EUI Summit – Day 1 AM

Thursday was the first full day of the Summit, and we had a very full agenda.  As a result, I am going to break the day up into three posts: the morning sessions, the Enterprise UI/UX panel that I participated in, and the afternoon sessions. 

Sam Lawrence is Jive’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), and the one responsible for organizing the event.  He started the day by providing a little background on what led up to the Enterprise UI Summit.  Several years ago, Jive worked with an outside consultant to make a plan for their future product direction.  That vision helped them take the company to the next level in the past few years.  More recently, the Jive team has had 700 conversations with their customers at all levels.  One of their biggest take-aways is that the user interface and user experience of the products is ‘the steak not the sizzle’.  As a result, they have committed to focus on that both from a product and from an internal learning perspective.  Part of the reason that we’re here is to help them to understand what is going on at a macro level in the enterprise, and what practical perspectives we can offer to them about how to move forward. 

Jive recently held a customer advisory board meeting, and the sharing was very well received.  That approach was the premise for the morning sessions.  He asked the presenters to answer the following questions:

  • What the problems that you’re facing when you’re in development mode?
  • Share some insights into your process, what is working or not?
  • Current things you’re trying to work out?
  • Where are you going for inspiration?

Sam told us that one of the mottos at Jive is ‘go ugly early’.  Like a blog post, it’s important to get the ideas and the opinion out there, even if it isn’t fully formed.  That encompasses many things – not being afraid to lead, to follow, or to have an opinion, for example.  It’s more important to get things out there than to have it perfect.  That motto cascades into the software development and their relationship with their customers.  They want that to be the case with us today, too. 

Bill Lynch got up and spoke briefly.  I had met him at dinner the night before.  He is the company’s Product Manager, but he is also the co-founder, and he has over ten years invested in Jive.  As a way to kick off the sessions, Bill showed the SAP CSS system, which Dan Rosenberg (SAP of SAP User Experience) reminded everyone is a twenty-year old product.  One of the challenges that he and his team face is that there are still SAP customers running R/2, which is a thirty-five year old product.

Dan Rosenberg is SAP’s Senior Vice President (SVP) then got up and presented a little bit about what SAP is working on, and what the future holds.  It was very, very high level, but it was nonetheless very interesting for me. 

SAP generates about $15 billion a year in revenue, and part of his responsibility is to help ensure that revenue stream continues.  Dan says that SAP recognizes that the current generation UI is a portal metaphor, and that it looks like Google circa 1995.  Underneath, there are screens underneath that look much more like traditional enterprise UI.  There is a lot of user interface cleanup to be done, but also a tremendous amount of work to rethink product architecture. 

Capabilities like RFID are also changing the product.  RFID alone removed ten thousands screens from the SAP suite, because those processes no longer require human intervention.  He described the ‘internet of things’ that is the reality today.  Each machine has a dedicated IP address, and is capable of generating a service order and reporting technology failures automatically.  This is indicative of the future for enterprise software – human interaction with the system will only be for exception handling.   

In order to help everyone in the room understand what enterprise software means to SAP, he provided a few scenarios, for example the Human Resources (HR) process ‘hire to fire’.  A process could be as broad as ‘seed to shelf’, everything from putting the seed in the ground to putting Cheerios on the shelf.  A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) scenario would be ‘order to cash’.  Oftentimes people that work on that process work by email, phone, and maybe Excel. 

Dan said that he cannot show future generation software for legal reasons.  However, he did say we are in a solar system, and that the sun we orbit is a transaction.  SAP doesn’t bring anything unique by focusing on documents, events, people, or communication.  That said, for SAP, the communities / collaboration space is not of interest to SAP as a market opportunity.  It’s Jive’s space, and they are OEMed into SAP’s NetWeaver solution.

Regarding collaboration, SAP is more interested in situational collaboration, as depicted in the bottom right quadrant.  In business situations, these tasks fall into four, temporal categories:

  • Make decisions
  • Get information
  • Monitor status
  • Drive execution

The challenge that SAP faces today is that we have highly sophisticated vertical scenarios, but the reality today is that many of the activities are actually horizontal.  In these scenarios, there are very specific pieces of information cannot be shown to all people.  How to handle the security for this?  It shouldn’t be Jive’s problem to figure that out.  The big enterprise software companies have a responsibility to work on the layers underneath, and then deliver a next generation UI on top of that.  For the purposes of this discussion, we’re just talking about what’s above the water line of the iceberg.  The challenge for enterprise software infrastructure vendors is that none of the previous rules go away:

  • Full security
  • Full auditing
  • Sarbanes Oxley compliance support
  • Integration of analytics and transaction data
  • Planning, consolidation, modeling, and forecasting
  • Legal compliance (for every country in the world)

CRM is an interesting place to look for collaboration scenarios because it is not as highly regulated as areas like Finance. 

The challenge that Dan and his team are facing is that the expectations of User Experience are being driven by the top left ‘Communities’ quadrant.

~

After some Q&A, we had a chance to hear from other Summit participants.  Craig Villamor from Salesforce.com also said that they have big problems to solve.  They are building a platform, not just an application.  So they have to think about pattern libraries and other tools to support developers.  Their challenge is to provide freedom within reasonable boundaries.  They are thinking about administrator stratification, and also UI architecture.  How do they enable that work on their platform?  Salesforce.com also has a corporate culture that says it’s ok to make mistakes, that it is better to fail fast, disover mistakes, and rework.  They have three major input channels from their users: 

  • Usability tests.
  • Salesforce Idea Exchange, where people can request features and vote on what features they want.  The site also says what requested features are coming in the next release.
  • Site visits, because they now have a few ethnographers on staff.

~

Matthias Zeller provided an overview of the new Adobe product code-named Genesis.  The opening view is a workspace selector, which is enabled with filtering in the case that the user has access to many workspaces.  It is also possible for the user to create a new workspace, which at the outset was blank.  Since it is likely that an end-user would find that intimidating, there is a catalog available to select from which includes ‘tiles’. 

Each tile is it’s own independently operating application. Each tile (if it communicates to to backend) has its authorizations managed through that backend.  Nothing is SSO-enabled yet.  Tiles are developed with Adobe Flex, and it is possible for the tiles to communicate with each other.  The idea is to keep the individual tiles simple, because if they are too complex, they are not as mashable.  They are currently developing tiles for Salesforce using the open API.  

Once there are a set of relevant tiles aggregated in a catalog, the user can then create a workspace based on a template, grab tiles, and assemble the workspace on his own.  You can download the client and do this on your own, without involving your IT department. So far their research shows that people really like this private workspace concept, even without the collaboration capabilities.

However, when and if the user wants to share the workspace with others, all he needs to do is hit the share button.  There is a hosted collaboration service, with the notion of an enterprise carvout which can be integrated to LDAP, or other parts of a company’s infrastructure.  The initial concept is only software-as-a-service, hosted only by Adobe. The online version enables presence information, chatting, and interacting with other users using VOIP and Adobe Connect (through the Genesis UI).

There is an option to persist the last data locally.  It uses Adobe Air to determine whether you are online or not.

~

Mandy Sladden & Prakash Chandran from Google answered the questions that were provided to them, including the typical problems they face, their design philosophy, their current challenges, and where they look for inspiration.  They outlined three major problem areas today:

  • Permissions and roles
  • First user experience.  In other words, if someone has never used the Google service, how can they make that first experience compelling.  This is a hot topic for them.  Apple is doing this well with FAQ and videos.
  • Cross-product experience.  They have standards across teams, this something that the UX team is working on but it is not a priority area for Google.

Regarding design philosophy, they really ended up talking more about process:

  • They handle design in partnership, working together with their engineering group as a team through all parts of the cycle.  Having them on board with the design is critical, as it also enabls engineering to get closer to the user research.
  • The designers are highly involved in QA testing.
  • They also have two distinct parts of the UX team – user researchers and UI.
  • The Google approach is also to get something out there, failing if needed.  They work in short, iterative cycles (3-4 weeks).  Then they get user feedback and turn it back around.

The two major challenges that Mandy and Prakash mentioned were that the iterative process sometimes makes it challenging to keep the long term vision in mind. It is also difficult to keep the intended user experience after last-minute scope cuts.

For inspiration they both look to blogs, to websites like Apartment ?? and to their co-workers.  They find it especially helpful to talk with others at Google who are working on different products.

~

Next week heard from Peter Calak at RIM.  He is the lead mobile web architect and UI expert behind Rim’s mobile web properties.  They have seen a massive increase in the use of the Blackberry home page (http://mobile.blackberry.com).  Part of the reason he was at the Summit is that he is trying to build a community platform for all BlackBerry users.  Whatever he puts in place has to work on a desktop and on the mobile device.  The problems he’s trying to solve include:

  • Providing usable web design for mobile devices
  • Presenting rich data on small screen
  • Managing limited interaction capabilities of mobile devices

Peter addressed the question of design philosophy by saying that mobile applications are starting to die off, and that the focus is rather on mobile websites.  His struggles include:

  • Porting desktop web properties to mobile
  • No out-of-the-box solutions for mobile
  • Lack of a unified mobile web standard

His inspiration has been working with Hyperfactory, a leading designer in the web space. Their design team helped rework the Blackberry home page to be icon-based.  

After Peter’s presentation, we headed to lunch.  Check the next blog entry for the rest of my notes on the first day of the Enterprise UI Summit with Jive Software.  

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