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New User Experience Enhancements Improve Oracle E-Business Suite 12.1.3 Software

 

Kathy Miedema

Author: Kathy Miedema, Oracle Applications User Experience
Revised: March 27, 2011
First published: December 6, 2010




The new user experience enhancements in E-Business Suite 12.1.3 go beyond enhancing the usability of the software, and provide an early look at how the user experience of Oracle enterprise software is evolving. E-Business Suite (EBS) 12.1.3 uses the next generation of software design patterns as a model for empowering Oracle customers, giving them the right information at the right time for better decision-making and better productivity.

 
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The Oracle Applications User Experience (UX) team focused on making Oracle enterprise users more productive and empowered by providing improved tools for the decision-making process.  The team designed new user experience features in the EBS 12.1.3 framework so that all EBS applications would benefit from the change. These new features, such as the navigational improvements to the main menu, a Google-type search using type-ahead or auto-suggest, embedded analytics, and an in-context List of Values (LOV) tool, make any user’s job more efficient in EBS 12.1.3.

Usability testing on other Oracle products, such as PeopleTools 8.50, also influenced the user experience strategy for EBS 12.1.3. With thorough, solid usability research behind the enhancements in PeopleSoft and other Oracle software products, making similar changes to the next-generation of EBS was an easy choice.

The overall strategy was to improve usability with specific feature enhancements that save time for users and make them more productive and efficient, said Ognjen Pavlovic, Vice President of Product Strategy for EBS. “Users will move through their tasks faster, and new users will require less training,” he added. Oracle also chose to make the enhancements available via uptake -- all a customer needs to do is uptake this version of EBS, which launched in December 2009, to use any of these features.

Consistent designs for a smoother transition

The EBS user experience enhancements are consistent with designs in other Oracle products such as PeopleSoft and next-generation products that haven’t been released.

Madhuri Kolhatkar, who directs the Applications User Experience (UX) team, said many Oracle products are beginning to look and feel consistent because they use the same design patterns. These design patterns are reusable user experience solutions to common problems in software. For example, a pattern might offer a new way to navigate through the main menu, bringing in a drop-down list or organization of categories that aims to increase a user’s productivity.

“We made a huge impact on EBS with these new user experience designs,” Kolhatkar said. “We’ve been focusing on productivity improvements and making it easier for the users in all of our work. We are designing features that translate into many of our applications, and draw upon consistency and productivity.” This allows users to move through multiple applications more easily and with less training, she said, which also saves time and money for employers.

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Adding inline attachments is now faster and easier for users.

“Not only can customers tap into increased productivity now, but EBS will have longevity for customers because users of EBS will gain familiarity with designs of future releases,” Kolhatkar said.

What user experience changes can customers expect?

Jayanth Ananthakrishnan, a UX manager with the Oracle Applications UX team, said typical tasks in enterprise software applications could be cumbersome. Improving the usability of EBS was a huge driver in the new release, as well as the chance to update and enhance the application.

“One of the things that we tried to think about is how we wanted to streamline improvements,” Ananthakrishnan said. “Product strategy looked at the framework of EBS, and they pushed some key user interface enhancements at the framework so the uptake for customers is much easier. Customers don’t have to buy a new released version; they ultimately just get an upgrade of the product.”

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The main menu is now organized like a drop-down menu, so that users can easily find what they need to complete a task.

The UX team began with a list of features and enhancements to address. “We studied current implementations in PeopleTools 8.50, a next-generation application,” said Pranavdatta Natekar, a Principal Interaction Designer for the UX team who worked on the EBS enhancements. “We looked at patterns that are tried and tested on users. We tried to maintain consistency across the various applications, which will definitely reduce the learning curve for users.”

Ananthakrishnan said the team studied and improved the type-ahead or LOV feature, Favorites tool, inline attachments, and the navigator on the left side of the screen.

Earlier EBS products did not have inline attachments, Ananthakrishnan said. The UX team worked to make sure that an easily usable version of that tool was added.

“New inline attachments will allow users to perform actions like add, update, and delete on attachments without losing the context of their primary task,” Natekar said. By using pop-ups to attach a document, users are able to retain the context of their work and perform the task quickly. “Pop-ups change the entire user experience in EBS,” Natekar added.

The team also focused on the main menu. “In earlier versions, you had to wait for the menu to render in the right-hand page, and then you had to drill down. But now, it’s very clear. You have this drop-down menu that you can click on, and then you go to your particular task without going through several clicks, which also eliminates the full-page render,” Ananthakrishnan said. The result is that choosing something from the menu takes much less time, and the user doesn’t have to click back and forth between screens.

The LOV component in particular was influenced by the tools for PeopleSoft applications. “The type-ahead LOV will drastically reduce the time users take to complete a task,” Natekar said. The LOV component provides automatic suggestions based on a few keystrokes.

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The List of Values, or LOV, component speeds up the search process by automatically suggesting a list, so that a user may choose a word or phrase quickly.

“The biggest thing we did is simplify the process of completing a task in EBS – we simplified the whole user experience,” Ananthakrishnan said. “There are fewer clicks and fewer steps now.”

“This is a new user experience for EBS users,” Natekar added. “This will really enhance their productivity.”

Next-generation design patterns

By using design patterns from the next generation of Oracle enterprise software applications as a model to improve the user experience in EBS 12.1.3, the UX team did more than add consistency between software applications. These design patterns have been through several rounds of usability testing to ensure that they are the best possible design for customers, Kolhatkar said.

During usability testing, users might see early versions of a particular design and offer feedback that guides the final design of the
work flow. Usability engineers and interaction designers from the Oracle Applications UX team study the way the user interacts with a particular design, and interpret the feedback to offer the best possible solution to any issues that arise.

EBS 12.1.3 is only one of Oracle’s recent releases to benefit directly from this usability testing.

“We were focusing on productivity improvements, but consistency is a theme across some of the enhancements we’ve been doing in EBS and PeopleSoft,” Kolhatkar said. “When the product is established, like EBS, one of the key things that users want is longevity for their investment. They want it to be more productive and easier to use. Those were the key principles in terms of making EBS easier for the users – reducing the number of clicks and steps that the users have to go through, and making navigation easier.”

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