The Story Behind Oracle Fusion Applications’ Extraordinary User Experience
Author: Kathy Miedema, Oracle Applications User Experience
Revised: May 4, 2012
First published: September 20, 2010
The Oracle Fusion Applications’ user experience had a deceptively simple beginning, really. It all started with one Oracle acquisition.
Fusion, Oracle’s answer to the next generation of software for the global enterprise, has been in the works at Oracle for several years. Oracle has flooded the software’s creation and fine-tuning with enormous resources, pouring much of it into usability research and design. And that’s the story Jeremy Ashley and Katie Candland, who led the user experience effort that created Fusion for Oracle, want to share with customers.
How did it all begin? “We acquired PeopleSoft,” says Ashley, Vice President of Oracle Applications User Experience (UX). That gave Oracle twice as many skilled interaction designers, usability engineers, and visual designers in 2005. There were also new team members from JD Edwards, which had been acquired by PeopleSoft, and other Oracle acquisitions, such as Siebel in 2006.
|Photo by Martin Taylor, Oracle Applications User Experience
Jeremy Ashley, left, who heads the Oracle Applications UX team, and Katie Candland, director of the Fusion User Experience, discuss how the Fusion UX project evolved.
“All of these companies were starting the work on next-generation products, so all of these companies had the same issues: their application suites were made out of different technologies, and they were looking to unify on a new technology stack,” Ashley said. User experience ideals such as integration, ease-of-use, and better productivity were much harder to reach in an environment where users had to do so much work just to get in and out of separate, or siloed, applications. “Many of the designers and UX professionals for these companies were already working and examining ways to update their products,” Ashley said.
The seeds for Fusion, a comprehensive and integrated approach to enterprise software, were sown.
A Stronger Team Builds a Better Product
Reaching that level of integration for Fusion first began with merging together the disparate teams of the new Oracle. Before Oracle could create a superior user experience, its user experience professionals – from researchers to designers – needed to merge their own business cultures and find common ground.
“There were many differences between the teams, but there were also many similarities – we all used essentially the same user-centered design process,” Ashley said. “Everybody who came on board was very similarly matched in skill sets.”
“One of the nice side effects of all of these acquisitions was that the Applications UX team really grew,” said Candland, the director of the Fusion User Experience. “We had a lot more people to be able to work on applications user experience than we’d ever had before.”
At the time, Oracle had its own next-generation development under way, and part of that effort was a new development process called APM, or Applications Process Model, Candland said. “This is a software development process that all of our applications development teams followed – and for the first time, user experience was fully integrated into that process from the requirements phase at the very beginning all the way through design and build, or development and testing. So with all of these similarly skilled people, additional resources, and the mandate to go out and really understand user requirements, all of the different product family teams went out and did more site visits, more in-depth observational studies, than we had ever done before.”
|“What we did is we went and observed how users do their jobs, and then we looked at how our applications could fit into their process.”
|– Jeremy Ashley
Vice President Applications User Experience, Oracle
Oracle’s newly enlarged Applications UX team made it possible to get out of the office and really figure out what customers wanted, as well as what they actually needed, Ashley said.
“We took the approach very early on in the whole process that Fusion was going to be a fundamental redesign of each of the work flows. We were going to step back and research each flow from the ground up. We ran ethnographic studies to observe customers doing tasks, instead of asking them what they wanted and getting long lists that may or may not tackle all of the issues. When running studies, you are observing customers doing their tasks. You can see what they’re doing, whether they think it’s an issue or not, and then ask questions – why did you make this note, why did you go to that file folder – and then find efficiencies and inefficiencies,” Ashley said.
“What we did is we went and observed how users do their jobs, and then we looked at how our applications could fit into their process.”
“The studies gave us a deeper functional understanding of the domains that we support, and also allowed us to engage with the product management and development teams in improving the user experience in a deeper way than we had been able to do in the past,” Candland added.
A New Process for Developing Applications
The Applications UX team also needed to make sure that clear and consistent processes were implemented on the development side.
“One of our innovations was the process in which we engaged with the rest of the company to ensure user experience,” Ashley said. “It was a different way of designing and building products. We discovered that building a good user experience was as much to do with how the product was developed as it was to do with the design that we were producing.”
That spurred on the development of design patterns on an internal Oracle Web site, which had begun even before the PeopleSoft acquisition, Candland said. “Because we saw the value of this Web site with the design patterns, and we were now fully integrated into this larger design process, we expanded the design pattern Web site to become Fusion GPS (Guidelines, Patterns and Standards) – and early on we spent a lot of time in the process area of that Web site so that we could leverage our approach to doing UX design and usability, and then scale that up to the product management team. We documented our processes, we made tools and templates available, and we did that for that the whole design life cycle. We also put together a number of very extensive training presentations that were delivered to the whole development organization.”
“We put a lot of emphasis into documenting our processes -- making tools available, making training available, and providing information about how you make your decisions on certain aspects of design. The underlying consistency makes the whole suite easier to learn and easier to use,” Candland added.
Key User Experience Innovations Users Will See
As the process for building the Fusion user experience gelled, many innovations behind the scenes took place. The Applications UX team followed a thorough user-centered design philosophy, which meant months of watching and listening to customers to decipher what they needed to complete their work. It also meant many hours poring through the database, application server, and newly available Web services to pinpoint the best technology and create new technology for Fusion. So, what will users actually see at first glance that makes the Fusion experience top-notch?
|“The main navigation mechanisms are where users will really see a difference, in terms of their ability to get their work done with the business insight they need as well as the productivity they strive for.”
|– Katie Candland
Director Applications User Experience, Oracle
Ashley calls the design of the new user interface one of Fusion’s best innovations. “Fusion is all about the process now, it’s not about the actual application,” Ashley said. The key to Fusion is actually the navigation across work flows. It’s what drives ease-of-use, making it simple to cross applications or product families such as CRM or HCM from one work flow to the next.
“The main navigation mechanisms are where users will really see a difference, in terms of their ability to get their work done with the business insight they need as well as the productivity they strive for,” Candland said.
Echoes of the Acquisitions
Combining the best practices of several businesses and merging their business cultures clearly created an opportunity for Oracle’s Applications User Experience team to break new ground in the creation of enterprise software. But will customers recognize bits and pieces of the software they already know, such as E-Business Suite or Seibel?
Of course, Candland says. But that’s not the way Oracle is looking at it. The Applications UX team wants customers to see the whole experience, as Oracle’s team did while researching what customers could use in next-generation applications.
“None of us thinks about the way the UI looks or feels, or these paradigms that we’re using as being E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, Siebel – we think of it as Fusion,” Candland said. “There’s a real synchronicity where each of our organizations were going at that time when we went through the series of mergers with these other companies. You could probably trace some aspects back to each of the product lines, but we really tried to break down those stereotypes of design, as well as culture, and really form one team that was working together.”
And Fusion is definitely not about the bits and pieces. It’s about an enterprise application suite that increases productivity and ease-of-use for all of Oracle’s customers, by adding best-in-class technology and features like familiar social networking tools that can make enterprise software more consumer-like. In the end, it’s really about helping users do their jobs faster and better, no matter what their job might be.