenge customers have, and this Web site addresses that need.”
– Madhuri Kolhatkar, Director of Applications User Experience

“We’re delivering best business practices of how to go about creating these dashboards,” Kolhatkar said. “Design patterns help you select the right type of information you need to display on your dashboard. It’s the right information at the right time for better decision-making.”

The biggest contribution, she adds, is help in making decisions about how to build a dashboard. “A dashboard can be designed in any way, but creating a usable dashboard is the biggest challenge customers have, and this Web site addresses that need.”

Hackman said that the ultimate goal of the design patterns Web site is to help customers. “We want to make sure these dashboards are usable, so the data needs to be presented consistently and effectively to help users make decisions more easily.

“Customers have a huge investment in applications like EBS, and these patterns help bring some of the next-generation technology that’s available from Fusion Applications to their companies.”

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