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Oracle Hears Customers’ Top Issues with Software

Author: Anna M. Wichansky, PhD CPE, Senior Director – Oracle Applications User Experience; Chairwoman, Oracle Usability Advisory Board
Revised: March 16, 2009
First published: May 31, 2008




Customers shared their top usability issues about enterprise software at a recent powwow in Oracle’s Conference Center in Redwood Shores, Calif. The occasion was the March 28, 2008, kick-off meeting of the Oracle Usability Advisory Board, a new opportunity for collaboration between Oracle, expert usability consultants, and customers, to affect the design of enterprise software usability for the good. Twenty representatives of member organizations attended, including representatives from:

Anna Wichansky
Anna Wichansky, Advisory board director
  • Large corporations, such as the airline and insurance industries;
  • Mid-size companies, such as a medical equipment manufacturer;
  • Small companies, such as a pharmaceutical product development company;
  • Academic institutions;
  • Government agencies;
  • Usability experts.

Representatives included CIOs, CEOs, architects, and analysts directly responsible for enterprise software implementation in their organizations.

In addition to lab tours and presentations from Oracle, each member of the advisory board had the opportunity to present slides in a plenary session addressing the question, “What are your top three usability issues with enterprise software?”

Members addressed not only their issues with Oracle, but with PeopleSoft, Microsoft, JD Edwards, Google, Open Source, and many other vendors’ products that are used enterprise-wide in their organizations. Executives representing the Oracle Applications User Experience, Oracle Collaboration Suite, and the office of the Oracle Chief Corporate Architect were present and taking notes.

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Oracle Corporation

The Oracle Conference Center in Redwood Shores, Calif., was the site of the first meeting of Oracle’s Usability Advisory Board in March 2008.

Feedback on Software

Some customers could fit their top three issues on a single slide. Others presented 10 slides plus screen images to illustrate their points. Many described detailed usage scenarios, user characteristics, and system configurations with version numbers that could be analyzed in detailed follow-up.
Some customers were quick to say that, in general, they did not  find it difficult to use Oracle Applications. However, across the entire range of enterprise software, five main issues emerged:

  • Customers perceive that the user interfaces of enterprise software are inconsistent and difficult to navigate.
  • Customers think that some functionality is missing or inappropriate to their tasks.
  • Performance problems with enterprise software are perceived to cause productivity losses to workers.
  • Preformed workflows seldom conform to actual business processes.
  • Collaboration is possible, but difficult.

The prevalence of these themes in various forms throughout customer presentations indicates that although some basic usability issues, such as consistency, have been addressed in current software, the software industry still has a long way to go to satisfy customers completely.

One longstanding customer acknowledged that the current version of her software could do a lot that previous versions could not; however, she was not sure the complexity penalty of these extra functions was worth the price users had to pay in learning and using the new software.

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Source: Oracle Applications User Experience

Test participants at Oracle's Usability Labs engage in a group task analysis. Customer representatives were invited to participate in a similar group task analysis demonstration at the kick-off meeting of the Oracle Usability Advisory Board in March 2008.

Similarly, users were interested in what they called federated search, the ability to search across all modules, applications, and vendors for information on their system.

Integration between different vendors’ products was still perceived to be cumbersome, particularly with regard to applications and e-mail, instant messaging, and other collaboration tools.

Many customers were experiencing a hit in terms of software response times that was felt to affect worker productivity.

They made interesting suggestions concerning performance prioritization schemes for enterprises running multiple applications.

A Suprise Regarding Web 2.0

In setting the agenda for this session, Oracle representatives were expecting the majority of discussions to be about tagging, social networks, and other Web 2.0 features. We found that while Web 2.0 features and functions were certainly of interest, many customers were still learning about them. They were not major wants or needs, except where they were perceived to solve existing problems. There were also some reservations expressed about security and privacy issues.

Moving Forward

The results of the morning sessions enabled Oracle’s team members to assemble working groups on three of these major themes. Oracle is now facilitating these working group agendas, which actively pursue the issues of the board member organizations to develop and propagate solutions.

Some strategies will involve other vendors or organizations, which will provide major opportunities to move usability forward in next-generation products for the entire software industry.

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