Oracle Fusion Middleware: The Backbone of Oracle’s Next-Generation Applications User Experience
Author: Kathy Miedema, Oracle Applications User Experience
July 6, 2012
The Oracle Applications User Experience (UX) team likes to remind people that user experience is more than just a pretty user interface (UI). The Oracle Applications UX team has spent thousands of hours observing customers, getting to know their needs, and learning how Oracle software can fit seamlessly and productively into the way that they do their work. That intensive research has led to an innovative, next-generation user experience that moves the user from one task into the next with little effort or training.
The backbone of Oracle’s next-generation user experience is Oracle Fusion Middleware (FMW). A system of sensors provided behind the scenes by Oracle Fusion Middleware makes the Oracle user experience possible, and not only in Oracle Fusion Applications, Oracle’s next-generation enterprise applications. You can get the same user experience capabilities in other Oracle applications, as well. Oracle Fusion Middleware is certified with E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Seibel, and Agile PLM. New versions of these applications have the same navigation user experience, search user experience, and more that users can find in Oracle Fusion Applications.
“Customers intrinsically care about user experience—whether they realize it or not,” said Patanjali Venkatacharya, a user experience evangelist for the Oracle Applications UX team and expert on the user experience improvements available through Oracle Fusion Middleware. “They want to use enterprise software that doesn't get in the way of their jobs, or reduce their productivity. They expect to be able to use enterprise software the way they use their mobile smartphone or an Internet site like Amazon.”
Venkatacharya said that while other companies look at only the UI, Oracle looks at user experience, which involves a whole lot more than making the screen look great. “It’s directly tied to the design of the underlying technologies that enable user experience capabilities instead of UI,” he said. “End users and customer decision makers tell us that they care about increased productivity, but most people try to sell them a UI. Oracle listened, studied its users globally, and determined that what they really needed was a user experience and a technology framework that enables an entire end-to-end user experience platform. This is something none of our competitors have done, and certainly not in the way we have.”
Behind the Oracle User Experience
“The reality is, there’s a lot of stuff going on behind each page that you can’t see,” Venkatacharya said of Oracle applications. That’s because Oracle has created an entire middleware infrastructure that enables its applications to access user experience capabilities and enables its users to be more productive and efficient.
|Image by Rob Hernandez, Oracle Applications User Experience
This image depicts a behind-the-scenes look at the infrastructure of Oracle Fusion Middleware.
This infrastructure is important for decision makers, Venkatacharya said. “Decision makers don't want to have to buy a piece of enterprise software only to spend substantial resources in making the software work the way their end users do,” he said. At Oracle, applications are built using Oracle Fusion Middleware, so companies will get an entire stack designed to work better together. “This is something no other vendor can promise to do because Oracle is the only enterprise software company that can offer one applications suite, from hardware to operating system, to database, to middleware, to applications—all in one.”
The sensors provide everything from role-based security to improved tools for search, extending your application and building in collaboration and embedded analytics. The sensors include components such as Application Development Framework (ADF), WebCenter, Metadata Services (MDS), Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), and design patterns. Sensors wired to different parts of the Oracle Fusion Middleware ecosystem each power different capabilities, which are all built in Oracle ADF.
Improving productivity for users is the number one goal behind all of the user experience capabilities available through Oracle Fusion Middleware. But figuring out the best way to deliver a better user experience took research and analysis.
Venkatacharya said that Oracle’s ADF table is a good example of a byproduct of these efforts. “The seemingly innocuous table provides a rich experience unparalleled on the web or in the enterprise today,” he said. “We asked customers: ‘What do you want in a table?’ They said they want the features they see in Excel. But when we sent out researchers to customer site visits, we realized they didn’t actually want all of them. They wanted drag-and-drop, the ability to edit inline, relevant information at their fingertips. And they wanted the table to know what they were doing, which is hard to do in Excel. So the table that got built is a powerful component that can share information.”
The message, Venkatacharya said, is that although tables seem simple, when you peel back the layers, the table experience that end users really want and need is much more complex. When designed with end users in mind, tables can greatly improve productivity.
Oracle Fusion Middleware enables these next-generation user experiences in all product lines leveraging Oracle Fusion Middleware, including the latest versions of PeopleSoft 9.1, JD Edwards, E-Business Suite 12.1, Agile 9.3, and more.
What UX Capabilities Can You Expect to Access with Oracle Fusion Middleware?
The user experience highlights available through Oracle Fusion Middleware aim to increase productivity and efficiency in several ways. The following specific examples show how these user experience capabilities put relevant and pervasive information at your fingertips, promote consistency that reduces training costs, make collaboration easy, and offer built-in analytics that aid the decision-making process.
|The Worklist, a component on a user’s home screen, puts relevant information at your fingertips and provides immediate access to tasks.
Venkatacharya calls the Worklist a powerful user experience innovation. The Worklist is based on a table designed through Oracle Fusion Middleware and puts the tasks that a user needs to accomplish in one convenient area.
Activity guides demonstrate how relevant information is easy to find. In other models, if the user gets halfway through a task, then needs to find some information in other applications, he may have to leave the task, perhaps lose the work done so far, find the information, then go back to the task when he has the information. But with Oracle Fusion Middleware, the applications remember who you are and where you are, so you can go back to tasks easily, Venkatacharya said.
|The ability to collaborate quickly and easily with coworkers is available through tools such as the Portrait Gallery, where a user can access contact information and initiate a call or send an email directly from a portrait card.
Contextual help provides pervasive information, Venkatacharya said. Normally, if you need the answer to a question, you might look in a manual or call someone. In Oracle Fusion Applications, Oracle has added contextual help as a user experience feature so that the help needed—specific to your company—comes up in the context of the work that you are doing. You can edit the information, rate the information, and take other actions on the information to customize it to your needs.
The navigation model supported by Oracle Fusion Middleware provides consistency, which is another user experience theme. Having consistency throughout the workflows supported by Oracle Fusion Middleware reduces the need for training and increases productivity. “Everything is just there, and it’s consistent and tethered at the top where I can get to it—that’s pretty big,” Venkatacharya said.
Tagging, instant chat, social networking, and other social features provide examples of the kinds of next-generation user experience tools that are also built into Oracle Fusion Middleware.
|Images that provide business intelligence are designed to be incorporated as the customer requires.
“Every place where you have a reference to a person, their identity, email, etc., the information is displayed in a consistent UI, and the user experience underneath is virtually identical, regardless of the underlying communication and collaboration software the customer has chosen to use,” Venkatacharya said. “So [Oracle Fusion Middleware] powers not only the interconnections in the data layer to allow customers a choice, but it also powers the consistent user experience regardless of the choice.” This is what ultimately leads to less training and faster user adoption, he said.
Embedded analytics are pervasive throughout the entire enterprise applications, Venkatacharya said. These analytics are rendered using Flash flex technology, making it easy to connect to all of the information in the enterprise system.
“We got feedback from the field that customers are really interested in this and asking a lot of questions about it,” he said. So with Oracle Fusion Applications, business intelligence was designed to be built in at any level that the customer wants.
A Strong Foundation with Design Patterns
User experience features that are built into the tools also help boost consistency and maintain navigation that tracks where you are in the process of doing your work. The features extend to any tailoring that a customer might want to do as well. From JDeveloper, for example, a customer can drag and drop design patterns, which improves the user experience by reducing the need for training and learning the work flow. You can take a pattern, put in the steps needed for the workflow, and customize your application without breaking any code.
User experience design patterns leverage the Oracle Fusion Middleware framework in ways that make extensibility easy. Venkatacharya said the Oracle Applications UX team has painstakingly created a collection of reusable user experiences—prewired, preconfigured, and pre-usability-tested—that customers can use to create their own custom applications, or use to extend their existing or Oracle Fusion Applications with much greater ease. These patterns enable developers to focus on creating better business logic, and the developers don’t have to worry about the user experience because it's virtually built in and can be extended for almost any purpose.
Visit Usable Apps for more information on tailoring and design patterns.
Changing the Way Enterprise Applications—and You—Work
Today, deploying an enterprise application is complex and cumbersome, Venkatacharya said. Customizations are never consistently developed (they often can't be), and when business processes change, it often means starting the entire project from scratch. More often than not, living with inconsistencies until the next upgrade happens is a way of life.
Oracle Fusion Middleware takes the pain out of deployment and customization, or extensibility. Venkatacharya noted that Oracle Fusion Middleware leverages web services and other technologies that enable customers to easily connect their existing applications with new ones, because Oracle recognizes that integration of applications is the reality for its customers. Even more importantly, all customizations leveraging Oracle Fusion Middleware are 100 percent upgrade-safe. Upgrade-safe customizations are still a "pipe dream" for many enterprise vendors, Venkatacharya said, but for Oracle, upgrade-safe customizations are a reality, and are available today.
Getting the modern, consumer-oriented tools and user experience capabilities that enhance your users’ productivity and efficiency, and knowing how to get these benefits through Oracle Fusion Middleware, should be the next step in moving your applications from dated and painstaking to innovative and easy-to-use.