Web 2.0 Honeycomb
By David Dorf-Oracle on Dec 04, 2008
If you caught my article in RIS News entitled Web 2.0 Shapes the Next Generation of Enterprise Retail Software, then you have some idea of Oracle Retail's direction for user interface design. But here's a little more detail for those that are interested.
The concepts popularized by the term "Web 2.0" have already changed the way people interact on the Web, and soon they will change the way retailers use software. Leveraging Web 2.0 concepts for the benefit of business is branded Enterprise 2.0, or E20 for short. Retailers should be thinking about how E20 concepts can improve productivity and thus their bottom line.
Using software has changed over the years starting with green screens, where users interacted with just a keyboard and there was a high learning curve, but power users could accomplish much. Then client-server applications appeared, and users had access to a rich, graphical experience that included a mouse. Then in the interest of universal access and easier maintenance, applications transitioned to browser-based interfaces at the expense of cut & paste, drag & drop, and fluid interactions.
But it’s still not enough. Users want the best features of all three approaches. They want the “power user shortcuts” of green screens, the graphically rich interactions of client-server, and the convenience and ubiquity of browsers.
In 2004, Peter Moreville described user experience in terms of seven traits arranged in a honeycomb. In 2007, Gene Smith used the same graphical treatment to describe the traits of social networks (like Facebook, Linkedin, and our own Oracle Mix).
These ground-breaking diagrams help shape the way software designers think about the user experience.
Applicability to Retail
The most obvious place where these concepts have a big impact is through web stores. By incorporating reviews, pictures, rankings, tags, and affinities to name a few, retailers are able to position their e-commerce site as a product research hub. Amazon has been the leader in this area, but sites like Circuit City and Sears offer similar experiences.
Some collaborative features at Amazon include allowing customers to upload their own photos of products, customer inspired lists (“Listmania”), and the daily blog. The “More Top Picks for You” carousel is a great way to display products, similar to flipping through albums on your iPhone.
And these concepts might also apply to mobile devices and kiosks, allowing customers already in the store to get the information they need. But how could Web 2.0 impact enterprise software for retail?
A “mashup” is the mixing of data from different sources. My favorite example of a mashup is Zillow, the real-estate site. They combine neighborhood maps with tax assessments, real-estate listings, and historical home sales in order to provide homeowners with an estimate for the value of their home. This could all be done in an algorithm behind the scenes, but by graphically depicting all this information together on a map, they provide homeowners the context necessary to understand the estimate and tweak it if necessary.
This is the direction retail software is heading as well. Data from different sources is being integrated together and graphically represented on dashboards to help merchants, planners, store management, and executives better understand the state of the business.
Collaboration Makes Life Easier
The typical merchant, planner, or supply chain specialist relies on others to provide raw data, suggestions, approvals, and confirmations. Too much time is spent waiting. Software should bring people together to more efficiently communicate by using the appropriate mode of communication. The phone, email, and instant messaging should all play a part, and each should be at the user’s fingertips. The concept of “presence” allows people to better communicate.
Mediums like blogs, wikis, tagging, twitter, syndication, and widgets should help users exchange information in a timelier manner thus reducing the time it takes to make good decisions.
Processes vs. Applications
Traditionally, retailers have considered functionality in terms of applications. If you’d like to create an item, you use the merchandising application; if you want to create a promotion, you use the pricing application. Applications are a convenient way to package software, but they are not the way people think. People, on the other hand, think about the series of steps they must follow in order to complete a task. This concept was captured in software as the “wizard” and was a popular method for configuring applications.
When retailers work, they think in steps. They want to do the “item induction” workflow or the “create promotion” workflow. These tasks likely involve several applications and include many people. Merchandising by itself doesn’t get work done, but doing the item induction workflow does.
The next generation of enterprise retail software is focused less on applications and more on integrated business processes with collaborative features that make it easier to benefit from the group’s expertise. Web 2.0 technologies facilitate the user experience across these workflows, and generally increase user productivity.
Oracle is bringing this approach to bear on the retail industry through products like Oracle Retail Workspace, Oracle Beehive, and its SOA-approach to application integration. The next-generation user experience honeycomb to the right represents the combined traits of the other two honeycombs, with “valuable” in the center. Everything about the user experience must continue to lend value to the overall business. In the end, that’s how the user experience must be measured.