Tag Archives: oracle

My Oracle UCM improvement wish list

Oracle is aware of Janus Boye and my blog posts and tweets on Twitter about Oracle usability issues.  Oracle want to help resolve these.  I’m starting with Oracle UCM.

Am I missing any of your issues?

1. Publisher control

Oracle UCM has poor ‘granularity’ of permissions and no obvious back end to see who has access.

The permissions only allow two (publisher) levels, a limited ‘only edit what’s already there’ and a far too powerful ‘does lots of complicated stuff with a very complex interface’. This suits organisations with a few powerful people in a central group, but not BT’s intranet governance model which has decentralised publishers.

A hard coded menu item called ‘switch region context’ has no place on an interface I expect a large number of users to use, and that’s only one part of a convoluted process to add a new page.

The user ids do not integrate with other user ID systems and it is difficult to integrate this with other processes (e.g. make sure that only people who have done training have access).

2. Quality of web pages

Oracle UCM should never be able to generate invalid code.

The conversion from MS Word is very poor ‘out of the box’, producing inaccessible and invalid code. With a lot of work – BT was able to improve this but never approached an acceptable level. Oracle UCM needs only to allow ‘well written’ MS Word documents (i.e. only accept well formed documents) and to reject (with explanations) documents it cannot convert to valid, accessible pages.

The site studio interface is poor and difficult to apply standards to. The browser version support is difficult and you have to rely on using admin permissions to install a clunky java applet. I don’t know if the applet is usable to people with disabilities. If it must use ‘rich’ interface elements then accessibility must be considered.

The pages themselves seem to insert a pile of javascript (is this out of the box?) and it’s difficult to enforce things like good metadata.

3. Template creation and management

There seem to be few well written components to use in the templates. Additional features (e.g. embedded video, RSS) need to be custom written and template specific. That’s a maintenance headache waiting to happen.

Management of templates appears to be awful. This encourages poor re-use of template development resource. It’s hard to quantify the effort required creating a template, but it seems to be excessive compared to other competitors. BT’s aim is to reduce, not increase, costs.

Please help me to help you with Oracle applications’ usability by commenting.

How you can help improve Oracle’s poor usability

When I asked Oracle, can you improve your poor usability please? I was really pleased to see how widely my views were shared.  I’m not alone!  It has led to Oracle re-engaging with Janus Boye (read his blog post on Oracle) and me.  There is no guarantee this will lead to anything so how can we improve the usability of Oracle and other software applications?

Well, I can think of the following ways we can try:

Helping make the decisions

We need to make sure we are as closely involved as possible when our organisations decide on buying or developing a business application.  It’s much harder to get a decision changed after it has been made.  We also need to make sure the full costs are understood.  By this I mean the productivity costs of training, helpdesk support and extra time taken using the application.

Usability standards being implemented

Embed usability standards into any procurement or development process for technology.  This means any technology your organisation buys or develops has to meet these standards as well as any other technical, security or other criteria.  You can be the contact point for any queries about your standards and get involved.

BT uses these usability standards for this purpose.

Proof of concept

Test out if possible the technology before it is fully developed or bought based on user needs to see what our the usability issues and how easy and costly they will be to solve.  I do this with user stories which explain the business need, activity to be tested and outcome needed for it to have been met successfully.

Commitment

Get your vendor to commit to what you need them to do with timescales you both agree to.  Make sure it is binding in any contract and a review does take place to check every improvement agreed has been done to the usability standard expected. (My thanks to Christophen McCann)

I will keep you updated on progress with Oracle on my blog or Twitter.

A big day out on BT’s intranet

Last Thursday (2nd July) I hosted a visit to BT Centre in London for 30 intranet representatives who are members of the Intranet Benchmarking Forum to demonstrate our intranet and give them time to surf our intranet and test it out for themselves.

I was very pleased (and a little relieved) they were really impressed by what they saw and tested out on BT’s intranet.

The areas covered include BT’s Homepage; Blog Central; BTpedia; Podcast Central; BT Today and RSS.  I also covered the full value of BT’s intranet.

It wasn’t all good news.  BT’s continuing problems with poor usability of our applications bought from vendors like Oracle was highlighted with one quote “You don’t need training to use Amazon” summing things up.

It was rewarding to see our efforts to make our intranet (one of ?) the best in the world be confirmed by 30 peers.  Thank you! :-)

Why do Oracle say ‘per diem’?

I was prompted to write this post after a comment to my posting ‘why are intranet applications so difficult to use?‘ by Calluna55 which picked up that big software vendors must sooner or later start to improve the usability of their intranet applications.

Oracle are a successful, global, software vendor.  BT uses their products like their ebusiness suite.  However this product has a strange phrase ‘per diem’ for claiming expenses.

Now, I know this phrase is well known in the US but Oracle are a global company with many customers outside the US.  Surely an option to simply change it to the equivalent phrase in another language exists?

NO!  is the answer.  To change a simple phrase ‘per diem’ to one that is more meaningful either means a very expensive and difficult re-coding of the heading by an Oracle code expert or changing every phrase to another language.

I’m sure for other countries like Germany, France, Japan, etc, that is the obvious option but many people either speak English as their first or second language.  ‘Per diem’ is not easily understood.

It’s another example where software sold by vendors like Oracle could be more usable by enabling small changes to be made easier.

The more usable the software is, the cheaper it is to make changes, the easier it is to upgrade to new versions = more business for the software vendors.

With a global recession in 2009 isn’t this a simple thing software vendors could do to help themselves as well as us?

14 steps to improve your applications’ usability

In my last post ’5 ways to help you improve intranet applications’ I talked about some easy steps you can take.  The first step was having some usability standards to apply to your intranet applications so users have the best experience.

 

Now, there are plenty of sites and blogs who can give you expert guidance.  The difference with these standards is they are practical and have been applied in BT.  They are:

 

1.  Have a style guide so there is consistent, usable, design

2.  Measure cycle time to check speed of doing things

3.  Measure support calls to helpdesks and target a reduction

4.  Examine the systems error logs and see where people are having problems

5.  Observe real users not survey (or listen to the opinion of senior stakeholders)

6.  Fix the easy and small things like the labels on buttons and the headings in forms

7.  Be forgiving.  Allow the back button and provide an undo feature

8.  Make help available where people need it. 

9.  Only have a minimum FAQ section.  Instead try to reduce the questions people are asking frequently – the FAQ is a ‘things to fix’ list

10. Fix accessibility so everyone can use it

11. Consider the system emails and improve them

12. Forget trying to tell people things for their own good, we all have banner blindness

13. Be consistent across applications in the style and language.

14. Allow deep linking to specific parts of the system

 

My thanks to Sandy Blair for his help with this post. :-)

5 ways to help you improve intranet applications

In my last two postings I have touched on the problems I find intranet users have with usability of applications they have to use.  I covered in ‘Why are intranet applications so difficult to use?’ the common problems users have to overcome.  I then suggested in ‘Why doesn’t vanilla = usable with intranet applications?’ how software vendors could prevent these problems.

Here are some easy steps to help you with these problems.

  1. Publish a set of usability standards you want all application owners to follow.
  2. Have an agreed owner of the usability standards who has credibility and can help application owners.
  3. Get the buy in from key people across the business to accept the standards and improve their applications’ usability.
  4. Make sure your standards are embedded into your procurement and development processes to prevent the problems getting worse.
  5. Review intranet applications at least one a year with the owner against your usability standards.

BT has managed to do all 5 steps.  The user experience with our intranet applications is slowly improving – slowly because of the difficulties getting software vendors to get involved.

In my next post I’ll cover what our usability standards for intranet applications are.  Let me know if there is other help I can give…………..or you can help me with.

Why doesn’t vanilla = usable with intranet applications?

Thanks to everyone who read or made a comment on my last posting ‘Why are intranet applications so difficult to use?’.  I now realise I’m not alone!

So, we know we have a problem.  As Steve Ellwood pointed out, we must have missed the training to use Amazon.  And that’s exactly the point.  We don’t need training to use internet applications so why should we have to to use intranet applications?

When will software vendors realise that customers are reluctant to keep paying for upgrades to the version they use because of the huge amount of time, effort and money customising ( making it more usable really) the version bought to get it to do what the customer needs it to?

As customers of software vendors we want to buy an application that comes out of the box and does what we expect it to do.  This is what I know as ‘vanilla’ applications – no customisation needed.

If a vanilla application was usable then there would be no need for any customisation.  Even if it meant a little amount was needed that took little time and effort that would still be acceptable.

We will be far more willing to pay for upgrades because we had saved on not having to customise it.  Software vendors wouldn’t have to spend so much effort trying to persuade us to upgrade either.

All it needs is one major software vendor to break ranks and change their approach by involving real business users in their new upgrade and they could gain a huge competitive advantage by saying vanilla = usable with their applications.

After momentary disbelief by customers I think there could be a stampede to that software vendor!

Vanilla = usable applications.  A ‘win win’ for vendors and customers?

Why are intranet applications so difficult to use?

Firstly let me make it clear I am referring only to intranet applications BT has bought from software vendors not any applications that BT has developed for our intranet.

When I use an application on the internet such as Google or Amazon to do something or even the BBC site for iPlayer it is always available, easy to use, no training needed, and it does what it claims to do.  If it didn’t the sites wouldn’t exist.

However when I use an intranet application that BT has bought from software vendors, like Oracle, etc, they are not easy to use, need training to use and fall short of the claims they make on how usable they are.

I’m not sure if the software vendors carry out any or enough user testing.  If they do, then maybe they are asking the wrong people.  I wonder if it is technical advice they seek on their applications rather than the user experience?  If not, well………………why not is the obvious question?

It can be very difficult to use intranet applications that have:

  • misleading headings that take you to pages you didn’t expect to find
  • functions placed in strange parts of the screen
  • headings that have strange names (what does ‘per diem’ mean?)

I expect the same experience from an intranet application as I would from an internet application and not have to spend money customising it to meet the basic levels of usability I need to avoid huge (normally hidden sadly) productivity costs.

Am I in a minority of 1 or am I voicing what the silent majority of users think and suffer each day?  Only you can decide!