Monthly Archives: May 2013

Not Wanted: Product Comparison

A specialist is someone who knows a lot about a topic. He specializes and specializes and knows ever more about an ever smaller knowledge area. And in the end, he knows everything about nothing.

I’ve just submitted my abstracts for the UKOUG Technology Conference in December, and I was forced by the website to choose only one product as the topic of my presentation. That is a problem and reflects a worrying trend towards silo mentality in IT. Each developer has his own tool and is either ignorant of other tools or actively hostile towards them.

One of my favorite topics has always been the “How to choose the right Oracle Tool” presentations that I have been giving in various guises for 15 years. I understand why this presentation never makes it onto the agenda at Oracle OpenWorld, where each product management team has a limited number of slots and want presentations that are uniquely about “their” product. But these comparisons are very valuable to all Oracle developers and customers, and I believe user groups should offer them. That’s why it saddens me to see UKOUG follow the silo mentality and move towards single-tool presentations.

User Attention Deficit Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association has just released the fifth edition of “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, known as DSM-5. Currently, 20 percent of American boys aged 14-17 are diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and with the new guidelines, that number is set to increase.

Maybe that’s why your users can’t figure out the new system and keep calling the help desk? Maybe some Ritalin would help?

On second thought, don’t dope your users with prescription drugs. But do try some of the non-pharmacological interventions for ADHD: “clear rules, lists, and other structured routines”. Where have I heard this before? Oh yes, that’s called good usability.

If you don’t have a usability book handy, start with the Oracle User Interface Shell guidelines.

Do You Even Test?

During the workshop here at Oracle in Redwood shores, we were taught about the importance of usability testing. Maybe that is why I noticed the switches in the washroom at my hotel.

Can you tell what they do? On entering the washroom, I press the button closest to the door on the assumption that it will turn on the light. Instead, a fan goes on. So I press the other one, and the light goes on. Learning: Press both.

After a couple of days, I accidentally press only the second button from the door and get both light and a fan. Mystery. So what does the first button do? It turns out that it turns on a hot air blower in the ceiling next to the ventilation fan.

So every time I entered the washroom, I started one device to blow hot air into the room and another to suck it back out. No wonder we’re burning a lot of fossil fuel. If only 5% of hotels in the US have this usability problem, the 1 billion hotel nights in the US alone waste about 440 MWh per year – about the total yearly electricity consumption of Mali. A trivial usability test with five people would have found this issue.

Do you test your applications for usability?

I have seen the future of ERP

I’m at Oracle HQ in Redwood Shores this week for a workshop on implementing Oracle’s best user experience (UX) design practices in ADF.

Yesterday, the Oracle UX team hosted a confidential (strictly no photography!) event demoing some of the new stuff they are working on. If I told you the details I’d have to kill you, but what I can say is this: The future of ERP is as a platform, not an application.

I have been building custom user interfaces for Oracle E-Business Suite for years and have been struggling with inconsistent, incomplete and only slowly evolving APIs. With Fusion Applications, that’s all different – because it is service oriented from the bottom up, it becomes easy to build multiple interfaces to the core Fusion Applications services.

You’ll see many ways of accessing the Fusion Application platform on various devices. Oracle will be covering desktop, laptop, and mobile with various products specialized for each platform. But  if you’re not happy with what Oracle is building, you can easily use the Fusion APIs to build your own interface. Who will be the first to implement Fusion Apps on Google Glass?

Smart People use UX Design Patterns

I was just watching my son play the Neverwinter MMORPG beta. The user interface looks just like other MMORPGs and he could jump right in and start playing.

That’s not because the people at Cryptic Studios lack imagination – it’s because their users already have an expectation of how an MMORPG should look. It would be stupid to risk turning people away by inventing a brand new user experience (UX). Instead, they are using a User Experience Design Pattern that their users recognize.

If smart people (whose livelihoods depend on people liking their applications) use UX design patterns, maybe you should, too? There are well-known UX design patterns for enterprise applications, too. Have a look at the Oracle Design Patterns and Guidelines for some great resources to get started.

Review: Oracle SOA Suite 11g Developer’s Cookbook

As the title says, this is a “Cookbook” containing specific recipes for handling specific tasks. Most of the tasks are development tasks faces by a SOA developer with a few that are more relevant to a SOA administrator.

The 67 recipes cover many components and technologies used in the very large Oracle SOA Suite, including BPEL, OSB, Java in SOA, JSON, OPSS etc. Some of the recipes are fairly simple and do not really contain much information, but serve more to make you aware of features in the SOA Suite that you might not have been aware of. However, the majority are very useful and detailed (include these JAR files, remember to check this checkbox, use this code) and definitely have the potential to save you some time.

I especially appreciate the thorough chapter with recipes for Oracle Meta Data Services (MDS), which is sorely under-used in Oracle implementations. There is really no need to hardwire configuration and environment parameters into code and config files when you have MDS, and this book explains how to use it.

The recipes for using JSON with OSB are also very relevant, as SOA applications start pulling in data from outside the organization, typically in JSON format.

Just like you won’t make every dish in a regular cookbook, you won’t be using every recipe in this book. But if you are working with the Oracle SOA Suite, do check out the table of contents and see if there is anything to your taste. Even if you need just a few of the recipes, the time you save is well worth the cost of the book.

See it on

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