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March 31, 2011

Time is "RIPE" for a new way of designing 'Smart' user interface

This blog is in the series of blogs around the "Smart" user interface and how the expectations from the users have been maturing over time.

I firmly believe that the Maslow's hierarchy of needs is very much applicable in the world of IT and software solutions as well. The only difference is that we are talking about "user needs" from "IT" perspective instead of "psychological" as proposed by the theory. The users till date have been able to meet their Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging and Esteem needs. What they need now is the movement to the next level of "Self-Actualization" (and i can assure you this is level which beats itself as a certain level is achieved and we start looking at the next best).

I talked about some of the users' comments in my last blog and earlier on how it all started here. Having highlighted the need, the next step is to share the framework that we have developed to help our clients "extend" the current application features (till they become features of the product themselves) on a case-to-case basis.

Each of the "dimensions" which define the need for a "sensitive" response in the user interface are inter-related though not-necessary related in a hierarchy though they may look like at the onset (more details on it later, not covering that in this blog to avoid diversion from the main thoughts).

The RIPE Framework
This framework is nicknamed "RIPE" and you will soon see why! We have broken down the "Sensitive" paradigm of any User Interface into 4 parts based on the activity for which a user interface is needed -


RIPE.jpgThe figure below explain the 4 components of RIPE by taking a simple example of a "Financial Journal Posting" process which a typical accountant will do for any kind of financial transactions. For e.g. - the user in a particular department may have bought some stationary for official work for 200 USD; the same has to be entered in the right category and the expenditure attributed to the right department. The diagram explains what the user interface can give at various stages/states and at various times of execution of the same cycle.


process.jpgThe figure is self-explanatory. It shows the same transaction happening across 2 different roles (accountant and approver) at 2 different times - one during the normal business cycle and one during the month-end closing process. The process steps maybe are same, but the treatment of states and the needs from the user interface are different as shown in the figure. This example was just to simply explain how powerful this framework can be in terms of its utility and can be applied to any role, process, stage, state or time. We have lot of exciting cases where we have used this in real-life scenarios. Please do contact me in case you need more information around this.

Long live "sensitive" user interface!



This blog is part of a 3 blog series around the "Sensitive" user interface. You can read the other 2 blogs here -
Part 1 When will my ERP experience be 'smarter'... the Time Sensitive Paradigm!
Part 2: Taking ahead the thought of "Sensitivity of User Interface " in packages

March 11, 2011

Taking ahead the thought of "Sensitivity of User Interface " in packages

I had blogged around this topic earlier where i had exposed a thought which i think is very important from the 'user perspective'. you can check out the post at "When will my ERP experience be 'smarter'... the Time Sensitive Paradigm"

In a recent meeting with a CIO of a large company operating in telecom domain, a very important point came up. The users in the organization has an ERP being used for handling all financial, invoicing, customer and vendor management, sales, purchasing, billing, etc. The organization was looking at adding a new feature in the product to support the relationships with the suppliers (a.k.a. Supplier Management System). From a SI perspective there are multiple solutions which are best-of-breed, additional modules from ERP provider and also there were add-ons from 3rd parties. However, none of these were striking a chord with the users.

The CIO was trying to rationalize the application portfolio (have blogged around the EXIST framework for this here) but the users were not listening. The reason was simple - "lack of personal touch". The erstwhile package solutions were more to 'only handle transactions and masters'. Over time as this feature became common and the users got used to it; the game moved to the next level where  the users have started demanding a more 'personal' system - a system which behaves 'intelligently' and takes off the burden from the end users to some extent (the transaction have to be done by the users, unfortunately till date there is no shortcut there).

Here are some of the statements coming out from discussions with users and have been put here verbatim -

  • "in today's world of interactive web pages, phone apps, twitter and facebook - it looks as if i am working on a 1 room sized computer"
  • "why is that people do not feel the need to be trained on facebook, twitter, MS office and likes - we just evolve and learn on the go"
  • "even my kid knows that he needs to put on the tennis shoes every Wednesday before the coaching class, but my million dollar ERP doesn't seem to know i am going to do financial closing today"
  • "my system gives me buffet options - take a pick from all i have but does not give me an À la carte options"

You may find some of them funny, some absurd and some irrelevant; but do try and understand the plight of some of these users. They are not asking for the moon. This discussion is not around a better user interface but a 'smarter' one. It need not be as 'slick' as the social media sites; but it need to be 'practical' and 'sensitive'. The users are simply asking for a framework where the applications can be finally 'smarter' and consider the users 'a part of the entire transaction processing' rather than a 'pure doer'.

With the preview of next generation ERP and press announcement around the release dates of the new version of Microsoft Dynamcis AX 2012 there has been a sea change in the way some of the above aspects are handled in the product. I would not say that all the above "smartness" has been built in; but defintely the product framework is now more in-line with this aspect of "intelligent user interface" You can now have a feel of something coming up with good features and a framework which can be moulded to meet the objetives.

The screenshot below shows a sample user interface for a Customer Form with 'smart' features.


Anyways, more on this later as we explore more features of AX 2012 and upgrade our solutions on the new version.

Keeping in line with the current discussion, i would soon be posting a blog around the framework we have developed for enabling "Sensitive" user interface for the end users. In between, if you have come across any such situation at your organization, please feel free to share the same. Looking forward to hearing back more from peers.

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