Oracle Usable Apps | Applications User Experience Simplicity, mobility, extensibility
   
 
Customer Role: How User Experience Research Is Conducted
 
The Customer Site Visit: Getting to Know Our Users Better

Usability Engineer Describes Trip to Observe Software in Action

Joyce Ohgi

Author: Joyce Ohgi, Senior Usability Engineer – Oracle Applications User Experience
Revised: April 13, 2010
First published: February 29, 2008




A couple of years ago, I went to Montana as part of an effort to improve Oracle’s financial applications. Montana’s state government uses Oracle software to manage its financials, and along with other researchers, designers, and strategists, I went to listen to and observe the people who use the software on a daily basis.

The site visit team consisted of three people: a visual designer, who designs the look and feel of the software; a product strategist, who has intimate knowledge of the software; and a usability engineer, me, who conducts research on how people use Oracle software.

One of the first visits was with Mary (real names are not used to protect privacy), an accountant who uses Oracle software to distribute grant money to school districts. We met in her office, and after asking a few questions about her job and what she likes and dislikes about using Oracle, we stopped talking and quietly observed her as she performed her daily work. On that day, she allocated money for a school district by setting up a project in Oracle’s PeopleSoft Financials. We watched as she went step-by-step through the process, first transferring information from a paper budget printout to an Excel spreadsheet, then setting up the project in PeopleSoft. She explained to us that she sometimes had trouble with the software and gave us screen shots with specific issues.

The Advantage to Being There

We were able to see not only how Mary worked within Oracle applications, but also the work that she performed using other software, as well as the physical items that she interacted with in her office. Being there gave us insights that we would not have had if we were talking on the phone, or if she had come to the Oracle usability labs. She was doing real-world tasks, things that are a part of her every-day job, in the environment where she was accustomed to doing her work. We watched as she occasionally had to refer to her cheat-sheets, stored in folders on her desk. A myriad of details were available to us that could only be noted in person.

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Photograph by Martin Taylor, Oracle Applications User Experience

Oracle senior usability engineer Joyce Ohgi gathers data during a site visit with a health care professional as she uses her laptop.

Next, we visited Mary’s manager, Anne. Although they work in the same department, their needs and the ways in which they use Oracle software differ greatly. Anne spent her time in the system reviewing and approving invoices, budgets, and reports. She viewed information at a more general level than Mary. Also, it was interesting to observe how frequently that part of Anne’s work was interrupted by phone calls and by employees with questions. Her day varied quite a bit from Mary’s more consistent routine.

It was important to meet both Mary and Anne. We got a better idea of the different ways everyone in their department interacted with Oracle’s software, and we saw how information flowed from person to person in the office.

Overall, during the three days in Montana, we met with 10 users at various state agencies. Most of these meetings followed the same format. We would ask some questions about the person’s job, how they use Oracle software, what they liked and disliked about it, and would then observe them as they went about their daily business. Meeting with a variety of users gave us a clearer idea of the different types of people who use our software. Managers have different needs than accountants, who have different needs than budget analysts.

The team brought back detailed information about the people who use Oracle Financials to the design and development teams. Included in the report were customers’ likes and dislikes, the issues they have with the software, and design recommendations based on their feedback.

We also collected sample reports and screen shots of some of their issues with the software. This information gave the team a better understanding of who they were designing for, and which features would best help these users.

Fusion Research Effort

This site visit was one of many that took place as part of the Fusion research effort. Oracle sent teams of usability professionals to numerous customer sites in 2005 and 2006, as part of an effort that continues today, to observe customer relationship management, human capital management, financials, supply chain management, and analytics. The feedback teams received from users, and our observations of their work, helped shape the vision for Fusion. Equipped with the information about Oracle’s customers that we collected on these site visits, Oracle’s designers were able to envision the user as they worked on the Fusion designs and task flows.

Customer site visits are a core step in the Oracle design and development process. This was not a one-time activity for Fusion, but an ongoing part of the design effort. Site visits help us design products that make customers successful, by increasing the ease-of-use of our products, and increasing users’ productivity. By observing those who use our products, we can ensure that the products are designed to fit and complement real work. We strive to continually innovate and meet customers’ needs as their businesses change and grow.

Arranging a Site Visit

Are you curious to learn more? Would you consider having your company participate in a site visit? When customers hear about Oracle’s site visits, there are common questions they ask:

  • How long will it take? Coordinating a site visit does take some time. Once a customer has expressed interest, it takes a couple of months of dialogue between the Oracle site visit coordinator and a point-of-contact at the customer site. The Oracle team sets up a few phone conferences before the visit, to explain the purpose in visiting, the types of users we would like to observe, and to receive valuable background information on the software being used. Knowing this information in advance helps set our expectations and familiarizes us with the systems being used by the customer. The actual site visit takes 3-5 days, depending on the number of users the team visits.
  • What about data security? All site visits are conducted under confidential disclosure agreements signed by both Oracle and the customer. We are very careful with customer data. With the customer’s permission, sometimes we collect sample reports or screen shots. We do this to capture design issues, or to see the way people want their data to be laid out. If there is sensitive information on what we collect, we black it out. Our interest in visiting a customer site is about how people interact with Oracle’s software, and how they would ideally like to use it.

Site visits are an opportunity for customers to voice requirements and influence future product designs. What we learn from the people who use our products daily lets us understand how to help them be more efficient at their work, and how to make their work lives easier and more productive.

Having Oracle conduct a visit at a customer site can improve employee satisfaction with Oracle applications. Site visits empower employees by letting them know they are being heard.

How to Set Up a Visit

If you are interested in learning more about Oracle site visits, please e-mail usableapps_us@oracle.com. Site visits are only one of many ways that you can get involved with Oracle. We also run a number of other usability activities, such as customer feedback sessions, usability tests, and focus groups. Learn how to get involved in Oracle's usability programs.
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