The following may contain spoilers

Series three of one of our favorite shows, Silicon Valley, recently ended. Not only is this show quite humorous, it often provides a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the software industry.

The overall theme to the season is that a team of brilliant developers are attempting to create and productize a revolutionary piece of software which they call “The Platform”. As expected, the team runs into obstacles at every turn until finally, towards the end of the season, the decision is made, only after getting feedback from beta users, that the platform is ready to be released to the public. The problem is that the beta user population is primarily comprised of their friends in the tech business!

Silicon Valley: Working on the Backend

Gilfoyle and The Platform’s Backend

Immediately, the buzz about the team’s success is on every news channel. The Platform is downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. Everything appears to be going better than anyone could have ever expected. That is, until we find out that while there are half a million downloads in a short period, only a trivial portion of those who downloaded the software are actually using the platform.

As it turns out, people weren’t using the software because they couldn’t figure it out. The users just didn’t get it. And by users, we don’t mean a niche group of techies, but the everyday software user. The developers didn’t find it important to try and understand their users and how they would interact with The Platform. The UX was not even an afterthought. Instead they put all their focus on the UI (User Interface). While The Platform was shiny and new looking, and looked very “cool”, it actually made no sense to the actual person using it.

The Platform was failing.

At IntraSee, this is something that we see every day in Enterprise Applications. An enormous amount of energy is spent building out the backend and creating complex interfaces that address every situation. Often these implementations or upgrades take all the focus. Sometimes there will be some focus on the UI, in the mistaken belief that in having pretty software, you also will have usable software. That rarely is the case (for an explanation of the difference between UI and UX see our article on the difference.

The problem is that real users end up wildly dissatisfied with these applications. The applications are not intuitive. They require thick reference manuals or worse, to sit in classes for hours, just so they can figure out how to accomplish their everyday tasks.

Silicon Valley: Focus Group

Focus group of real users

As we know, art imitates life. No matter how incredible the software platform is, if people can’t use it, you’re just throwing money down the drain.

The UX cannot be an afterthought.

We have seen, time and time again, that putting the user first is the single most important investment that can be made in an application. A great UX leads to much higher adoption rates, which leads to a successful implementation, happy employees and cost savings. All of this builds confidence by your management which leads to funding for the next project.

At IntraSee, we have decades of experience investigating and evolving the UX. We understand how users interact with software and we don’t source our focus groups from our friends in the bay area! We actually travel the world working with real people in real situations. We’re passionate about ensuring that your users just get it.

And when your users just get it, the return on your investment is all but guaranteed. Let us show you what a great UX is so that you can understand what we have known for years:

The UX cannot be an afterthought.

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Being an airline pilot isn’t easy. There’s literally hundreds of things you have to constantly monitor in order to make sure you didn’t miss something important. That’s why it takes thousands of hours of training.

ERP systems are very similar to planes in many respects. The hull is usually made by one manufacturer, but almost all the components come from different vendors and then get plugged together in order to create an operable plane. And, of course, each component is a potential point of failure and maintenance. So to accommodate this there’s a dial in the cockpit for each component, and the pilot is trained to know where to look and what to look for. Most of the time there’s nothing of value to see, but the information keeps coming and coming. Miss something, and bad things happen.

Notably, neither Google nor Apple make planes. If they did there wouldn’t be hundreds of dials in a plane. There would be one. And each component would plug into a notification framework that alerted the pilot only when there was something to do, or something worth seeing.

All you have to do is to look at your smartphone to know this is true. Thousands of apps, one notification framework, one place to look for them.

For many people, using an ERP system sometimes feels like flying a plane. So many things to do, so many places to check – but with no training. It’s no wonder people are frustrated, confused, and that so many things get left undone.

Imagine an ERP system where there was one place to go to see what needs to be done? Wouldn’t that be something.

Unfortunately, software makers went the same route as airplane manufacturers on this, and what resulted was the alert, the notification, the icon badge, the worklist item and more.  A cacophony of dials. Information overload, scattered across multiple systems and dashboards.

It’s become apparent that the industry has swung too far to the extreme when it comes to notifying the user. Now every application has its own alerts or worklist. There are so many of them and they are never in a single location. People have been desensitized and now the alert/worklist has lost its meaning (kind of like the car alarm). That is bad for all of us. How do we get back to the promise of a simple, single, to do list?

Dilbert Comic

An all too familiar scene from Dilbert

And now, introducing one more option: PeopleSoft Notifications

Traditionally PeopleSoft uses the Worklist to communicate and track action items for its users. With the latest PeopleTools release, Oracle has introduced something called the “Events and Notifications Framework”. You may have seen screenshots where the labels “Actions” and “Alerts” are used as pictured below. This is all part of the Fluid notification center located under a Flag icon in the header, and adds yet another cool feature for notifying people of things they need to be aware of. And, of course, adds to the challenge of providing a one-stop shop for all notifications.

Fluid Notifications Screenshot

PeopleSoft Fluid Events and Notifications

So let’s try to clear up the confusion a bit. Many PeopleSoft applications publish workflow. This is a piece of work needing attention from a user. Classic examples are approvals of time off, new job requisitions, employee transfers, and so on. Any workflow item can now be shown as an “Action” in the new PeopleTools’ Notifications. In addition, admins can push ad-hoc FYI items, applications can push FYIs, and AWE can even push an FYI. Not confusing at all now, right? 😉

As of this writing, the PeopleTools Event and Notification framework isn’t deeply documented, but this is just the early days of this feature. Modules like ePay Mobile and Absence Management are using it in 9.2, but there really isn’t enough documentation today to easily build your own notifications. However, it is a very useful tool and if used properly, can add a lot of value.

So how do we fix the UX problem?

One problem is that too many things are alerting us these days. We are all beginning to suffer from Notification Fatigue. It has been reported that the famed 2013 Target Hack actually triggered some alerts in the security admin’s consoles. The problem was that there were so many alerts, the admins had begun to tune them out!

The first step is what we call Alert discipline. Not everything needs to be an alert. This is a classic case of less is more. Once you get your Alert discipline down, the critical next step is to consolidate all alerts and worklists into one place. That is why we built our Alerts & Global Worklist products. They can be deployed in tandem offering the best experience or alone for specific client needs. Now employees, managers, students and faculty can easily see what they have to do and they don’t have to hunt for it. If people know there is one list, they are more likely to stay on top of that list. Linking to a half dozen worklists just doesn’t work.

Introducing IntraSee Alert & Global Worklist Integration with PeopleTools Notifications

Even though PeopleTools’ Event and Notification framework is not widely used today we fully expect it to get a lot of usage in the future. Therefore, we are announcing native integration for it in our IntraSee Alerts and Global Worklist products. Now IntraSee Alerts & Global Worklist deliver on the promise of a one-stop shop for notifications and workflow. When your users log into your site, any alert or worklist item from any PeopleSoft or Cloud system will be shown in a single, consolidated list.

IntraSee Alerts Screenshot

All notifications in one place

IntraSee Global Worklist Screenshot

All workflow in one place

Having one place to go will make usage of your ERP systems as simple as using a smartphone. To see a live demo, please contact us and we’d be happy to show you.

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It’s very tempting to look at any new object that sparkles and shines, and assume that it must have other inherently redeeming qualities. But, as Shakespeare once stated, “all that glitters is not gold”. And Jeff Bezos of Amazon followed that up with, “A company shouldn’t get addicted to being shiny, because shiny doesn’t last”.

While form without function may dazzle in the sales cycle, it’s function that wins out in the long run. But if you can add form to that function, then all the better. That’s what makes for a winning combination.

Workday is an interesting example of the shiny object that doesn’t quite match up to what a good user experience should be. Yet, it tantalizes many, and is often under consideration as a replacement for organizations currently running PeopleSoft. While jumping to what some refer to as PeopleSoft 2.0 may sound like an attractive proposition, the world has changed enough over the past few years that it’s worth considering what may be cheaper and better alternatives.

1. Return on Investment (ROI)

You’ve already invested a huge amount of money in your PeopleSoft (and other) systems. But have you yet seen a full ROI on that outlay? If not, then now would not be the time to scrap everything you’ve spent so much on, and go all in on what would be a completely brand new implementation. And remember, it is not just an implementation, but also what could be building hundreds of new integrations. Workday is not a cheap solution, and can cost in the nine USD figures (not a typo) just to get it up and running. For a lot less money you may be a better off looking at ways you can increase your ROI in your current systems. Let’s face it, if the paint is peeling on your front door, your first inclination isn’t to emigrate to another country, find a new job, and build a new house. Home improvement is popular for a reason. It allows you to make the most of your money while living the lifestyle you want. Software is just the same. If you know what you are doing, and you have the proper tools, then you can create a brand new User Experience that leads to a fully utilized enterprise system that allows you to finally maximize your ROI.

2. It’s risky

OK, so imagine you did decide that emigrating to another country (one you’ve never been to), searching for a new job, and building a new house is the way you want to go. Well, first thing you need to do is explain that to your spouse. And their likely response will be, “Isn’t that risky? Can’t we just pop down to Home Depot and buy some paint instead?”. And the answer of course is yes. Starting fresh, and abandoning everything you ever knew, is very risky indeed. And the more complex an organization you are, the riskier it is. Balancing risk/reward/ROI may lead you to a different decision. And if you can solve your problems at a fraction of the cost, and with almost no risk, isn’t that a better way to go?

3. It’s not fully mature

How long has PeopleSoft been around? Forever, right? Well, technically since 1987. But in the software world, that’s pretty much forever. And guess what? There are still new features and functionality being added to it each year. Oracle has done a great job keeping on top of things and expanding functionality to meet demand. So that’s almost 30 years of development. Building a mature ERP system takes decades. It’s a colossal undertaking. For Workday to catch up to all that development will take many years, if ever, before they can match PeopleSoft feature for feature. Building a nice UI is the easy part. And, in the PeopleSoft world, the easiest thing to fix.  

4. There’s more to an ERP system than a pretty face

There’s no doubt that Workday has attractive features. And at first glance it does catch the eye. But Workday is like a phone I bought only a couple of months ago. On paper it looked great. The specs were awesome, the pictures looked gorgeous. The only problem was, when the user picks it up it becomes a disaster. Way too big for the hand to hold, massively slippery, overly sensitive touch screen, is a fingerprint magnet, and cracks into pieces when dropped just 24 inches from the ground. It’s a UX nightmare. But it is extremely pretty (if you can ignore the cracked glass). This is the core problem with a company that understands the UI really well, but falls short on UX.

5. It’s not focused on the complete user experience

As Owen Wilson wistfully said in Wedding Crashers, “I think we only use 10% of our hearts”. ERP systems (and Workday falls into this trap) are kind of the same. Out of the box they don’t satisfy the complete user experience. Just a small fraction. How it’s implemented, and the tools provided, are the key to unlocking the real potential of an ERP system. In fact, the whole concept of an “ERP system” is typically something less tangible than people would like to admit. For most organizations the ERP system is really an eco-system of multiple ERP systems that the user is somehow expected to navigate and comprehend as one system (like the universe). Unfortunately, the human brain is not wired that way (unless you’re Stephen Hawking), which leads to massive under-utilization of the true potential that ERP systems could provide. Owen Wilson was right. 10% is a pretty accurate number.

6. It’s a blind alley

One of the great things about PeopleSoft is that if you don’t like certain areas of functionality, you can just plug something else in instead. Not happy with the recruiting module: plug in Taleo. Prefer a more modern Talent Planning module: plug in Oracle’s Fusion solution. Etc. It’s awesome. Like going to Burger King and ordering a burger with no lettuce, but with McDonalds fries. Hey, if that’s how you like it. That’s not how Workday works. Once you enter the Workday world you can plug in other vendor solutions, but only where Workday thinks they have a gap, and only with the vendors that Workday partners with. And the impression they give is that as they build out their functionality in future years, that support of these vendors will gradually disappear, until all that’s left is Workday. And that’s the end of the alley, and where all your data is locked up.

7. It lacks a portal

So why does Workday miss the mark so badly? Simple. It has no Portal. Without a portal, you are stuck in the silo of Workday. Providing an elegant user experience can only be achieved via a portal. No portal = bad user experience. Workday does provide a nice UI (note: read more about the difference between UX and UI) – but that’s not enough!

8. It’s rigid

In 1974 Burger King rocked the fast food world with the revolutionary, “Have it your way” tagline. Since then people have come to expect that whatever it is they want, they can have it their way. Custom skins on their phone, substitutions when ordering dinner (“hold the broccoli”), custom paint colors for the house, custom news feeds, custom cabinets for the kitchen. With Workday you can’t have it your way. You’ll have it the Workday-way. Try explaining that to your user base. Remember how many years and countless hours you spent getting PeopleSoft, and everything else, just to your users liking? Well, now you’re going to have to sit down with them and explain that from now on they’ll be ordering from the menu. With no substitutions! And if they don’t like mustard on the burger, well, they’ll just have to start liking it. Because that’s how it comes.

9. It won’t integrate with your corporate systems

All organizations have their own eco-system of internal systems that gradually morphed and developed over the years. We can’t just pretend they don’t exist. And if people are using these systems (which they must be) then that makes them part of the usability experience, and they need to be brought into the fold like everything else. Let’s call this Exhibit B in the case for why everyone needs a good portal. And until Workday has one, then they are missing the boat.

10. There’s a better way to solve your problems

Without wishing to be boastful, we at IntraSee have solved the UX conundrum. And we’ve solved it for complex global organizations using multitudes of different ERP systems. And this isn’t just sales talk. This isn’t a hypothetical resolution. This is practical and demonstrable. If you’d like to see a demo of how we can change your world at a tiny fraction of the cost of what it would take to go to Workday, then let us know. We’d be happy to show you.

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Editorial note: November 20, 2017, Workday announced more details on what their “intent” to open up their platform would actually mean.

“Right now what we’re seeing is what I’d call small pieces of additional functionality rather than applications that have a larger purpose. So the potential impact is limited. You can bring whatever code you want but, we curate and certify everything that goes into that platform and will continue to do so. We have to because we have a responsibility to ensure that customers remain compliant”.

“We are approaching verticalization and extensions differently to others. We are curating everything and will discuss our plans with partners so that there is a clear line between the areas we will enter and those where our partners will have a free run

– Aneel Bhusri

The bolded comments are the ones we feel are most pertinent. In the new age of digital disruption: agility and innovation are the key requirements of any organization. Without these things, you cannot adapt. Having an Enterprise system that requires curation and certification will be an impediment to clients and partners ability to provide the UX that their organizations want. And in this new world of digital disruption and transformation, this will be a major inhibitor to progress. Certainly, with the rise of chatbots as the new UI, organizations need the ability to adapt to these changes, and should not risk being forced to go through a curation and certification process. Or, even worse, be told, “no, you can’t do that”.

Editorial note: July 11, 2017 Workday announced:

“Today, we are ready to take a big step forward on our extensibility journey by announcing our intent to open our platform” and is “entering the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) market”.

The key word here is “intent”. And from a practical perspective the obvious questions are:

  1. How much of their platform will they open?
  2. Over what kind of timeframe will this occur?
  3. How committed to this are they? If they find issues with opening things up, will they then quickly shut it down again?
  4. Workday has relationships with multiple PaaS vendors. Will this cause a rift with these vendors, and also clients who invested in these platforms?

Time will tell. But clearly it’s far too early to say that Workday has a PaaS platform until we truly see it being used, and, more importantly, being used successfully.

But, as has been said many times. The first step in the path to recovery is to recognize you have a problem. At least Workday is finally owning up to the fact that to be considered a real Enterprise SaaS vendor, you also need to be a real Enterprise PaaS vendor. But the other pillar to be being a true Enterprise player is that you really also need to be a real Enterprise IaaS vendor too. And that’s a very expensive proposition indeed.

It’s been said that the UI is the saddle, stirrups, and the reigns. While the UX is the feeling you get being able to ride a horse and rope your cattle.

As a UX (User Experience) company, we are often misunderstood as only focusing on a better UI (User Interface). The two terms do overlap, but while UI is a critical cog in the machine, the UX is the machine. Put simply, UI is how something is designed or how it looks. When an organization wants to fix their UI, you hear comments like, “our software looks outdated” or “it looks like it is out of the 90s”. The visual appeal is usually what they have in mind.

The UI is important. It has to be visually appealing for people to want to use the software, but it only tells a small portion of the story. UI focuses on a specific piece of software where the UX focuses on the entire user experience. That may sound simple, but it changes the dynamic quite a bit. UX concerns usually are evident with comments like:

  • Our site is too complicated
  • It takes forever to complete any task
  • It doesn’t work on my phone
  • Why do I have to sign in again?
  • I can’t find anything
  • I’d rather go back to the spreadsheet
  • Everything I need is scattered all over the place
  • Nothing is where you’d expect it to be

The bottom line for UX is making it easy for the people using the system. Being an expert in ERP software is usually not their primary job, so you won’t get a lot of patience from them.

UX-vs-UI

User Experience vs. User Interface Design

PeopleSoft UI

PeopleSoft provides a lot of flexibility to control the UI. There is a branding engine and system stylesheets where you can improve styling of PeopleSoft pages. Using the PeopleSoft Interaction Hub is the place to start for a better UI.

Even recently PeopleSoft has introduced Fluid UI which brings a fluid layout to the UI. What this means is that elements on a page can move with the changing size of your device. Fluid UI itself isn’t making the UI more appealing, rather it is the new stylesheets Oracle delivers with Fluid that provide that updated look.

You do not need Fluid to have a more modern style and Fluid doesn’t automatically make everything more modern. However, rarely is updating the UI alone going to solve your UX problems.

The Real Problem

In our experiences, the problem clients are facing are bigger than UI. These problems exist with or without Fluid. This is why IntraSee focuses on UX.  What exactly would make the user’s life easier? What would reduce the amount of time they waste on internal systems?

A good user experience is having a one-stop shop for Employees, Managers, Students or Faculty which includes PeopleSoft classic, Fluid and your cloud apps. It is having a single, simple navigational structure and a comprehensive universal search. It is using the right terminology and labeling, providing help right when it is needed and managing the user’s task list in one place. And, of course, the experience has to be consistent no matter what kind of device is being used: Laptop, tablet, or phone.

A Recent Consumer Example

Today, when you are on Twitter, you may notice in your timeline links to Instagram posts. You probably also have experienced the annoyance of these links. While the UI for Twitter and Instagram have gotten better, the UX has gotten worse for this use case due to some competition between Twitter and Facebook. It didn’t always used to be this way.

Previously the Instagram photos were embedded directly inside the tweet. This meant no clicking, no waiting for the Instagram site to load, and a user could just scroll through and see these photos at a glance. That is where UX comes to play.

Twitter & Instagram Integration

Which side do you find more useful?

Just how the UX above misses the mark, good ERP software UX is more than just styling. Deep, meaningful integration is important, and it is why we pour so much of our attention into integration. To do UX right, you have to go beyond a single application. You have to understand what your people are trying to accomplish, every tool they use, and how they use them to get their work done. If improving the user experience is a goal of your organization, then please contact us and we’ll show you how it’s done!

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