Sunday Feb 12, 2012

Oracle E-Business Suite: Features and Capabilities for Global UX

There is excellent global user experience afforded to users of Oracle E-Business Suite Release 12, all based on solid internationalization (i18n) and out of the box multilingual support (MLS). The engineering and features were covered by Maher Al-Nubani, Director of Internationalization Development in his webcast about Oracle E-Business Suite Internationalization and Multilingual Features.

Maher covered such areas as single global instance deployment, Unicode, BiDi, regional preferences (locale), MLS architecture basics, international calendar and first day of the week support, currencies, and  multilingual reporting. Check out the presentation slides (PDF) for full details.

Bidirectional Support in EBS
Here's a few features and capabilities, amongst others, that I think are particularly well-grounded in meeting the user experience needs of Oracle applications customers who deploy globally.  These are the kind of usability areas that the Oracle Usability Advisory Board (OUAB) members address through the Globalization UX working group. EBS implementors, take note.

  • Lightweight MLS support: New in EBS 12.1.3, by using OAM, multinational companies can activate languages without applying NLS (translation) patches. This means the user interface (UI) remains in English but setup, data and reporting is in the customer's language.  This is a customer requirement often missed. Combined with localizations functionality, an English UI with language data entry and printing is a powerful and effective solution that enables enterprises to work globally while using and sharing information according to local conventions. Full translations can be later easily added if required, for extra flexibility and evolution of the user experience.
  • Complete Excel data exchange: Business users just love Microsoft Excel! And, in EBS 12.1.3, customers can export data using comma or tab separated values (commas, of course, can be other kind of delimiters in other countries/locales). Plus, a choice of Unicode UTF-8 or UTF-16 export options means users can safely use Microsoft Excel to handle their data's character set encodings.
  • Cultural calendars: EBS 12.1.1 added support for the Arabic Hijrah and Thai Solar calendars. EBS 12.1.2 allows users to specify their first day of the week (it's Sunday, and not Monday for some). These UI features allow users to work in accordance with their local customs and conventions, but without impacting business logic or data.
  • BI Publisher global reporting: BIP's excellent internationalization foundation enables customers to communicate with other parts of their organization, suppliers, vendors, and other agencies easily. Without any dependency on installed languages or the DB character set, customers can create a report template for their language, country or region, and translate it easily themselves using XLIFF. For apps customers, reporting in the local language using customized templates and flexibility in how they work is a very big deal.
  • More Unicode support: Been there for a while now through Unicode (UTF8) introduced in Release 11i, EBS 12.1 uses the AL32UTF8 encoding, based on the latest Unicode standard to support more characters and languages. AL32UTF8 is is the default Unicode database character set for EBS 12.1 installations for multiple languages. AL32UTF8 is the default in Oracle Fusion Applications Release 11g R2, by the way.
  • Additional language translations: EBS 12.1  is now translated into 34 languages, adding Indonesian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese. The myth that  every enterprise apps user speaks English has long been exposed as just that, a myth. It is also important to realize that not only do local users demand UIs in their own language, but the domain specific aspects of enterprise apps means that it is easier for them to understand and use translated versions, even when they do speak conversational English. Better productivity and user satisfaction in the workplace is the result.

Great features and support for our global customers! Refer to the resources at the end of Maher's presentation for availability, implementation details and more information. Watch out for some news about OUAB activities globally soon, too.

Wednesday Nov 09, 2011

Czeching out DITA Europe 2011

Attended the DITA Europe 2011 Conference in Prague. Presented with Erika Webb (@erikanollwebb) the research into using comics to explain DITA concepts. Delivery went down very well, positive vibes, lots of interaction in the Q&A session, and a few souls now up for trying comics for themselves as a result. Score.

DITA Europe 2011 at the Marriott


Clearly, from what we heard at the conference there is a need for getting across to writers the fundamentals of DITA and structured authoring, so comics are worth a look if you find yourself with that need.

Loved Marie-Louise Flacke's (@flacke) session called iconmania: the use of icons in documentation when they are neither needed nor wanted--just because you can--and the dismal result for the user and DITA adoption. Future stress testing is clearly required by the IMF (Icon Monitoring Foundation) and the time is now right for a French woman to bring some badly needed sanity to the global icon commodity market, methinks.

Slide from iconmania presentation


Delighted to also find a copy of Oracle's Marta Rauch's (@martarauch) article on mobile user assistance in circulation at the conference by way of the Center for Information Design and Management's Best Practices Newsletter.

CIDM newsletter

It was encouraging to hear about a widening use of personas and task analysis in information design and about the need for usability testing of DITA artifacts and outputs. Still not enough user-centered design methodology being demonstrated IMO, but it is moving in the right direction. The now established practices of community content engagement and the buzzword du jour "gamification"  surfaced in ways that, to me, seem orthogonal to DITA. Uptake and success of a community content strategy with or without the use of game mechanics doesn't depend on DITA. As we heard at the conference, a “build it and they will come attitude” isn’t sufficient.

SAP appears to have DITA nailed as a corporate mandate (Oracle does not use DITA on this basis) and clearly has a very well-defined and managed way of going about evaluation and implementations that reminded me of the SAP diligence when adopting information quality tools (DFKI/Acrolinx).

Translation, generally, within the DITA context, continues to be spoken about in somewhat janitorial terms of a declining cost (y-axis) over time (x-axis) imperative. Whether the source or target information adds any user value in the first place--discussed within the context of the total cost of a full content life cycle--might be a more constructive approach.

Generally, I remain unconvinced about DITA saving greater translation cost than any other proper content strategy management. To reduce word counts, ergo the most visible variable in cost of translation, what you do need a change management strategy that includes migration, talent management, training, enforcement, and reporting, but above all user-centred design principles and a change in writing behavior.

DITA translatability best practices that I come across are conceptually no different from those for dealing with linguistic, rendering or processing issues in other translated formats (see my own). DITA best practices for machine translation (statistical or rule-based) remain elusive, however.

Sessions on multilingual asset management made the case well for dealing with all the large number of topics, files, objects associated with DITA-based information development, and the promise of visualization of those assets seemed a brilliant feature idea (reminded me of eye tracking scan paths) for any CMS rather than the unwieldy object trees and hierarchies we see now.

Slide from macroscopic vizualization presentaton showing DITA objects and usage

Great to be back in Prague after all these years. Once I finally got through the shambolic passport control at the airport (nobody in the EU should accept such bureaucratic buffoonery in 2011) and got to the city, I found Prague's character hadn't changed too much since I had been there in the 1990s: wonderful sights, sounds and smells, and taxi drivers each worth avoiding by a 10km radius.

Dancing House, Praha

There is a frustrating lack of multilingual signage at key points in the city. However there are some welcome new locations that require no translation at all, so I was happy.

Starbucks Praha

I easily navigated about the city on shank’s mare and the superb public transport, relying on Google Maps on the iPhone again. Never got to try Czech option on Android Google Translate Conversation Mode. Next time. Maybe at passport control.

Google Translation Conversion Mode on Google Nexus S

In all, a well-attended conference (120+, I’d say), excellent organization, varied subjects and expertise levels, and a superb location that’s easy to get to if you’re in EMEA. Certainly, plenty to think about after the conference, which is always a win.

Thursday Oct 06, 2011

PayPal Error Message 3005: Where User Experience and Translatability Collide…

… and neither comes off very well. I received this huge error message as I was updating my credit card details in PayPal. I was working in the English language, yet this multilingual monster came my way.


PayPal Message 3005


Generally, these multilingual messages cause translatability issues. Most translatable files conform to a bilingual source-target paradigm, and not a multilingual one. The single language target enables better use of language assets and flexibility with process. Of course, the arrival of CMS and GMS-based translation solves a lot the coordination problems of keeping multiple languages translation in sync. It is also possible this message was served up from a server way rather than being actually multiple translations in a single container on the file system (I didn’t view the page source). Regardless, why bother? The users working language is known.

As for those message numbers (Message 3005), are users expected to look them up and act? Generally in the enterprise applications space these numbers are only useful to help desk or support personnel or specialized functional administrators with the right security permissions to actually do something with the application in response to looking up what that number means in a knowledge base. In this case, looking up the number leads to frustration too.

Dealing with these generic application failure issues has long been a user experience issue. If would have been better to throw a shorter specific message in my working language was shown, one with a more precise title, a cause text that reflected what I was doing, and a precise action text to perform to fix the issue. An assurance that my money and other personal details were safe too should have been provided. Making that message number and some diagnostics available on demand only, and capturing any details in the background so that a security specialist or other help desk person could check that none of my data was compromised would have been preferable. At least I was not told to contact my system administrator, so I am thankful for that!

About

Oracle applications global user experience (UX): Culture, localization, internationalization, language, personalization, more. For globally-savvy UX people, so that it all fits together for Oracle's worldwide customers.

Audience: Enterprise applications translation and localization topics for the user experience professional (designers, engineers, developers, researchers)!
Profile

Ultan Ó Broin. Director, Global Applications User Experience, Oracle Corporation. On Twitter: @localization

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