Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Oracle Usability Board - July 2014

An activity that I've been thrilled to add to my professional life in the last year has been membership in Oracle's Usability Advisory Board (OUAB). This is a group of Oracle customers across industries and applications platforms that comes together several times per year (each member organization is supposed to attend at least three events annually) to review what customers are doing and what Oracle's application teams are doing in the broad (and burgeoning) field of usability and user experience.

A few weeks ago, I attended the New York City event with customers in industries as far-flung as shopping malls, PVC pipes, butter, medical devices, and electricity. (And higher education, of course). We spanned the product spectrum, too: PeopleSoft Enterprise, JD Edwards, E-Business Suite, Hyperion, Business Intelligence, etc.

I was part of the entertainment this time, presenting the work we have been doing to create a modern user experience for students and faculty as part of our Campus Solutions deployment and previewing efforts on the horizon across a broader swath of enterprise systems at the university. I presented alongside Oracle, who have provided helpful guidance to my nascent UX program and conducted a full-week of user research with faculty members last fall. The presentation went well and spurred a lot of business card exchanges and dialogue during the breaks. Despite the fact that others have been members of the board much longer than we, it seems that basic user research and usability testing remain on the sidelines at many organizations. This is both comforting and disconcerting.

While I'm always happy to present, I don't go to talk; I go to learn. And I learned quite a lot. Some of it I can't talk about, but let me share a few things that are definitely not protected under non-disclosure terms.

I have tended to ignore business process models delivered by Oracle, assuming that such things depended upon a product that none of my clients or employers have owned. So how surprised was I to learn that many business process models are available for free to customers for many current products, including PeopleSoft Campus Solutions (MOS login required).  These models, while obviously not tailored to the unique quirks of each customer, could save hundreds of hours building such process flows from scratch; these documents (available as Visio files) would be a great jumpstart for my business analyst team to adapt and extend. It was a relief (in some ways) that I was not the only person in the room surprised to learn of these diagrams or the robust approach Oracle is taking to describing process models -- from conceptual context at the top, to the specific screens and buttons at the bottom. These are the things big vendors do but seldom advertise well enough for customers to use and give them credit for. I am all about learning how we can squeeze optimal value from those annual maintenance dollars!

The most interesting hour of the day for me was the case study on Oracle's own effort to create the Fusion / Cloud Apps UX after the PeopleSoft acquisition. That project had such staggering scale and complexity that it made my project's challenges seem rather cute and quaint by comparison (though no less real for me...)

Although I have read about card-sorting, I had never actually participated in a hands-on card-sorting exercise.  Prior to the workshop we were asked to select two business process areas to research at our own institutions -- for example, how have we defined "roles" for procurement. The exercise required us to separate a stack of functions / tasks (on index cards) into roles. We did this in pairs, and it wasn't easy -- turns out that roles vary just a bit from company to company... However, it was excellent practice as my team is now going through this exact exercise to create more precises sub-segments of students, faculty, and staff for our SIS program. Always nice to walk away from a conference with something tangible that can be put into practice immediately upon return.
We ended the day with a discussion of "wearables" such as Google Glass, Fitbit, digital watches, digital rings, and the creepiest device I've yet heard of, the "Narrative Clip." (The latter is a camera you wear around your neck that takes a picture every 30 seconds so that you can have a visual story of your life.) The interesting part was the discussion and how our knee-jerk reaction to most devices was skepticism, discomfort, and certainty that these devices were irrelevant to our businesses and IT shops. But as the facilitator pointed out, tablets weren't taken seriously for a long time, until the iPad broke through. I have certainly been pondering Google Glass, though its current limitations around authentication / data entry limits its utility for my specific project. Definite food for thought. 

My next OUAB event will be a November day in Chicago, and I'm looking forward to everything that I'll learn then!


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