Collaborative Effort Energizes Oracle E-Business Suite User Experience
Author: Kathy Miedema, Oracle Applications User Experience
Improving the user experience meant showing how Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle Application Developer Framework (ADF) custom applications could be seamlessly integrated, says Gustavo Jimenez, Senior Development Manager, Applications Technology Group (ATG) Development. Jimenez is part of the Oracle Application Framework team that helped drive the user experience changes.
Oracle E-Business Suite is intrinsically linked to next-generation applications, such as Oracle Fusion Applications, because they all share the same the same technological backbone and can benefit from user experience research and consistent design patterns that have been used across product lines—for example, from PeopleSoft to Oracle E-Business Suite.
Changing the Oracle E-Business Suite User Experience
From 2007 to 2008, Oracle set a goal of delivering a vastly improved user experience that produced greater productivity. Research about how enterprise software could be improved began within the Oracle Application Framework team, which studied various usability enhancements, including new user experience features in PeopleSoft and Siebel, to see what could be adapted for Oracle E-Business Suite. The team’s goal was to deliver significant usability enhancements, said Padmaprabodh Ambale, Group Manager, ATG Development.
The Oracle Application Framework team, which is responsible for HTML applications within Oracle E-Business Suite, provides all of the components used to build pages. “The ATG development team builds pages using components that we provide, and we take care of rendering these components,” Ambale said. So thinking about the user experience at the component level was a natural place to begin.
The team started this project by asking what they could do to make the Oracle E-Business Suite
“The challenge we had was that this technology had started in 2000,” Ambale said. “We were at the end of 2008. We had tens of thousands of customers running Oracle Application Framework-based applications, and we had to be extremely careful about what we did in the technology stack and not introduce any instability. We took that as a challenge, to make sure that we could retrofit these new, modern user interactions on top of the existing technology.”
Jimenez points out that constant improvements and fine-tuning had already been made to the Oracle Application Framework. By introducing user experience enhancements to the Oracle E-Business Suite user interface, usability enhancements that were already available in the framework now became accessible to users. Enhancements within the framework included the uptake of newer, underlying technologies; upgrades and stability fixes to the Java caching framework; integration capabilities; and more, Jimenez added.
Gathering Oracle’s Best Practices in Usability
The Oracle Application Framework team also began introducing adaptable usability improvements in other Oracle enterprise software. The team started with PeopleSoft. “We had a conversation with the PeopleTools team to see what we could learn from them,” Ambale said. “We started looking at our own components, and looked at what we could do to improve.” Jimenez added that the Oracle Application Framework team had several ideas about how to improve usability.
The Oracle Application Framework team began to build components—a configurable home page, the drop-down Navigator and Favorites, the inline look-ahead list of values or LOV, inline attachments, and a new pop-up component. “We also wanted to introduce a new component called the rich content container,” Ambale said. The rich content container enables non-Oracle Application Framework content, such as analytics, to be embedded within an Oracle Application Framework page.
Once the Oracle Application Framework team started building prototypes with the new user experience features, the Oracle Applications User Experience team joined the project and helped fine-tune the wireframes for the new components and interactions.
The two teams together came up with the features that customers see today.
The Oracle Application Framework team also collaborated with all of the quality assurance (QA) teams within the Oracle E-Business Suite organization. “They did an outstanding job of giving us feedback, which helped in making quick and early design decisions and ensured that the project was completed on time and with high quality,” Ambale said.
Jimenez and Ambale, who attend several Oracle and Oracle user group conferences, such as OpenWorld, Collaborate, and Alliance, to talk about the Oracle E-Business Suite user experience, have since heard directly from customers about the improvements in the Oracle E-Business Suite user experience.
One customer told Jimenez that the new user interface enhancements are a valuable reason to upgrade because the user interactions with the application that are required for basic tasks such as navigation have been reduced by a factor of three.
Another customer praised the rich content container. Jimenez quoted a customer who said that the rich content container “can be used to leverage some of our custom applications and embed the same within Oracle Application Framework pages, providing a seamless, integrated user interface—which makes our in-house, brewed applications look more professional.” The same customer also noted that users experienced less confusion as they navigated through their tasks.
Ambale also recalled that during Collaborate 2010 he heard from a customer who said that the new user experience features were exactly what his organization was looking for. The customer, who was already using Oracle E-Business Suite release 12.1.1, said his organization planned to upgrade the same week.
Jimenez often points out in conference presentations that the results of the user experience enhancements in Oracle E-Business Suite can be broken down into three themes: “What we’ve done to drive greater productivity; what we’ve done to reduce the cost of ownership; and lastly, what we’ve done to increase agility and lower integration costs.”
“When productivity improvements are shown,” Jimenez said, “customers speed up the upgrade process, as they see value in the usability enhancements when compared with 11i.”
Ambale added, “There was some apprehension about whether we could do something in Oracle E-Business Suite like this because of the amount of customers we have and the potential backward incompatibilities we could introduce. In the end, the project owed its success to the collaborative effort. The feedback from the user experience team was extremely valuable. And QA gave critical feedback very early on in the prototype evaluation phase. The result of this collaboration is that the components look highly professional, and the quality shows—page by page, component by component.”