Saturday, November 21, 2009

Usability in enterprise Apps: Workday 9

Usability in Enterprise Applications

I recently saw a video of Workday 9, and was not impressed with the apparent usability of one of the highly touted features of this release. I tweeted my impression, and got a quick and friendly response from the team at Workday. They didn't complain about my bias or lack of information. Instead, as a great company should, they opened up and accepted the feedback. They offered me (and some Enterprise Irregulars colleagues) a briefing on Workday 9, to bring us up to speed and to get more feedback from us. My comments that follow are based on this briefing.

A Little Background

Workday is a company started by Peoplesoft's founder and some key Peoplesoft employees. Peoplesoft
was a ground-breaking company in many ways, and the founders and employees of Workday clearly intend to surpass their previous accomplishments with this new venture. Peoplesoft strove to change the way employers engaged with employees, and they practiced what they preached in their own company.

Workday's product is based on modern technologies, including services-oriented architecture (SOA), Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) delivery model, and Adobe Flex for a rich Internet experience.

The Wheel

My initial critique was based on a feature of Workday 9 called "The Wheel." At least, that's how I had seen it named in a number of blogs and news stories. Essentially, "The Wheel" is the "home page" for users of Workday 9. Here is a picture of "The Wheel."

Many modern applications have adopted a horizontal "tab strip" approach, where each tab represents a type of activity. Clicking on a tab typically brings up a screen with tasks related to the selected activity across the top just below the tab strip, with additional navigation or activities in a panel on the left (or right) of the screen, and with a large, rectangular workspace to the right (or left) of the navigation panel.

This "horizontal tab strip" approach is frequently used because it offers a very straightforward information architecture, and users can quickly and easily become (and remain) productive. This "L-shaped" layout pattern is used in business and consumer applications, including both browser-based and native client applications. Examples of web sites using this pattern in the consumer space include Blogger and Facebook, both with some variations on the theme. In the enterprise world, most portal-style applications use some variation on this pattern - an example from is also shown here.

Unlike this familiar horizontal layout for the top level navigation, The Wheel is a role-based, circular menu. Activities are represented by icons around the edge of a circle (or ellipse, depending on your window size or aspect ratio). One benefit of an approach like The Wheel is that the user can see more options on one screen than with a horizontal layout. However, "more" is not always equivalent to "better." In this case, having watched the demo, I remain
convinced that The Wheel is not an improvement in usability over a tab strip. The drawbacks of The Wheel, from my limited research and discussions with colleagues:
  • The Wheel makes it hard to predictably navigate to any particular activity. Humans navigate, particularly on computers, more easily in straight lines than in curves or circles. With a horizontal tab strip, you just keep moving to the right until you find your tab. With today's high resolution and wide-screen displays, this approach can include many tabs! With The Wheel, you'd have to move your mouse or trackball in a circular motion as you browse, and that is a harder motion to make (especially on my cluttered desk).
  • The Wheel may introduce significant usability problems for users when one or more new options are added to The Wheel, or taken away. All the learned muscle movements will have to be unlearned, because any change in the number of options will result in a new orientation for the other icons. This would not be the case in a tab strip, where you might go further or less far, but you at least don't have to change directions.
  • The Wheel uses a lot of screen space for a little functionality. The area between the window's enclosing rectangle and The Wheel - this space is wasted. Similarly, the workspace created inside the wheel also wastes the space between the inscribed rectangle and the enclosing ellipse.
Workday 9 Delivers Great Usability

That said, Workday 9 has delivered some great usability in virtually every other area I saw in the product.

When the user's mouse "hovers" over an icon on the wheel, a window pops up in the center (see the "Inbox" rectangle inside The Wheel in the Workday 9 screen shot above). This working space comes up remarkably quickly, and contains all the tasks and context needed for the user to be productive. This is great design. The same effect could have been accomplished without the ellipsoid Wheel, but enough on that topic!

Throughout the product, whenever the user is looking at data that can be linked to more detail, the data is a link the user can click to directly navigate to that detail. When looking at an employee in a report, the user can click on the employee's name and navigate to the information in the system this user can see about that employee, along with all the tasks this user can perform on that employee's information, such as giving that employee a raise or updating that employee's skills in the skills database. In the Projects screen shot shown here, you can see that each project name, the project owner, the project category, and even the number of employees working on the project are all links; clicking on the link navigates to the sensible destination to get more data, whether it is the details of the project, or the list of the employees working on the project.

Whenever the user is looking at a table of data in Workday 9, the user can export that data to Excel, sort, filter, and perform other operations on the data. This is extremely useful for status reporting, embedding in presentations, doing "what-if" analysis, and just making the system pleasant to use.


There are many other examples of great design in the user interface Workday 9. The visual design is good - appealing, speedy, and clear. The information architecture is well thought-out - goal-oriented, providing a reasonable set of appropriate options, and easily learned. The interaction design allows for a high degree of productivity.

A well-designed enterprise application speeds adoption, encourages frequent use, engenders better results with more use by individuals and by the enterprise, and eases the accomplishment of the system's goals. Usability is a key element of good design (along with good functional design), and usability is a quality frequently all too lacking in enterprise software.

Overall, Workday 9 is a great example of a design that is centered on making people very productive in getting work done - exactly what you'd expect from the crew at Workday. Congratulations! My hat is off to you - you've set a bar that will be hard for other enterprise software to exceed (but I plan to do so with my team at C3!).

  • I do not work for Workday
  • I do not take any money from Workday
  • My blog is not ad supported, and contains no ads from Workday
  • I do not work for any Workday competitor
  • I do not take any money from any Workday competitor
  • My blog is not ad supported, and contains no ads from Workday competitors
  • I have worked for at least two Workday competitors in the past (SAP and Oracle)
  • I admire great design, especially relating to usability, comprehensibility, and user productivity
  • I do not now use nor have I ever used Workday software, so my knowledge about Workday's usability, especially prior to the Workday briefing, was admittedly very light
  • I am not a user experience expert, just an interested novice

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It's Holiday Prediction Time Already

When you get your third request to discuss the outlook for 2010 for our industry, it must be "Holiday Prediction" time. With no further ado, and with two months left in the year, here are my predictions for the enterprise software world for 2010. The predictions marked in red with "Wild Card" are not really predictions, just outlandish guesses of what might happen.
  • Oracle releases Fusion Apps (for core functions, plus a few of the composite apps around it). Fusion Apps are missing tons of functionality, but work well with Oracle Apps Unlimited (legacy apps), so customers are comfortable with the upgrade. Oracle also continues to deliver some new functionality for Apps Unlimited, keeping those customers happy. Oracle delivers pre-packaged integration using AIA with Apps Unlimited products and Fusion Apps.
  • Wild Card: At OOW10, Oracle announces low-priced maintenance offering for SAP and pre-packaged integration with AIA to SAP 4.6 and 5.0.
  • SAP cannot convert many Oracle Apps customers to new SAP licenses, as they are happy to stay with what they have or to wait for or upgrade to Fusion Apps.
  • SAP ships Business ByDesign and the Apps are favorably received. SAP finds a nice niche for these apps in divisions of large SAP customers, displacing some legacy apps like Baan and Infor. SAP finds a way to achieve profitability for ByD when it introduces pre-packaged integrations from ByD at the division level to Business Suite at corporate. Customers see real value in ByD and the pre-packaged integration, which SAP sells for tens of thousands of Euro per connected ByD instance (per year).
  • SAP announces that it will incorporate several ByD innovations in Business Suite in enhancement packs starting by the end of 2010 and into early 2011.
  • Wild Card: SAP license revenue plunges, and margins start to suffer. Long term R&D is cut. By the end of the year, SAP agrees with user groups on specific actions to take to reduce TCO, to justify increasing maintenance fees, which come under increasing pressure.
  • Oracle license revenue slides, but margins are maintained as Oracle continues to cut back on Applications Unlimited faster than it grows Fusion Apps. Apps Unlimited staff have to compete with each other for few openings in Fusion Apps.
  • Microsoft stays in the Apps business, but as a distant "also-ran." Internal discussions begin about exiting the business or taking a significant new direction to try to re-energize the business.
  • IBM, which has really been in the Apps business all along, relaunches their Apps business based on project accelerators from Global Business Services, including via Blue Next.
  • Wild Card: IBM works hard to convince customers to go off SAP maintenance, remain on 4.6 or other old versions of SAP, where IBM takes over maintenance and develops custom composite applications around the FI/CO core. SAP bulks up consulting (but doesn't buy any consulting companies), and works hard with IBM's competitors to disadvantage IBM in SAP accounts. In the background, towards the end of the year, SAP and IBM begin merger discussions.
  • Cloud, SaaS, and open source become completely accepted in the enterprise, as companies start to outsource everything that does not deliver competitive advantage, and as integration technology improves. Pre-packaged integrations become common, with go-lives measured in days and weeks instead of months and quarters. Dozens of new Cloud providers enter the market. Substantial new enterprise SaaS solutions come to market in diverse new areas.
  • Many open source applications projects reach maturity for "edge" applications such as talent management and enterprise performance management, promoted by systems integrators like Wipro and IBM, with licenses that prevent commercial deployment by enterprises above a certain number of users without buying support from the integrator. These projects are used to contain Oracle and SAP Applications customers on old versions, buying support and maintenance from the integrator.
  • IT spending grows slightly, but with a focus on "new" things rather than maintenance. Spending on new computers (driven by Windows 7), mobile devices, "edge" applications (e.g., talent management, supplier management, and new analytics) grows substantially. Spending on application maintenance, custom application integration, application upgrades, database upgrades, and server upgrades drops precipitously.
  • Enterprise 2.0 backlash leads to significant cutting back on access to time wasters at work, like, Twitter, Facebook, and certainly LinkedIn. Questions about how you will get 20-something employees to give up their access to these tools go away as there are way too few jobs to go around.
  • Green and sustainability topics grow in importance as legislative/regulatory uncertainty grows worldwide, with some legislation passing and lots of new regulations put in place with no legislative action. Green IT goes mainstream.
  • Oracle completes the Sun acquisition, including mySQL. This turns out to be a non-event, as Oracle continues working with HP, IBM, and Dell.
  • Wild Card: Oracle also acquires Pillar Data. Oracle launches high performance cloud storage, with innovative integration with on-premise Oracle DBMS and content management services.
Basic economic assumption:
  • The jobless economy continues. New graduates are unable to find any work. Business profits soar as productivity soars. Commodity prices remain low, though not in dollar terms as the dollar continues to drop precipitously versus other currencies.
  • Wild Card: Government intervention grows, but grows in unpopularity while failing to deliver benefits to citizens. A change in governments looms in several large countries.
Wow - that turned out a lot more pessimistic and Malthusian than I thought it would! What do you think will happen in 2010?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chutzpah of the week: Monty Widenius

According to Wikipedia, chutzpah is "the quality of audacity, for good or for bad". The award for "chutzpah of the week" has a clear winner, and it's only Monday!

The winner is Monty Widenius. Here's a guy who was significantly responsible for mySQL, but so were several others, not to mention the thousands of other contributors. He became very wealthy selling this work product to Sun, which would kind-a mean it's not his anymore. But here he comes back, claiming to speak for the mySQL community, with nary a mention of his personal financial stake in wresting control of mySQL away from its legal owners to whom he sold it!

He's now claiming that mySQL was always targeted at Oracle as its main "enemy," a statement that never appeared in mySQL corporate documents, in their documents in the sale to Sun, or in Sun's internal sales materials (to the best of my knowledge). According to this article (cited above and below), he said "[t]he largest and the most common rival was Oracle. In every deal we were competing against Oracle."From what I hear , that is a complete falsehood, and blowing out a statement like that is another example if his chutzpah. After all, mySQL competed with Oracle in a tiny fraction of Oracle's deals. Most use of mySQL came about by developers downloading it to get a free database (or a database optimized for horizontal scalability), and those same developers would have downloaded some other free database (e.g., PostgreSQL or Ingres) if mySQL did not exist.

Now, Monty has a new company that stands to retake control of mySQL and its community, if that control can be wrested away from its rightful owners by a clever combination of overzealous European regulators and manipulation of a gullible (or worse) press. And, lo and behold, here's a press release from Monty: "MYSQL FOUNDER OUTLINES SOLUTION: INSTEAD OF LETTING SUN SUFFER, ORACLE SHOULD SELL MYSQL." No doubt, the "suitable third party" he refers to in the blog/press release is Monty Program Ab. Chutzpah again.

So, why does the industry press lionize Monty? After all, he's a sell-out (literally!), who benefited financially from the work of many who worked for nothing (the mySQL community contributors), and who is trying to do so again. I guess chutzpah gets rewarded.

For more details, see: