Monday Jul 22, 2013

Researching UX in Favorite Places: Consumer Tech's in Business

I’ve been out and about doing usability research in the wild (or ethnography, to give it the posh UX name) in some favorite places: in coffee shops and on fishing boats. Both are places of work on the go or remote working (there are some very successful strategies out there to get the best out of these types of workers too, as Apple's example shows). I wanted to discover more about the applications side, what devices were used, what other tools were used, what tasks are being done, and how what was going on around all the users affected things. In other words, I was exploring the context of use side of user requirements gathering.


Half Moon Bay, California: Fishing Boat captain using Square on iPhone for mobile payments

I’ve written about the concept of the "coffice" elsewhere, but it's worth bearing in mind, as pointed out by Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times out that this "trend" of working from coffee shops (or houses) is 350 years old, originating (probably) in London in the 1650’s when coffee shops became places of trade for ship insurance, sugar, human hair even, and so on. The energy has changed now with today's patrons staring silently into laptop and tablet devices, where previously there was much human conservation. That is not to say that collaboration and exchange between users doesn’t exist though. It clearly does, but technology has changed its nature, as text and tech replaces talk, though there is some evidence that a certain level of background ambient noise does enable productivity! The data exchanged and tasks in evidence or course, pivot through the cloud, and happen across other devices and locations too. So, "work" can happen as and when needed.

As for fishing boats, well come early morning you can now see mobile payment solutions such as Square in action with captains taking payments on the spot with their iPhones, checking the latest Yelp check-ins about their vessel, and sending Instagrammed pictures of catches to their customers using their smart phones from the deck. Again, CRM in action, notably with a reliance on wireless data exchange that didn’t always work ,with lost connections from deep within vessel hulls and when out at sea. Offline versions anyone? And I wonder if they should invest in waterproof phones too!

My kind of research! Watch this space for more places and events. The consumerization of information technology influences our working lives all the time, and UX needs to research user requirements and design accordingly. We're all UX designers now...

This is what I love so much about being a UX pro. You can see it in action all around you, and have fun observing and thinking about how new solutions to problems might be. Besides, I could never let a creative challenge from Misha Vaughan to use my other passions as part of the UX story go by!

Sunday May 12, 2013

Unsaved Changes: Oracle ADF Functional Patterns and Best Practices Shout-out

One UX question that seems comes up now and then with ADF apps is how to handle when users navigate away from an application page that has unsaved or uncommitted changes on it. This might happen when users decide to navigate to another location to look something up without opening a new tab, or when they use the browser back button to try go back to a previous step in a task.

Now, it is not an unreasonable these days that users would want to navigate using the back button. But this consumerized IT expectation is not something that our ADF apps can accommodate. A combined productivity hit and the high value of enterprise data means that users need to be warned of the implications of navigating using the browser back button or loading a new page, if they continue.

There is another UX implication should users choose to use the back button. Because of how our task flows are constructed they will be taken back to the last URL, which is not necessarily the last step in their task flow if the URL hasn't changed within the flow. So there is an unpredictable outcome to where users will be taken within the application.

Using the backspace key can have the same result as using the browser back button, because it most browsers the backspace key is mapped to the back button.

One handy way to warn users about unsaved and uncommitted changes on navigating away from their page is to use the af:document tag's uncommittedDataWarning property. This is explained, along with use cases, and other great patterns on on the Oracle Application Development Framework Functional UI Patterns & Best Practices website.

Shay Shmeltzer also has a great video of how the unsaved or uncommitted changes warning is implemented on his blog.



What ADF is providing here is a hook into a warning message which comes from the browser, not from ADF itself, so the phrasing of the message in the dialog box is not something developers can control. So, although users can informed of about unsaved changes being lost should they continue, the unexpectation navigation issue is not mentioned (this is something being worked on by Applications UX).

Check out the implementation of the unsaved and uncommitted data warning and the other ADF functional patterns and best practices on the site too. This is a great resource for productive development used along with the ADF Faces Rich Client User Interface Guidelines and Oracle Fusion Applications UX design patterns.

Sunday Jul 29, 2012

BYOD: Ultimate Work Device Personalization. What Does It Mean for Oracle Apps?

Bring Your Own Device (known as BYOD) is an increasingly popular information and communications technology (ICT) strategy where users are allowed by their employers to use whatever device they prefer to do their jobs and to integrate these devices with other services and data. Devices are personally owned by the user or may be funded by the employer.


The future help desk in the BYOD world?

Yep, BYOD is on the uptake and a hot topic in user experience (UX). Driving forces are many: the influence of what users are doing in their personal lives, powerful emotional attachments to brands and delightful web and mobile-based user experiences, exposure to many more device options, working a company with a strong acquisitions record, and so on. Major technology players are reacting strategically.

With BYOD comes the advantages of superior, personalized user experience, flexibility of working, increased productivity at work, less training needed, and so on. The good is nuanced by issues of corporate liability, security of devices and data from loss or virus attack, integrating a multiplicity of solutions, maintaining versions, scaling the device support offered, questions about control over assets, and other concerns. For some, BYOD is a Bring Your Own Disaster waiting to happen. But, evidence of accelerating BYOD uptake is strong as explained, along with the top pros and cons, in this super infographic.

BYOD may be considered as part of what we call the consumerization of information technology (COIT) in the workplace, where expectations about applications and device UX in work are set by those familiar consumer apps and websites used in an employee’s personal capacity. For me, BYOD is the ultimate strategic expression of device personalization in work. There are plenty of applications UX research areas to explore.

For example, we could investigate how productive are users of apps on different devices. Or, what are the user experience expectations influencing apps? How can apps design be responsive (or neutral), depending on what the user wants to use or do? What are the integration, security, or performance aspects of apps on all these different devices? How can a range of apps perform effectively, efficiently and satisfy a wide audience’s requirements as new devices rapidly appear? How important is consistency of look and feel, and interaction, across devices (ever compared gestures on different mobile devices)? What about user frustration or confusion with so many choices and self-reliance? How can support organizations react? You get the idea...

So, what does BYOD mean for apps in the world of work? Well, for example, in the CRM space, users may use a range of official and personal tools, everything from Microsoft Outlook to RIM BlackBerry smart phones, Apple iPads, Microsoft Excel, Google Search, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on. The data for all these devices and apps is centrally managed in a database and processed by business intelligence software (and shown using cool visual analytics such as those in our dashboard design patterns), integrating with solutions on–premise or in the cloud. This all makes sense. CRM sales users generally hate the idea of using enterprise apps. It’s all about sales for those guys and gals, so accommodating their context of use through personal device choice is critical.

BYOD interest has been really driven by mobile phone and apps in the workplace with employees using their personal devices to make business calls, installing corporate business apps to perform their work tasks, or integrate with social media or other consumer apps from app stores to help them get their jobs done quickly and easily. However, BYOD goes much further than mobile or the security issues that seem to dominate right the discussion right now. Examples of, or BYOD in the UX area, might include:


  • Using personally purchased laptops that are not available through the corporate procurement policy on the corporate network. For example, users connecting their Apple Mac Book Airs to a network in an organization where only Microsoft Windows-based PCs and desktops are officially distributed.

  • Being allowed to pick and purchase any device preferred and expensing the cost to the employer who then supports the device officially.

  • Using personal tablets (iPad, Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, and so on) in the field loaded with business and personal apps, while traveling, visiting or working at remote locations.

  • Catching up on the latest press releases and other docs using an eReader powered by a Raspberry Pi processor just before leaving the hotel to go to that business meeting, or maybe refreshing your mind about the latest release notes while servicing a solution at a customer site.

  • Connecting home PCs or smart televisions to a corporate intranet to use work email or collaboration tools.

  • Help desks and support solutions providing a range of user friendly, walk-in, or concierge solutions for any device, such as the Apple Genius Bar approach. The final nail in the coffin of the “contact your sys admin” error message!

  • Using gaming consoles, gesture-based, augmented reality or even wearable devices available to consumers, to run business applications or process information. For example, a CRM user might use Google Glass specs to visualize Google Maps or Analytics for sales leads, and then use Google Translate about multilingual opportunities while on the move.

  • Using their devices to connect a knowledge-based mobile service solution to a 3-D printer and print a replacement part or prototype for review at a customer site.

  • Using Microsoft Kinect or a Leap Motion system to move market opportunities around a large scale map by gesture, modeling different territories sales scenarios, and so on.

  • Turning to the Oracle Fusion Middleware toolkit to integrate open source GPS tracking devices with Oracle Fusion Supply Chain Management to manage deliveries in real time.

  • Or, how about using a Nintendo DS to approve your team’s expense or vacation notifications with some sly working during a family holiday?

Phew!

So, watch out for more BYOD research from me in the coming months, and if you’re a partner or customer, stay tuned to the Oracle Usability Advisory Board events.

Comments welcome!

About

Oracle applications user experience (UX) assistance. UX and development outreach of all sorts to the apps community, helping to design and deliver usable apps.

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

See my other Oracle blog about product globalization too: Not Lost in Translation

Interests: User experience (UX), user centered design, design patterns, tailoring, BYOD, dev relations, language quality, mobile apps, Oracle FMW and ADF, and a lot more.

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