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Customer Board Members Talk Usability at Oracle OpenWorld Panel

 

Anna Wichansky

Author: Anna Wichansky, Senior Director, Applications User Experience and Chair, Oracle Usability Advisory Board
Revised: March 31, 2010
First published: January 11, 2010




What do a private university controller, a federal laboratory IT manager, an industry business solutions manager, and a state college administrative director have in common? They all want to maximize the user experience of their co-workers with enterprise software.

 
 
Kim Murphy, Emerson - On the Oracle Usability Advisory Board
     
   
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During a recent panel at Oracle OpenWorld 2009 in October in San Francisco, these members of the Oracle Usability Advisory Board (OUAB) discussed how they collaborate with Oracle to improve that important, but often elusive, product quality: usability. Their OpenWorld session, “How Customer Collaboration Improves the User Experience,” gave audience members insight into how the OUAB works and what that means for Oracle’s customers.

The OUAB was organized in 2008 to help the Oracle Applications User Experience (UX) team bring enterprise usability to a whole new level through industry, government, and university collaboration. Now more than 50 members strong, the board meets three times a year at different geographic locations to discuss major topics of interest related to usability. Recent meetings have focused on collaboration tools and techniques for enterprise end users, mobile applications and platforms, the user experiences of Applications Unlimited, and the roadmap to the future of enterprise applications. But their favorite topic is always end-user productivity.

The board typically invites keynote presentations from Oracle executives, including Paco Abrejuan, Vice President of PeopleSoft Enterprise; Peter Wallack, Accessibility Program Director; and Vince Casarez, Vice President of Product Management for WebCenter. This is a working board, and the discussions and presentations by board members fall into three working groups: Web 2.0 Technologies, Consistency and Design, and Performance and Integration.

 
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Usability is very important to these organizations for a variety of reasons, which panel members addressed at the OpenWorld session. “At a state university, there are thousands of students and faculty, many of whom are new every year,” said Carrie Medders, Director of Administrative Applications for California State University East Bay. “We want them to be able to use applications with no training, wherever possible. We also need to be in compliance with federal guidelines for accessibility.”

Chuck Abell, IT manager for Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, put it this way: “If the application is too difficult and complex, the users lose patience with the learning curve and find other ways to get their job done. This can cost you money.”

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Members of the Oracle Usability Advisory Board meet in Denver in December 2008.

The board’s feedback may influence many Oracle products.

According to Kim Murphy, Business Solutions Manager of Emerson, “It covers all Oracle Applications products, including newer acquisitions such as PeopleSoft, Siebel, and Agile. It is important that everything be considered, as consistency in design is a means of improving usability. Products have to be usable by all types of users, like manufacturing and retail, not just technically savvy ones.”

Jeremy Ashley, Vice President of Applications User Experience at Oracle, added,
“Our emphasis is on getting feedback from the board for next-generation products, as well as learning lessons from our existing product offerings based on the board’s broad range of user experiences. In the past two years, we have been particularly interested in Enterprise 2.0 technologies such as social networking and tagging, how board member companies were currently using them, and where they judged them to be appropriate.”

The board participates in frequent rounds of feedback collection by the Applications UX team, including online surveys and live focus groups. In-depth technical presentations occur frequently between live meetings, in the form of webcasts sponsored by the Performance and Integration Working Group, which is led by Oracle User Experience architect Sherry Mead.

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Sarah Gatenby, Controller for Santa Clara University in California’s Silicon Valley, is a founding member of OUAB.

Board members also explained why participating in these activities is useful.

For Sarah Gatenby, Controller at Santa Clara University, it’s “the networking with other customers, working with Oracle Applications UX and development teams, learning about the next-generation products and potential new technologies, and better understanding of usability activities.”

The OpenWorld panel was highly interactive with the audience. Several audience members stepped up to the microphone to give their own testimonials. Board members also turned the tables on Oracle and asked what Oracle does with the information the board provides.

Mead and George Hackman, Senior Director of Operations User Experience for Oracle, said they  have been in several executive-level meetings at Oracle where board comments were brought up. Both Mead and Hackman, who are OUAB Working Group leaders, have important roles in the user experience design of Oracle’s next-generation of applications. Mead and DJ Ursal, the Principal Product Manager for Oracle Secure Enterprise Search, were conducting a survey at the time of the panel with board members on their search requirements. Hackman is responsible for the development of the design patterns for the user interfaces of future applications. Design patterns are a tool that both internal Oracle developers and customers wishing to extend their applications will use.
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