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Teaching old(er) emerging-tech dogs new tricks

The OAUX team harnesses the power of augmented reality and visualizations to bring contextual info to users

By Sarah Smart, Oracle Applications User Experience 
 
The terms “augmented reality” and “visualizations” have meaning to the OAUX team because we’ve been building initiatives around them. But what do those terms mean for customers and partners, and how do they affect our view of emerging technology? Put simply, both technologies are about context — seeing information in a relevant, actionable way — and we know that when we have context, we have engagement, and when we have engagement, we have participation, which is essential for enterprise applications.
 
Augmented reality
Augmented reality (AR) first needs to be distinguished from virtual reality (VR). “People won’t be wearing headsets all day, just for short periods of time when they can use very particular tools to take advantage of that 3-D space and be able to understand and manipulate information,” said Jeremy Ashley, GVP, OAUX. For one, AR can be on much more often because you can still see your actual world; you’re just adding to it with informational overlays. “That is much more useful on an enterprise basis,” he said.
 
Not just a wearable, an IoT initiative, or an invention ripe for social mockery, Google Glass again was one of the first augmented reality (AR) concepts. Jake Kuramoto, Senior Director with the AppsLab, the OAUX emerging technology team, became interested when early iPhone apps brought the idea to the device’s camera. “Prior to that AR was simply inaccessible to the average person,” he said. “The ability to use a smartphone’s camera to ‘try on’ clothes, ‘see’ new furniture in your home, overlay historical information on a vista, or — my favorite — translate a sign in real time opened up a whole new interaction paradigm for users.”
 
The problem? It’s a bit awkward for users to hold their phones up to see that overlay. Then along came Glass. “I remember our excitement post-Google I/O in 2012 and feeling like a kid on Christmas when our team received our first Glass Explorer unit in 2013,” Kuramoto said. Overlaying AR directly in front of your eyes and keeping your hands free was a big improvement, one that still serves important use cases in enterprises like supply chain, medicine, training, and military.
 

As part of the AppsLab team’s early investigation into AR, they built a Sales Cloud demo app for Glass to showcase how the hands-free features could help sales reps on the go, an inventory use case, and easy consumption of notifications as well as performing actions from Cloud Applications, such as completing Taleo interview evaluations. As AppsLab research into AR deepens, the team continues to show Glass demos and uses it as the go-to device for hands-free AR and navigation.

 


Lucas Jellema, AMIS & Oracle ACE Director (left), Anthony Lai, Oracle (center), Jake Kuramoto, Oracle (right) at OOW 2015 during the OAUX strategy day.

 
The AppsLab guys aren’t the only folks demoing AR use cases. Anthony Lai, Senior User Experience Architect, also of the Appslab team, used Myo  at Oracle OpenWorld 2015 to attract attention from partners and customers. The device goes on the arm of the user and detects muscle contractions, so Lai and his team used Myo to control a car driving around a track at the OAUX Exchange. 
 
Once attendees were hooked, they could use an AR app that overlaid relevant information on a camera image to navigate the Exchange. They could choose a topic they were interested in, and the app highlighted the booths related to it.
 
“Many companies make their own device — like Microsoft Halo, Oculus Rift — and we have so many different headsets, like Google Cardboard,” Lai said. “We started looking at the [AR] area and wondering how to do something for OpenWorld.” 
 
The enterprise use cases might seem obvious: A user searches for an object, for example, and an app tells them how to navigate to it in the warehouse and then proceed with a shipment. “We’re focusing on seeing how we can use all of these things to increase efficiency in the enterprise context,” Lai said.
 
Another aspect way to explore the impact of AR on the enterprise is via an Oracle Design Jam of finding enterprise use cases is the design jam. Laurie Pattison, Senior Director for User Experience, held an AR design jam to figure those out. “We think AR tech is cool,” she said. “We’re seeing use cases in warehouse management and maintenance, retail (you could look at your stock and scan).” 
 
It’s about figuring out how the enterprise user is going to gain intelligence from your many machines and devices chatting with each other. AR embedded into your own hardware or device is one way to present that info in context as it comes through the environment — the right time on the right device in the right place. This makes it more engaging for users, and as we know, engagement equals participation.
 
Getting fellow Oracle employees into the right AR mindset was a big goal of the jam, too.
“It’s about educating Oracle employees to think about what the next thing is and get embedded in it,” Pattison said.
 
The most productizable ideas — good candidates for minimum viable product — will have the chance to get some code behind it and become a working demo, which can speed the way to product. “A working demo is worth a thousand enhancement requests,” she said.

 
Design jam T-shirt, complete with augmented reality
 
Pattison expects AR to show up in quite a few products, especially since its use cases tie so closely to work happening with IoT, in which Oracle has made a huge investment via IoT Cloud (announced at OpenWorld 2015). Her team is planning an IoT Cloud hackathon in May, when she’s expecting to see solutions that display information in context. Oracle is also closely monitoring and solving for a few issues with AR: how to integrate and get relevant data and also how the tech actually senses where you are, what you do, and what you’re looking at.
 
Visualizations
A visualization is simply a way of viewing your data — maybe a chart, a graph, an illustration. “The way it’s telling you the story in a report is built into the report itself,” Ashley said, “going beyond figures and relationships, maybe using metaphor, to illustrate comparison and difference and what it means.”
 
Visualizations should also be simple as pie (although not necessarily as beautiful as the ones in a bakery window). “A large part of the user experience is how quickly anyone can look at any info and assess and take action on it,” Ashley said. “A bad visualization might need a significant amount of education or a long time spent looking at it, and it could be interpreted by the average user in a lot of ways.” 
 
But you don’t have to wait for this technology, already a Big Data buzzword. “This is here,” said Thao Nguyen, a director with the AppsLab. “Everybody is expecting visual interfaces. We don’t do command lines these days.”

 
A sunburst visualization in Oracle Sales Cloud
 
While a handful of special customers might be more comfortable looking at tables of data, most feel better with a chart or graph. And although some might want to dive deep into granular data, others just want to see the general state of their business or organization. Visualizations can help users access that data and make sense of it, to identify trends and patterns, because humans are wired to understand things visually. “No one has to teach me how to see, but someone has to teach me how to read,” Nguyen said.
 
There are a few levels of thinking inherent in visualization technology: (1) What is the information? (2) Why is the information there? (3) What should I do about the information? And (4) What is the result of that action? Visualization enhances the last two levels. “Where the actual visualization assists is in the consumption of information and actions that can be taken from there,” Ashley said. “All of those come down to productivity and thinness of experience (how quickly you go from having an intent to taking an action).”
 
Wondering what’s next?
Keep tabs on all of Oracle’s emerging tech initiatives on this new page from the AppsLab team. Don’t forget to read our earlier emerging tech posts on devices and input.
 
 

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