Big Ideas

Listening to Customers

Jeremy Ashley talks about Oracle’s User Experience Group

February 2010

Jeremy Ashley is vice president of the Oracle Applications User Experience Group, which works to increase user productivity for Oracle’s enterprise applications through user interface innovations. His team recently debuted an end-to-end user experience platform, which allows customers using the Applications Unlimited product lines to seamlessly use other Oracle applications and technologies in the same standards-based environment.

Ashley knows that his group’s breakthroughs rely on a valuable team of experts: Oracle customers. In this, the debut of Profit’s Questions and @nswers column, he responds to questions submitted by several of these experts via Twitter.

@steveromeo: How does Oracle collect information about user experience?

ASHLEY: It’s not our job to sit around, decide what features to put into the product, and then tell our users how to do their jobs. In our process, we observe how they work and decide how our applications can help them succeed. For our ethnographic studies, we identify typical users, such as an accounts payable person or human resources [HR] manager, and sit behind them for days, silently observing.

Of course, afterward we do ask questions, but they’re informed questions: “We notice that you always write customer and account names on Post-it Notes. Why do you do that?”

We also do eye-tracking studies. We ask users questions such as “Can you find the Submit button?” and track where a user’s eye immediately goes. If we test five or six users, and their eyes consistently go to the same wrong place, we need to make a change.

@ocp_advisor: What are the top three user experience enhancements planned for Oracle Fusion Applications?

ASHLEY: One of the innovations we’re pursuing came from seeing users perform tasks across application boundaries. With Oracle Fusion Applications, we’ve taken a business process approach that allows users to navigate across tasks, regardless of which product area they’re in.

Second, we saw that users liked keeping context in their applications. If they’re on a particular screen and need more information, they don’t want to navigate out to somewhere else. Let’s say you’re in the HR department. If you’re writing an appraisal, and you need the corporate goals for a particular job role, you shouldn’t have to go out to the HR Website to find them. This could take 30 to 40 minutes per employee. The plan is to allow you to enter the person’s name and position and see all the information you require there, in place, so the task only takes one or two seconds.

And third—as an extension—we are embedding intelligence. People aren’t just performing transactions with their enterprise applications anymore. It’s key that insight, intelligence, and analytics are in context for them so they can make the right decisions with the right information at the right time.

@innomon: What are your plans to provide Oracle Applications with a secure integration channel to social media?

ASHLEY: You can use Twitter or Facebook because they’re Web services. However, if you use the Enterprise 2.0 features in Oracle Fusion Middleware, you get the Web 2.0 functionality but with built-in integration and security.

@localization: How important is global cultural research to your group?

ASHLEY: We have labs around the world where we observe how employees work. Studying workers in other cultures helps us do more than just identify cultural differences; we also identify cultural innovations that we’d like to introduce to different areas. We did a big study in Asia and showed that in Southeast Asia, smartphones are a very dominant platform. Workers use them in innovative ways to share information and contact each other. In India, there’s an entire language of text messaging and a whole social protocol around if people answer the phones, just take text messages, or use “missed calls.” Many of the ideas and trends we saw there could influence future features for the U.S. and Europe.

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