Friday Sep 07, 2012

User Experience Highlights in PeopleSoft and PeopleTools: Direct from Jeff Robbins

By Kathy Miedema, Oracle Applications User Experience 

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts on the user experience (UX) highlights in various Oracle product families. The last posted interview was with Nadia Bendjedou, Senior Director, Product Strategy on upcoming Oracle E-Business Suite user experience highlights. You’ll see themes around productivity and efficiency, and get an early look at the latest mobile offerings coming through these product lines.

Today’s post is on the user experience in PeopleSoft and PeopleTools. To learn more about what’s ahead, attend PeopleSoft or PeopleTools OpenWorld presentations.

This interview is with Jeff Robbins, Senior Director, PeopleSoft Development.


Jeff Robbins

Q: How would you describe the vision you have for the user experience of PeopleSoft?
A: Intuitive
– Specifically, customers use PeopleSoft to help their employees do their day-to-day work, and the UI (user interface) has been helpful and assistive in that effort. If it’s not obvious what they need to do a task, then the UI isn’t working. So the application needs to make it simple for users to find information they need, complete a task, do all the things they are responsible for, and it really helps when the UI just makes sense.

Productive – PeopleSoft is a tool used to support people to do their work, and a lot of users are measured by how much work they’re able to get done per hour, per day, etc. The UI needs to help them be as productive as possible, and can’t make them waste time or energy. The UI needs to reflect the type of work necessary for a task -- if it's data entry, the UI needs to assist the user to get information into the system. For analysts, the UI needs help users assess or analyze information in a particular way.

Innovative – The concept of the UI being innovative is something we’ve been working on for years. It’s not just that we want to be seen as innovative, the fact is that companies are asking their employees to do more than they’ve ever asked before. More often companies want to roll out processes as employee or manager self-service, where an employee is responsible to review and maintain their own data. So we’ve had to reinvent, and ask,  “How can we modify the ways an employee interacts with our applications so that they can be more productive and efficient – even with tasks that are entirely unfamiliar?”  Our focus on innovation has forced us to design new ways for users to interact with the entire application.

Q: How are the UX features you have delivered so far resonating with customers? 
A:
Resonating very well. We’re hearing tremendous responses from users, managers, decision-makers -- who are very happy with the improved user experience. Many of the individual features resonate well. Some have really hit home, others are better than they used to be but show us that there’s still room for improvement.

A couple innovations really stand out; features that have a significant effect on how users interact with PeopleSoft.

First, the deployment of PeopleSoft in a way that’s more like a consumer website with the PeopleSoft Home page and Dashboards.  This new approach is very web-centric, where users feel they’re coming to a website rather than logging into an enterprise application.  There’s lots of information from all around the organization collected in a way that feels very familiar to users. In order to do your job, you can come to this web site rather than having to learn how to log into an application and figure out a complicated menu. Companies can host these really rich web sites for employees that are home pages for accessing critical tasks and information.

The UI elements of incorporating search into the whole navigation process is another hit. Rather than having to log in and choose a task from a menu, users come to the web site and begin a task by simply searching for data: themselves, another employee, a customer record, whatever.  The search results include the data along with a set of actions the user might take, completely eliminating the need to hunt through a complicated system menu. Search-centric navigation is really sitting well with customers who are trying to deploy an intuitive set of systems.

Q: Are any UX highlights more popular than you expected them to be? 
A:
We introduced a feature called Pivot Grid in the last release, which is a combination of an interactive grid, like an Excel Pivot Table, along with a dynamic visual chart that automatically graphs the data. I wasn’t certain at first how extensively this would be used. It looked like an innovative tool, but it wasn’t clear how it would be incorporated in business process applications. The fact is that everyone who sees Pivot Grids is thrilled with that kind of interactivity.  It reflects the amount of analytical thinking customers are asking employees to do. Employees can’t just enter data any more. They must interact with it, analyze it, and make decisions. Pivot Grids fit into this way of working.

Q: What can you tell us about PeopleSoft’s mobile offerings?
A:
A lot of customers are finding that mobile is the chief priority in their organization.  They tell us they want their employees to be able to access company information from their mobile devices.  Of course, not everyone has the same requirements, so we’re working to make sure we can help our customers accomplish what they’re trying to do. 

We’ve already delivered a number of mobile features.  For instance, PeopleSoft home pages, dashboards and workcenters all work well on an iPad, straight out of the box.  We’ve delivered a number of key functions and tasks for mobile workers – those who are responsible for using a mobile device to manage inventory, for example. 

Customers tell us they also need a holistic strategy, one that allows their employees to access nearly every task from a mobile device.  While we don’t expect users to do extensive data entry from their smartphone, it makes sense that they have access to company information and systems while away from their desk.  That’s where our strategy is going now. 
We plan to unveil a number of new mobile offerings at OpenWorld.  Some will be available then, some shortly after.

Q: What else are you working on now that you think is going to be exciting to customers at Oracle OpenWorld?
A:
Our next release -- the big thing is PeopleSoft 9.2, and we’ll be talking about the huge amount of work that’s gone into the next versions. A new toolset, 8.53, will be coming, and there’s a lot to talk about there, and the next generation of PeopleSoft 9.2.  We have a ton of new stuff coming.

Q: What do you want PeopleSoft customers to know?
A:
We have been focusing on the user experience in PeopleSoft as a very high priority for the last 4 years, and it’s had interesting effects. One thing is that the application is better, more usable.  We’ve made visible improvements. Another aspect is that in customers’ minds, the PeopleSoft brand is being reinvigorated. Customers invested in PeopleSoft years ago, and then they weren’t sure where PeopleSoft was going.  This investment in the UI and overall user experience keeps PeopleSoft current, innovative and fresh.  Customers  are able to take advantage of a lot of new features, even on the older applications, simply by upgrading their PeopleTools. The interest in that ability has been tremendous. Knowing they have a lot of these features available -- right now, that’s pretty huge.

There’s been a tremendous amount of positive response, just on the fact that we’re focusing on the user experience.

Editor’s note: For more on PeopleSoft and PeopleTools user experience highlights, visit the Usable Apps web site.

To find out more about these enhancements at Openworld, be sure to check out these sessions:

GEN8928     General Session: PeopleSoft Update and Product Roadmap
CON9183     PeopleSoft PeopleTools Technology Roadmap
CON8932     New Functional PeopleSoft PeopleTools Capabilities for the Line-of-Business User
CON9196     PeopleSoft PeopleTools Roadmap: Mobile Applications
CON9186     Case Study: Delivering a Groundbreaking User Interface with PeopleSoft PeopleTools

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Check here for opinions, updates, and events from Oracle's Applications User Experience team: Applications Cloud, E-Business Suite, JD Edwards, Siebel, PeopleSoft, and more.

Misha Vaughan
Misha Vaughan, Director, Applications User Experience
@mishavaughan on Twitter

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