Collaboration, Customization Propel New Fusion User Assistance
Author: Kathy Miedema, Oracle Applications User Experience
June 27, 2011
User assistance – where people go for help as they use an application – has evolved into something far different in Oracle Fusion Applications.
Visions of giant tomes and hours spent searching for an answer are obliterated by the new user experience features that the Oracle Applications User Experience (UX) team has developed around user assistance in Fusion.
The way that user assistance can be delivered has been instrumental in prompting a redefinition of “help.” Laurie Pattison, a Senior Director for the Oracle UX group whose team is responsible for the patterns, guidelines, and standards for user assistance, says that in Fusion, user assistance includes everything a user might need to complete his or her work.
“We had a really good opportunity when we started Fusion, because we had an opportunity to redesign assistance,” Pattison said. “Our definition of user assistance has now expanded. When we think of help, it’s anything the user needs to help them complete their task.” That includes:
- Embedded help, or help on the page. This information is at the field level, and is used to make sure the user completes a field correctly, or describes what will happen if a user clicks a button. In many cases, users won’t even know they’re getting “help.”
- Messages. These pop up at potential failure points. Careful study went into designing the interaction and crafting messages that actually help a user correct whatever went wrong.
- Help in context. This is more detailed-level help, to assist in the completion of transactions. The user may be taken to a help site, but will still remain in context of his or her task.
- Fusion Help site. This provides help from a demo or help in a PDF format. Sometimes you do need more detailed information, and it’s not all going to appear on your page. Fusion is designed so that you retain your context when you go out to the help site.
“User assistance has definitely moved from books or static text,” Pattison said. “It’s much more dynamic. It’s how people work. It’s how people want to learn. They want to be much more interactive and use collaboration tools.”
|Photo by Martin Taylor – Oracle Applications User Experience
Laurie Pattison, Senior Director, Oracle Applications User Experience
Pattison added that there’s a definitive trend towards learning through demos. Research shows that people often learn best by watching a task being done, not by reading about it. YouTube’s popularity is a good example of that. Providing demos as part of Fusion Help capitalizes on that trend, by providing help that users are familiar with and actually find helpful.
Defining the needs of users
Finding a more efficient, more productive way to deliver user assistance began with research around how enterprise software application users do their tasks. “We tested and tested and tested and validated,” Pattison said. The Oracle Usability Advisory Board, a board that works on usability issues with the Oracle UX team, has a working group for user assistance. In addition, members of the UX team go to almost every user group conference and run onsite usability labs. As part of the research behind designing Fusion Applications, there were also customer site visits, surveys, and more testing in Oracle’s usability labs.
“We’ve spent time not only on how users find help, we’ve spent a lot of time on navigation, on search, on how users like to customize their content,” Pattison said. “We’ve also simplified a lot of what happens under the hood.”
Very early research began with asking users how they preferred to get user assistance. “Searching the manual was perceived to be a very un-user-friendly task,” Pattison said. “What people will do first is to ask a friend, go online and chat with a colleague, ask an expert, call their internal help desk -- and then, as a last resort, they’ll go to the manual.” This type of information really helped the UX team define what user assistance should be, and how to deliver it.
|This screenshot from a Fusion Applications HCM screen shows how User Assistance is integrated seamlessly, so that help is always quickly apparent to a user.
“You need user assistance at the point where you have a question,” Pattison said. “User assistance has got to be relevant, concise, in context, and it needs to answer the question.”
That’s where Fusion Applications could really make a difference, Pattison said, because the Oracle UX team had the opportunity to use the Fusion technology stack, and provide user assistance in context with one’s work. “That was a really big change in Fusion,” she said. “The majority of the time, you don’t ever have to leave the page. If you see terms that may not be familiar, you can hover an icon that gives you a definition of that term. When you mouse into a field, we’ve done research to see that you might have a question, such as: ‘How do I complete this field accurately?’ User assistance is a very integrated part of the overall design.”
But good user assistance is not entirely about design, Pattison said. It’s also about providing help when and where it can best help a user, whether they are aware of the interaction or not. With this in mind, technical writers and their product – essentially, help or user assistance – have evolved along with the design. Technical writers are more accurately referred to as Information Developers now. For Fusion User Assistance, not only did they craft answers to questions that would actually help users solve their problems, they also reviewed all designs and work flows to determine when and where help would most likely be helpful.
Collaboration tools key to evolution of User Assistance
In talking with customers via onsite user group usability labs, through site visits, and through surveys, one thing became clear: people want to be able to solve their problems by themselves. And they often look for resources that will help them solve the problem quickly. “They just want their answer, they don’t really care about the format,” Pattison said. That could mean a quick Internet search for the answer to their question, using something like Google, or asking a colleague. Providing help has become more about facilitating that type of conversation, Pattison said. It’s no longer a one-way communication.
|User assistance information is easy to rate and customize in Fusion Applications.
Collaboration tools are a huge part of providing an easy path towards these types of conversations, Pattison said. As user experience features in Fusion Applications, collaboration tools now provide quick opportunities for users to be part of any conversation, and also provide ways for users to evaluate how such a conversation would be useful to others. With Fusion’s collaboration tools, a user can rate a help topic, tag it for him or others, or discuss it further with the rest of the community of users.
Customizing “help” so that it targets your users
Pattison said that as part of the research behind Fusion User Assistance, the UX team heard from customers that one area they would always need to customize is their own help information. “There’s been a lot of effort in Fusion to make User Assistance easily customizable,” Pattison said. “We’ve moved that responsibility away from an IT project and put it into the hands of someone in the company who is an expert on that topic or task in the internal process.”
Providing security around the customization of User Assistance was also important to customers. “Customers told us they wouldn’t give this opportunity to absolutely everybody,” Pattison said. “They would give it to the head of a department or maybe someone who is responsible for a certain business process. We worked to design that process so that users with certain security privileges can go ahead and add their own help in any format they want. They can put it in text, they can point to another document, they can even point to a YouTube video – whatever they think is the most important for their users. And it all shows up in the same user interface as the Oracle help.”
During usability testing, many customers had a chance to preview the new ability to customize user assistance. “Our customers love this, absolutely love it, because it’s very easy to do,” Pattison said about the response. “The big thing is that the security is taken care of up-front, so that if you are an expert in this area, you can add your own help easily, or add custom content for the next person with the right permissions. It saves a lot of time.”
Why does efficient User Assistance matter?
It is so important to have good user assistance, Pattison said. “Your usability improves quite a bit if you can fix your own problems.”
In Fusion, the UX team uses a concept of progressive disclosure for user assistance. “As we were designing the pages and the flows of Fusion applications, we were thinking about where a user is potentially going to need help,” Pattison said. “That’s what we’ve gone out and really validated many times with live testing, and more, and with thousands of people. It really wasn’t measured before.”
Fusion’s user assistance provides many opportunities to be more productive and efficient. For example, “we know that good user assistance helps reduce user on-boarding and internal support costs,” Pattison said.
In Fusion, there are also better opportunities to collaborate around user assistance, both in figuring out a problem and in providing the solution for others. This helps reduce support calls and improves user adoption, Pattison said. And all of that contributes to a strong user experience.