Thursday Feb 20, 2014

Taking Steps to Innovate: Walking Meetings at Oracle

User experience (UX) is about more than pixels on the screen. UX covers all the areas that workers crisscross on their way to getting their jobs done. It’s an appreciation that what happens offline can be as important as what happens online. It’s about exploring the established ways of working and emerging trends, and understanding how people connect and communicate. Even the smallest, stickiest job aid offers an opportunity for UX innovation in the workplace. Sometimes inspiration is right under your nose. 

Watching my Oracle co-workers, a diverse crowd that spans a wide range of ages and cultures and with a myriad of skills and experiences to share, gives me a window into modern ways of working that others have to pay to observe. Sure, we don’t have a beach volleyball court on the Oracle HQ campus (works for me, as I don’t do shorts). But we do have a beautiful lake.

Plain Sailin' at Oracle's Lake Larry. Where shorts are not needed to be cool.

Oracle’s Redwood Shores HQ campus is clustered around a spectacular lake, affectionately referred to as 'Lake Larry' by the locals.

It’s around that lake that David Haimes, a Senior Director in Oracle Financials Applications Product Development, changed the way he manages his team by introducing walking meetings. I caught up with him to learn more. 

A reasonably active chap to start (by U.S. standards), David was already swimming in the evenings and running at weekends. Then, his wife gave him a FitBit. With that little sensor on the wrist recording his daily activity stats, one glance at the FitBit dashboard analytics revealed those workdays when his activity levels were flatlining. Now, there was an opportunity to put some peaks back into those charts if he could figure out a way to merge work and play.

David recalled hearing about walking meetings on NPR and being impressed with the health and work benefits delivered. He read the good things Kaiser Permanente  (disclosure: an Oracle customer) shared about the practice, and saw the YouTube video about it too. 

So, come January 2014, David introduced walking meetings for his directs, walking around Lake Larry for their one-on-ones. The results are pretty impressive. 

Keepin' it simple on Doctor's (Pepper's) Orders. David Haimes and Floyd Teter.

Keepin' it simple. David Haimes (@dhaimes), and Oracle partner UX champ Floyd Teter (@fteter) of IO Consulting, walk the walk and talk the talk of today’s applications at Oracle HQ.

David’s blogged about his experiences to an eager audience, explaining how walking meetings enabled higher rates of problem solving and creativity in the team. Freed from the confined atmosphere of a building or office and out in the (usually) sunny Silicon Valley environment, he’s found that “meetings are more productive…we can actually talk through those issues we need to discuss, think about them clearly and agree on actions”.  And, those ‘let’s-take-a-walk’ moments are also a perfect way to broach tricky subjects that might be harder to bring up across a desk or on email.

Not only that. His daily mileage has gone from 2 to 3 miles a day to 4 to 6 miles a day!

Inspired by David’s initiative, co-workers in Oracle are starting their own walking meetings, too. Fans of this new “mobile” approach to workforce management name check Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg as early adopters, and there’s even a walking meetings hashtag. But, walking meetings are not just a cool thing to do. They come with business benefits.

So, what could this mean for applications UX?

David records ideas and actions during his walking meetings using iPhone apps and voice technology. Plenty of mobile tools are out there already to choose from, and we will surely see new wearables emerge for unobtrusively capturing notes and ideas as people move about. 

However, I don’t think it’s the technology foot that we need to put forward first. It’s the context—people at work connecting with each other across traditional boundaries to creatively solve shared challenges. That is the opportunity—how to enable people to connect and collaborate even more effectively—that we might look to enhance. The best wearable technology fits the user, and not the other way around. That’s the step we need to take to start innovating from how we observe how, such as taking walking meetings.

FitBit Dashboard
FitBit dashboard: Work-based opportunities for such data are emerging.

Then, there’s that FitBit (and similar devices). There are rich possibilities for what we might do with such data gathered seamlessly by sensors and then served up as dashboard analytics on a smart phone for immediate action or on a desktop for more in-depth analysis. Think about what this sort of aggregated data might mean for how we measure and manage corporate healthcare, wellness programs, employee availability, productivity, and so on.

Walk this way!

Thursday Feb 13, 2014

Learning to Build a Wearables User Experience from Mickey Mouse

Using wearable technology in work is a hot topic, offering possibilities of increased productivity for businesses by augmenting and automating the tasks of the wearer. 

The Oracle Applications User Experience (OAUX) team recently ran a wearables design jam at Oracle’s HQ in Redwood Shores. This pilot event was for Oracle employees to learn how to design wearables for the enterprise and to develop an outreach program for customers and partners to share in the lessons learned in building such solutions.

Wearables at Work: Pebble Ideas Fuel Innovation at Oracle

Wearables at work: Use cases are emerging that add real business value 

Design jam teams were given an overview of the latest on wearables technologies and uses in the consumer and enterprise space. Cool apps already developed by OAUX for Google Glass heads-up display and the Pebble smart watch where demoed, live.

To power the teams understanding of wearables fundamentals and to inspire quick results, teams watched videos about the Disney Glow with the Show technology (yes, that's the Mickey Mouse angle) and about how rapid prototyping using household items lead to a game-changing, heads-up display device.

Currently popular wearables are built using different technologies, but use design concepts that work well across devices and make for productive building, such as the small screen card paradigm for information display.  Design jam teams were provided with UX guidelines that reflected enterprise build methodologies and usage requirements, a reminder that UX is now not just about how you wink; it’s about how you work. So, with this wearables learning in mind, the hands-on design began!

DIY Wearables Design Kit

You wear it well—design jam DIY toolkits being put to good use

The design jam was a non-coding event. Instead, teams were equipped with DIY toolboxes and given free reign to design a wearable that was as innovative or as “out there” as they wish with just two caveats. Firstly, it had to solve an identified enterprise problem and secondly, it had to be buildable with, or integrated with, Oracle technology. The result was amazing creativity quickly shown by teams, reflecting the diversity and talent of Oracle employees worldwide.

Team Air Glove Design Jam Wearable Creativity!

Oracle design jam team Air Glove solution featured heads-up display glasses, sensory gloves, and a special “Skunk Works” sensor (indicated by a WiFi-enabled skunk stencil). 

The design jam approach is a great way to learn about wearables and for newly hired employees to connect socially and professionally with co-workers in a fun way. And, there was a business focus too. Teams nuanced their wearable designs for the enterprise world, exploring how to integrate solutions with other applications and data in the cloud, for example. 

All designs were outstanding. After OAUX VP Jeremy Ashley gave an update on the latest wearables technology and opportunities, the team with the most promising design was rewarded by each member receiving an inexpensive, yet tasteful, wearable technology prize. 

The lessons from the wearables design jam and other user experience insight will be used refine our wearables enablement and expertise. That knowledge will be shared with our customers and partners to build wearables solutions too.

So, watch out for wearables enablement events coming your way! Stay tuned to the Usable Apps website and VOX blog, and follow @usableapps on Twitter.

Tuesday Feb 11, 2014

How to Chat Up an Accountant Safely: Social Networking in the Finance Department

Seems that baby boomers are now Instagram-ing, WhatsApp-ing and SnapChat-ing just like younger Digital Natives do. How widespread those apps are in the enterprise is another matter, but it’s a reminder never to make assumptions about apps users. Yet, certain job titles do sometimes conjure up a mental picture of how we think some people actually work.

Mention “accountant”, and you might visualize a gray picture of quiet, introspective types, heads down in books and spreadsheets, papers flying, calculators working overtime, phones to their ears begging cash from customers and wiring funds to suppliers, while accounting for all the money. Not terribly social, then? The polar opposite of those freewheeling “Mad Men” sales rep CRM types, out meeting and greeting, getting their message across to make that sale, perhaps? In fact, the finance department is a hive of social activity.

Accountants: Does the image we have reflect the reality?

Accountants. “Life in the fast lane” is contextual. But social activity in the finance department happens at a pace few other jobs experience. And they use applications too… 

I spoke with David Haimes, Senior Director in Oracle Financials Applications, about the social side of the finance department. David understands the reality of his applications users. “Their most critical time is the 5-10 days after period close when everything has to be closed out and reported”, David told me. “There’s a huge amount of effort and social interaction going on”.

During the close process, David said teams need to exchange information and make decisions as quickly as possible and still satisfy business and legal requirements. Accounting teams were early adopters and heavy users of instant messaging, email distribution lists (with Microsoft Excel spreadsheet attachments), wikis, file sharing workspaces, and of course, the old fashioned telephone. But these tools were external to the financial application and data. The user experience was disjointed. Who works well in a silo? And, there was no audit trail. David has seen accounting teams copying and pasting emails into documents and attaching them to meet that audit requirement.

“The finance department has to make sure everything is correct and legal,” David said. “They’re reporting not just to internal management, but to Wall Street, to tax authorities, and to other legislative bodies. And, since the Sarbanes-Oxley act, CEOs are legally responsible for the correctness of the accounts,” David reminded me. That’s pressure.

Things are even more hectic when you consider the nature of the enterprise financial department today, with its distributed team members with shared service centers offshore and everyone working in different countries and time zones. Everyone needs to communicate and collaborate efficiently, yet securely and transparently.

That’s where Oracle Social Network is a financial department win.  

  • Oracle Social Network conversations are tied to business objects and transactions, enabling finance teams to easily share and collaborate in a role-based way.  
  • Oracle Social Network conversations are auditable (which is “usually the first question I’m asked,” says David).  
  • Oracle Social Network conversations are searchable
  • Oracle Social Network is secure, with users with the right permissions working together on information stored in an Oracle database.  
  • Oracle Social Network is integrated with Oracle Financials applications, so the user experience is  streamlined.

“[Oracle Social Network] is a game changer in the finance department,” says David, not just for the closing period but also for daily financial activity. And, Oracle Social Network is available as a cloud service, with iOS and Android mobile apps versions too.

Financials close process using Oracle Social Network

A close process conversation using Oracle Social Network integrated with Oracle Fusion Financials—an enterprise social user experience for the finance department that’s secure and efficient.

With the Oracle Social Network user experience in the finance department, Oracle also satisfies today’s workforce that expects social networking tools to be as much a part of their work lives as their personal lives. Said David: “Younger users are already familiar with how social networking sites work and how they’re easy to use, and that’s the sort of user experience we need to reflect. It’s demanded.”

Having a social networking application as part of the job makes hiring and onboarding easier too, offering benefits right across the enterprise. And it’s not only Digital Natives or Millennials who easily take to integrated social networking in work. Even senior users now see the benefits.

Socializing the finance department with Oracle technology is an example of how a great user experience can engage workers, accelerate performance and efficiency, deliver productivity for business while meeting the consumer technology demands of end users, and satisfy the requirements of stakeholder user groups such as other departments, auditing and security teams, tax authorities, reporting agencies, shareholders, and so on.

Read more about socializing the finance department on the Oracle Applications blog and David’s blog (a bookmark must) too. And, check out what the Oracle Social Network Cloud Service now offers and how it benefits your users and business.


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