Despite being well prepared for leading a training session for Oracle end-users, I hadn’t quite anticipated my first question – “How do I type a percent sign?”
In 2006, approaching my 10th anniversary of working within the Oracle HCM E-Business Suite development team, I decided that it was time I saw and experienced more of the outside world. A decision not borne from a Phileas Fogg style wager and sense of adventure, but a desire to work with customers who were actually using (or trying to use) the software my team and I had spent the last decade developing.
During my three years of working on customer implementation projects, I came to understand two things:
- Oracle E-Business Suite is an extraordinarily pliable ERP that, with the right technical skills, time and budget, can deliver almost any customer requirement
- Most end users hate using it (if they used it at all).
On many projects, I regularly found myself at the front of a classroom, teaching end-users how to do things like book a training course, complete a performance review, post a vacancy onto the company job board or simply book a holiday.
One of my most memorable sessions, and the setting of my opening question, took place at a local council. My audience on the day was a hearty bunch of park rangers who could teach me a thing or two with a hedge trimmer but had never been near an ERP in their life. My answer to the seminal question – “You press Shift-5” – was followed by another: “Why do you need to type a % to find something? You don’t have to do this with Google.”
A fair question. The penny dropped, the system I knew and loved wasn’t held in the same levels of affection by people that had to use it on a day-to-day basis.
In 2009, my colleague Duncan and I decided to found Applaud based on our experience of working with customers who all wanted a common set of HR functionality that Oracle wasn’t providing.
Grabbing our laptops, we bashed out two simple ‘bolt on’ solutions:
- A calendar for managers that showed when their team was out of the office.
- A utility to push information from Oracle into Outlook – holiday bookings, training courses, that sort of thing.
The interest was high – not enough to make us the next online sensation – but enough for us to think that we had the seeds of a successful business. We then went to every customer or contact we could think of and asked them what we could do next to make Oracle E-Business Suite better.
The universal answer: “Improve the User Interface”.
The influence of Workday
This seemed a pretty stiff challenge; if Oracle couldn’t manage it with their millions of R&D dollars, how could we? Inspiration was thankfully at hand. While starting Applaud, our interest was piqued by a new wave of Cloud based HCM solutions causing industry buzz. Two, in particular, were highly influential: SuccessFactors (now owned by SAP) and Workday.
Cloud deployment aside, neither product seemed to deliver functionality that was much different to what we’d seen before, but the glossy user experience each delivered was a clear step up. Workday, in particular, was the darling of the industry. Analysts fell over themselves evangelising the modern user experience, single codeline, rapid deployment, lower cost of ownership and other bumph that has since only partially proved to be a benefit (or, in the case of costs and time to deploy, has even been disproved to be a benefit for larger companies according to the latest Sierra-Cedar report).
What wasn’t in doubt, however, was how pleased Workday’s customers were with their HR system. Go to a trade show and a Workday session would start with their customers on stage talking about how great the product was.
Imagine that – an internal system that employees and managers actually didn’t mind using! It’s safe to say that the system’s exceptional user experience was a vital part of Workday’s early success.
Workday’s first release used Adobe Flash for their User Interface (they now use HTML5, like we do). Why, we pondered, couldn’t we take the same tech as Workday but get it working on Oracle E-Business Suite?
We picked up the challenge and a series of small breakthroughs started to be made. We rendered an employee photo and name on screen using the new tech. Then we pulled through more employee details to create a simple employee profile. Then we got it rendering in Oracle E-Business Suite itself from a menu option. Then we pushed data into the system using Oracle APIs. Then we got it working on an iPad. And so on.
We’d cracked it. We had the same tech working on Oracle E-Business Suite that world leaders in HCM usability – Workday – were using to convince customers to ‘rip and replace’ their Oracle software. And, as a bonus, we’d got it working on all the major mobile platforms too – something Oracle hadn’t achieved by that point.
Our next challenge turned out to be slightly harder.What could we build in our new tech that customers would actually be willing to pay for? Why should businesses pay for pretty looking screens and mobile apps? In the consumer world, people buy luxury goods for themselves because those goods bring them joy. There is no such sentimentality when it comes to procuring software for business purposes. The Business Case and Return on Investment is king.
Our journey to defining the value of user experience will be covered in a later post. Currently, we’re delighted that our solutions are used by over 1,000,000 employees worldwide and growing on a weekly basis.
If you’d like to know more about Applaud and how our solutions could benefit your workforce please get in touch.