UX

Oracle Delivers New Release of Next-Generation Cloud Applications

 

Today Oracle announced major innovations across its Oracle Cloud Applications, further extending what is already a suite of cloud applications that is both broad and deep. Release 13 includes hundreds of new features, several new products that are extensions to the current solution, and improvements to the user experience.

If Oracle customers are like the survey respondents to our 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study, Oracle is hitting on all cylinders in terms of what users want.

What Users Want

In our latest study we asked survey respondents to prioritize five different approaches to innovation on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 was the highest priority. This was a stack ranking, so they were not allowed to give any two the same ranking.

Table 1: How do you want your application vendor to prioritize?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Table 1 is sorted by the first column, which includes all respondents. While not every respondent selected “enhance existing functions” as their top priority, it clearly came out on top. Improving the user experience and extending the solution were number 2 and 3 respectively. Release 13 hits on all 3.

Note: We did have 54 Oracle customers represented in our total pool of about 600 participants, but given the size of the Oracle customer base, we don’t consider that sample size sufficient to be truly representative.

Given this is an announcement of Oracle’s Cloud portfolio, we also have to consider whether priorities are any different when looking at SaaS deployments, hence the additional 3 columns in Table 1. The short answer is no. While there are some slight variations in the relative priority, enhancing existing functions remained at the top regardless of deployment. Those running hybrid deployments (where parts are on-premise and parts are in the cloud) are a bit different, but it is a little harder to draw conclusions from this because of the high degree of variability across hybrid deployments.

We presume that many of these hybrid deployments resulted from a cloud strategy that leaves existing systems in place but surrounds them with cloud/SaaS solutions. This was in fact the top cloud strategy for two years running in our 2016 and 2015 studies, although not by a wide margin (Figure 1).

Figure 1: What best describes your cloud strategy?

Source: Mint Jutras 20176 and 2015 Enterprise Solution Studies

While we didn’t ask this question in 2017, we will continue to watch plans and preferences moving into the future as we observe a lot of movement away from legacy on-premise solutions (finally!)

Some Highlights

So what are some highlights of Release 13? Here are some provided by Oracle:

Oracle SCM Cloud

Oracle SCM Cloud Release 13 extends the SCM suite with the introduction of more than 200 major features and six new products that cover Sales and Operation Planning, Demand Management, Supply Planning, Collaboration, Quality Management and Maintenance. The new innovations are introduced “to help organizations transform their operating models to meet rapidly changing business demands by evolving from traditional supply chain systems to connected, comprehensive, agile, and customer-oriented supply chain management capabilities.”

Oracle CX Cloud Suite

Oracle CX Cloud Suite Release 13 introduces new innovations to Oracle Sales Cloud, which include enhanced mobile and data visualization capabilities, as well as a range of new capabilities that increase sales rep productivity. In addition, Oracle has extended Oracle CX Cloud Suite with the introduction of Oracle Engagement Cloud. The new solution combines sales and service capabilities to enable organizations to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and up-sell opportunities.

Oracle ERP Cloud

Oracle ERP Cloud Release 13 builds upon the solution with extended depth and breadth across FinancialsProcurement, and Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and adds deeper domain functionality including Dynamic Discounting and Multi-Funding. In addition, industry coverage for higher education, financial services, and manufacturing, as well as expanded country localizations for India and Brazil are included.

Oracle HCM Cloud

Eighty percent (80%) of enhancements to Oracle HCM Cloud Release 13 were customer driven, extending Oracle’s commitment to customer success. Release 13 enhances Oracle’s complete, end-to-end solution for all HCM processes and introduces expanded user experience personalization and branding, making it easy for everyone to connect on any device. It also includes improved capabilities to support the needs of customers with unionized workforces, such as retail and healthcare, with flexible work models.

Summary

All told, it looks like Oracle’s interest in being the biggest and best cloud solution provider for enterprise applications has not waned. First the acquisition of NetSuite and now what seems to be a very major release as a result of its own development efforts. Combined these efforts indicate Oracle is moving ahead full throttle.

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Exact’s New UX for Macola 10.5: More Than Just a Pretty Face

Adding Functionality and Value Too

At its annual user conference Macola Evolve 2017 in New Orleans (April 20, 2017), Exact unveiled Macola 10.5. Much of the new release of its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is focused on enhancing the usability of the software with new tablet-led user interfaces, “aligning with how and where manufacturing and wholesale distribution customers use the software on a day-to-day basis.” While new user interfaces are often just about screen navigation and visual appeal, the new usability features of Macola 10.5 add more than just a pretty new face. They make existing functionality more visible and accessible, while also adding new functionality. Will Macola users fall into the typical trap of resisting change or will they welcome it with open arms? It’s all about perceived value.

Overcoming Resistance to Change

It is not uncommon today for ERP solution providers to be transforming the user experience. In fact, it is almost a necessity. After all, the millennial generation grew up with technology in the palms of their hands. The concept of a user manual is as foreign to them as vinyl records and turntables. But with the introduction of so many consumer applications on mobile devices, even Baby Boomers have succumbed to the siren call of mobile technology and have become much more demanding of user interfaces. It’s called “the consumerization of IT” and it is a very real phenomenon. We demand truly intuitive screens and touch technology.

But this isn’t the first time user interfaces have undergone a transformation. Those of us in the older generation remember the “green screens” of yesteryear. And we also remember how difficult it was to get the users to abandon those green screens in favor of a graphical user interface (GUI). When GUIs were first introduced in a major release, if you asked a typical user, “What was the hardest part of the upgrade to the new release?” the answer was almost universally, “The new user interface.” It was a real struggle to get the users to abandon the devil they knew. But if you asked the follow on question, “What was the best value delivered with the upgrade?” the answer was almost universally, “The new user interface.” Even though transitions were tough, they proved worth the effort.

So what have we learned from this prior transition? The key to overcoming resistance is to add value. Even if you hate the existing user interface, once you get used to it, it is indeed the devil you know. But if the new user interface is just different, adds nothing new, doesn’t solve a problem, then you can’t blame the user for resisting.

Personal experience at the Macola Evolve event provides us with an analogy. The event was held at the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street in New Orleans, right on the border of the French Quarter. A popular location for events of this size, I had been to several located in this 41-story hotel, but they were all held 15+ years ago. Since then, the Sheraton had installed new “smart” elevators. These smart elevators had a new “user interface.” Instead of just pressing the up or down arrow, you entered the floor you wanted to go to as you were calling the elevator. This eliminated the need for any buttons inside the elevator itself. I loved them.

Interestingly one of the main stage presenters at the event, a Chief Information Officer (CIO) at a manufacturer of consumer products, bemoaned this new elevator user interface. He hated it. He wanted the old buttons back inside the car.

Why did this CIO resist them, while I embraced them? Well, for one thing, it provided him with a tongue-in-cheek example of how IT projects would go so much more smoothly if it weren’t for the users. Just kidding, but put something new in front of them, and they are likely to baulk. I would partially agree, but only if what you put in front of them doesn’t immediately solve a problem or add real value. I loved the new elevators because they solved a problem I had recently experienced.

The previous week I was at an event with sessions on three different floors of a hotel. Not only did the hotel not have enough elevators, they didn’t provide any access to stairs (so no work-around). This caused a severe bottleneck. But as one elevator was filled and more people wanted to get on, they couldn’t just press the up or down button because that would cause the doors of the filled car to reopen. They had to wait until it was away to call the next one. And there was no way to organize the group by destination so every elevator stopped at every floor.

With the smart elevator, each passenger could enter his or her destination in advance. This not only allowed the elevator(s) to optimize the routes, often making them express to a particular floor, but never recalled a full elevator car. And a new one was coming before the full one was away.

The CIO’s perception: they took away my buttons. My perception: they made the elevators smart and my ride faster. There are two lessons here. The first to the CIO: Never introduce a new upgrade without being able to convey the value. The second to the solution provider: It’s not enough to just put a pretty face on the software. Make it do more.

Is Macola 10.5 Adding Value?

Macola 10.5 does have a pretty new face. The look and feel is a radical departure from prior releases. The goals from a visual perspective were to strive for clarity, avoiding clutter. And yet users tend to want and need lots of data for insights and decision-making. Power users in particular are likely to ask for more and more data at their fingertips. But the more you add to the screen, the longer it takes a user to react and respond.

Exact has reconciled these two apparently contradictory needs with something called “progressive disclosure.” Simply put, make that added data available, but hide it until you press the little arrow that signals you want more. Progressive disclosure adds more functionality to any particular screen without necessarily adding clutter.

This is particularly important as users move from desktops and laptops to tablets and even smart phones. It’s called “responsive design.” Exact starts with a tablet-first design. A tablet is more constrained in size. Size and fonts, use of color and contrast become more important for visual clarity, along with the ability to collapse or expand sections to take better advantage of the real estate on the screen. A tablet has touch access, but no mouse. Think about how you often use a mouse today to hover over a field to get more information. No mouse, no hover. That hover is a sort of search and help mechanism.

Therefore the way you search needs to change. Think about texting or typing on your smart phone. Once you start typing the word, it gives you suggestions for finishing it. Do you ever miss that when you are typing a document or accessing ERP from your desktop or laptop? Of course you do. You will start to miss it even more when you get used to Macola 10.5 giving you similar suggestions. Start typing a customer name in order entry and Macola 10.5 will show you a list of who you might be looking for, just like your email does when you start typing an email address with which you have communicated previously.

Macola 10.5 is not only striving for clarity, but combining the best features of your different worlds – smart phone, tablet, laptop, email, ERP, etc. – whether you are at your desk or on the move. The goal is to preserve the power of the solution while reducing the complexity of how you interact with the solution and the data.

What Users Want

These added bits of functionality bring value just like the smart elevator brings speed and efficiency. But if usability is the ultimate goal, do these efforts align with what users want? The 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study asked survey participants to select the top three most important elements of ease of use (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Most Important Elements of Ease of Use (top 3 selected)

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

We find speed and efficiency at the very top of the list. Macola 10.5’s progressive disclosure, device independence, type-ahead search that requires less data to be entered, infinite scrolling and sort-able table columns all speak to speed and efficiency.

Of course with intuitive navigation, second on the list, the proof is in putting your hands on it. If you are an Exact customer or prospect, ask for a demo. But don’t be content to watch one of the Macola experts demonstrate the new user interface. Of course it seems intuitive when you are watching someone who’s done it about a million times. You will only know if it is intuitive if you try to use it with little or no instruction. We think the software will speak for itself, but you need to be the judge.

Third on our list is “Easy access from anywhere, any time.” Loosely translated, this means cloud. Cloud brings tremendous value, but cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) brings more. What’s the difference?

  • Cloud refers to access to computing, software and storage of data over a network (generally the Internet.) You may have purchased a license for the software and installed it on your own computers or those owned and managed by another company, but your access is through the Internet and therefore through the “cloud,” whether private or public.
  • SaaS is exactly what is implied by the acronym. Software is delivered only as a service. It is not delivered on a CD or other media to be loaded on your own (or another’s) computer. It is generally paid for on a subscription basis and does not reside on your computers at all.

All SaaS is cloud computing, but not all cloud computing is SaaS. Traditional on-premise or hosted solutions might (or might not) be accessed via the cloud, although this is more likely to be a private cloud.

We could write volumes on the benefits of cloud and/or SaaS. For many, cost savings are the prime advantage. Beyond cost considerations, the other types of possible benefits include:

  • More innovation through more frequent updates
  • Better support of distributed environments and remote workforces
  • Risk mitigation

Macola has been available to run in the cloud for a long time. Everything demonstrated at Macola Evolve 2017 was running in Microsoft Azure.

And finally, rounding out the top four most important elements of ease of use is “Does what I need it to do easily and naturally.” This was a primary goal of Macola 10.5. “In any given day, our customers may be on the shop or warehouse floor managing operations, out of the office visiting customers or suppliers, or sourcing new materials. The latest update to our ERP and business software is focused on empowering users to more efficiently and seamlessly access the information they need to do their jobs, wherever they are at the time,” said Derek Ochs, director of development, Exact, Macola division. “With Macola 10.5, we are matching our software to the way our customers do their jobs. In the end, if Macola is truly doing its own job, the user hardly knows the software is there.”

Beyond Macola 10.5

Of course Exact will continue to develop its road map for Macola. But in addition it is also experimenting with a new “hackathon” approach. Periodically it takes teams of developers across all divisions of Exact and allows them to work on any new idea they might come up with, encouraging them to be creative and courageous. This can result in some pretty cool stuff that may or may not ever get into the product.

One that we think is very likely to make it in is a new login screen that uses facial recognition. Think about collecting transactions on a shop floor. Seldom does every worker have his or her own device for data entry to collect hours worked and quantity completed. At the lunch break or the end of a shift, are they queued up to record a half or full day of work? If so, wouldn’t it be great if they could just walk up to a screen and the system would automatically recognized them, log them in and maybe even bring up the production order in process? How much time and aggravation would that save?

Or how about a Macola Chat Bot (based on Microsoft’s bot engine) to do basic things in Macola just by chatting with it using Skype? Perhaps this might be an alternative user interface for occasional users so they don’t have to understand the system in order to get data and answers from it. Or how about a preferences engine that might suggest other items that are likely to be purchased as you add a line item in order entry?

These are just a few examples of sprint-like projects that are being conceived and developed through these hackathons. None of these are out of the realm of possibility with technology available today. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to moving forward with these potential innovations is a lack of familiarity, and therefore appreciation for what technology can do today.

In our 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study we selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. All respondents were asked about all 14, even though we realize some are more relevant to some industries than to others. Those shaded in the lighter green are primarily applicable to those making and/or moving a physical product, while those in the darker green are likely to be applied more universally (Table 1).

Table 1: How familiar are you with these technologies as they relate (or not) to your business?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Adoption rates are still quite low and in many instances, those that have little or no familiarity outnumber those that understand it well. So in many cases Exact can’t rely on its customers to ask for these features. But even if customers aren’t pushing in this direction, perhaps Exact can pull them along, potentially transforming businesses as it does.

 Summary

Macola 10.5 brings some added new features and functions along with its pretty new face. These include:

  • A newly re-architected tablet-led user interface that uses size and fonts, color and contrast or added visual clarity, along with the ability to collapse or expand sections to take better advantage of the real estate on the screen
  • Progressive disclosure, keeping added detail (clutter) hidden until needed
  • Responsive design of software, which behaves differently depending on the device in use
  • Special search capabilities that ask the question as you type, “Did you mean…?”
  • Intuitive screens (but don’t take our word for it, see for yourself)
  • Available in the cloud

These are exciting times for the developers at Exact. If you are a customer, share in their excitement. If you are considering replacing your current ERP solution, Macola is definitely worth a look. Dive in to Macola 10.5 to see what you are missing.

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QAD Channel Islands: Multiple Stops on the Journey to the Effective Enterprise

QAD defines the Effective Enterprise as one “where business processes are operating at peak efficiency and perfectly aligned with strategic goals.” Yet given the ever-accelerating pace of change in our world today, QAD also recognizes that the Effective Enterprise is more of a journey than a destination. The journey is one of continuous improvement and carefully balanced objectives.

The same could be said for the software that runs the business. Which is why its “Channel Islands” initiative is divided into milestones that have QAD (figuratively) hopping from one island to the next. A year ago it released Anacapa and this year Santa Cruz is ready for early adopters. Next year, it will navigate to Santa Rosa and in 2018, San Miguel. With two releases a year planned, chances are San Miguel will simply be another stop along the never-ending journey, but by then QAD will likely be on to other additional adventures suitable to whatever the future might bring.

Channel Islands: An Appropriate Metaphor

In the meantime, QAD appears to have chosen the name of its latest initiative well. QAD’s Channel Islands initiative has a dual purpose. The metaphor is perfect because the first goal of the initiative is to re-invent the entire user experience of QAD ERP, making it more natural (intuitive), visually appealing and easy to use. The Channel Islands of California are a chain of eight islands located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California along the Santa Barbara Channel near QAD headquarters. The main attraction of the real Channel Islands is their natural beauty, providing relief from the cluttered, hard-to-navigate urban setting.

But the second goal of the initiative makes it even more appropriate. The islands are divided into two groups—the Northern Channel Islands and the Southern Channel Islands. The four Northern Islands used to be a single landmass, but as water levels rose (thousands of years ago), Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel emerged and evolved as separate islands. While QAD ERP was originally developed as a single, tightly integrated solution that needed to move forward in lock step, the goal now is to support more modular upgrades, allowing different modules and disciplines (think finance versus purchasing or production) to move forward independently at their own pace. Mint Jutras often refers to this approach as “loosely coupled” versus tightly integrated, but it should not be confused with a collection of point solutions with arm’s length interfaces. Just like the Northern Islands, under the surface all these different functional areas are still connected.

In fact that was why QAD named the first phase Anacapa. Of the four Northern Channel Islands, Anacapa appears to be the smallest, but in fact has an enormous land mass hidden under the surface of the water. This is representative of the work done to re-architect the underlying infrastructure, reworking the application programming interface (API) structure and protocols, and future proofing the user interface (UI), including the framework for connecting devices. This supports the theory that sometimes the best UI is no UI at all and paves the way for succeeding phases (Islands).

To better understand how QAD is delivering on this modular upgrade approach as well as a new and improved user experience, read the full report (no registration required):

QAD Channel Islands: Multiple Stops on the Journey to the Effective Enterprise

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