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Oracle Fusion Applications
 
Better Control Defines Financials User Experience of Fusion Applications

 

Kathy Miedema

Author: Kathy Miedema, Oracle Applications User Experience
August 26, 2011




“Desktop integration” is a big part of the buzz about Fusion Applications. What does that mean for users of financial applications? It means that the Oracle Applications User Experience (UX) team has worked to ensure that important tools, including spreadsheets and other features that are vital to employees who daily wrangle massive amounts of data, are easier to access and use in Fusion than anything else users have come across so far.

 
 

Oracle customer Pam Bateman on usability testing for Fusion FIN

Pam Bateman
Pam Bateman

Pam Bateman is a Business Solutions Manager with Emerson, a global manufacturing and technology company. She leads a team of finance professionals who represent several of her company's divisions, and many of them have participated in user feedback sessions and on-site studies for various Fusion financials modules, as well as additional studies on cost center and organization structures. She has also participated in several rounds of usability testing for Fusion. Here’s what she had to say about Oracle’s process:

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The ability in Fusion Applications to manipulate data better, using tools that are familiar and work well, comes directly from research with users that began before Fusion was designed. Incorporating usability from the beginning of the product lifecycle has defined the direction and design of Fusion in a way that is completely new to the building of Oracle software applications.

“In Fusion, the focus started with usability,” says Julie Peacock, Director of Financials Product Strategy at Oracle. “Even before we came up with requirements or designs or anything along those lines, the usability team was already looking at how users would use applications in general, and that helped drive the UI (user interface) shell, which is what the product looks like. That was the launching pad for us, after we had our requirements, to then design those requirements within that shell. A lot of times, it’s an interpretation issue, so the Applications UX team was huge in helping us say: “This is the shell, this is how you might want to use it in this example, or in this requirement, or in this design.”

Many features of Fusion began around the idea of managing data for users in the financials arena, says Scott Robinson, Senior Manager of Financials User Experience. With the idea of the new Fusion tables in particular, “It’s about the flexibility that we provide to our users for controlling what data they see, in terms of columns, and how they can enter and retrieve data. Customers who have seen this have gotten very excited about this level of flexibility and functionality.”

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Photo by Martin Taylor – Oracle Applications User Experience

Andrew Gilmour, left, and Scott Robinson, members of the Oracle Applications User Experience team, led the usability research for Financials in Fusion Applications.

Equally important were the goals of increasing productivity and giving users unprecedented operational visibility, Robinson said. Identifying those specific goals began with customer visits where the Financials UX team spent time with end users who did everything from direct the finances of their company to manage invoices to act as accountant for their company’s general ledger. Team members watched users in accounts payable, accounts receivable, and fixed assets, among other areas of finance.

“We did a number of site visits,” said Andrew Gilmour, Senior Usability Engineer for Oracle’s Applications UX team. The site visits included customers from manufacturing, the public sector, and energy industries. “We captured users’ pain points, what they felt would be beneficial, what they would want to see in an ideal asset system. Then we came back to the development team and showed them our findings, and we ran some formative usability assessments, in which we test customers and any end users who fit a specific profile, to get feedback on our initial designs. Based on that assessment, the designer and I analyzed the data, came up with different design recommendations, and worked with development to make iterative design changes.

Guiding Design with the User in Mind

Among the design recommendations was how best to integrate Fusion Applications with spreadsheets to enter data in a more familiar UI, and how to use tools like dashboards tailored to specific roles such as accounting manager or specific areas of business, such as accounts payable, Gilmour said.

“This definitely goes beyond what they’ve seen before. This is the stuff that’s going to make our users fundamentally more productive.”
– Scott Robinson
Senior Manager of Financials User Experience, Oracle

Robinson said that Applications UX team members found that the majority of users were using spreadsheets, because they’re flexible and they’re powerful. But many applications make it difficult to get information into and out of spreadsheets. “The desktop integration allows you to do some of the core activities in a spreadsheet environment, and then pull that data back into the database, instead of having to post the file in an FTP server and run a batch job – it’s all integrated,” he said. Such integration also allows portability and flexibility with spreadsheets. “If you have a huge amount of data such as expenses, journals, or assets that you have to deal with, you can use a spreadsheet and have it on your machine wherever you are, even if you don’t have Internet access. When you get back online, you can push that data back into the system, and now you’re ready to file your expenses.”

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Fusion’s Navigator feature, top, puts resources, tools, and key areas of the application at a user’s fingertips. The customizable view lets a user remain just a click or two away from the data needed to complete a task.

Robinson said that the fundamental request behind such integration is that financials customers said they wanted touch points with spreadsheets. “We have to make sure that we provide the experience and provide the flexibility that our users expect, and the functionality that our users expect,” he said. “This definitely goes beyond what they’ve seen before. This is the stuff that’s going to make our users fundamentally more productive.”

Providing Convenience and Boosting Productivity

Robinson said that the Applications UX team has also worked hard to build a convenient, productive way to focus on important content. The solution was to create a series of very focused dashboards for specific user roles.  “The focused financial view is really about creating this higher-level view, we call it a bird’s-eye view, of the entire accounting process,” he said. Customers can use their dashboards to see a simplistic view, and then click on certain areas to get a denser view. “You can really control the level of density of information that you show to help you focus on what’s important to you at any point in time,” he said. Such tools give users a new level of efficiency, which the Oracle Applications UX team has actually been able to measure with workflow time analysis.

“The levels of efficiency that you can provide are significant to the company, and certainly to the user in making them more efficient to their job,” Robinson said. “The workflow time analysis can really be an important driver for redesign and design iteration, purely from a productivity standpoint. It’s about making the user more productive.”

Gilmour said that one workflow time analysis in particular helped demonstrate how effective such evaluation could be in validating certain designs for Fusion. “We ran this model for five typical accounts payables tasks,” he said. ”After applying this workflow time analysis, we did see productivity gains across each of the flows. We presented our findings to the development team, and for one specific task, which was `Void (cancel) a Payment,’ once we showed numbers for that, there was some unsettlement and chatter in the room because the number just didn’t really look right. They said they had made a change to the workflow since we had done the study that eliminated several clicks, so they asked us to rerun the numbers, and that showed a significant productivity gain. It jumped from 22.5 to 54.6 percent productivity gain for that one task.” Gilmour said that this particular task was for a heads-down transactional user, specifically an accounts payable specialist, who does this task all day long. “Let’s say you save 10 seconds each time you do a typical task. This adds up over a day, a week, a year.”

Making Actions and Tools Accessible

Making common actions so accessible really appealed to customers who got an early look at Fusion, said Sam Rajkumar, a Principal Usability Engineer who worked on several features for Fusion financials. One of the early findings when his team did prototype tests was that users almost always said Fusion was more efficient than the applications they were using at the time. “Both in accounts receivable and collections, very often when we showed users a work area page or a dashboard page, one consistent theme was always: ‘Hey, I don’t have to go to five different places to do my job, everything is pulled in one place.’” Rajkumar said users told him it was easier to move in and out of the Fusion application prototype or design, easier to find what you need to find, and overall, more efficient.

Rajkumar worked closely with customers and users who saw designs in their earliest stages, offered feedback, and then took part in later tests on more established workflows that had incorporated feedback from the first round of testing. He said the results were often positive. “We knew that the changes we made to the design based on customer feedback definitely worked, and customers liked what they saw the second time around,” he said. Some of the fixes were relatively simple, but these fixes had a big impact among test participants.

For example, Rajkumar said, users in one round of testing on a collections workflow said they wanted to add attachments such as an e-mail or a fax to the record when they were taking a promise or initiating a dispute on a bill. That functionality was added to the workflow in the next round of testing. “We got very positive comments saying that this is really useful, we really like the feature,” Rajkumar said. “We knew that this customer requirement, which we had listened to and incorporated in the design, clearly resonated with customers when we showed it to them the second time around. It was a very small feature added, not hard for us to do, but on their own customers said, ‘This is really great. I like this feature.’”

Customers: A Part of the Process

Rajkumar said the experience of working with customers on building Fusion has been a good one. “I’ve conducted many, many feedback sessions with customers, and they always appreciate being part of the process, and being able to influence the design of the product,” he said. “Many of them, especially in financials, always make themselves available for testing. They realize that they are genuinely considered our design partners, they see the value of participating, and they appreciate that we see the value of getting feedback.” More information about the UX Customer Participation Program is available on the Usable Apps Web site.

Peacock, from the product strategy team, says that even before Fusion was released, customers were excited about the improved usability of Fusion compared to what they were using at the time. “Almost unanimously, customers have said this is the new Oracle. The focus on usability, fewer clicks -- it’s much easier. The customer response validates that this is the right approach.”

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