Enterprise ordering portal

Client: Large nationwide enterprise company

Location: Sydney (Australia)

In 2013 Cognitive Ink was asked by a large enterprise company to redesign a new frontend for their Siebel-based transactional ordering portal. This project required analysis, domain research, design and usability testing, as well as working closely with external development and internal testing teams. The result was something that revolutionised anything we've ever seen done  for a system involving Siebel.

 

Background

The large enterprise client provided a number of its more complex products via a rich service network of sales and implementation partners. The partners are an essential part of the ecosystem of sales channels, yet they struggled with an outdated and complex user interface for ordering products. In time, numerous projects had failed to deliver a positive user experience, resulting in a strong negative association within the user base.

This is what the users had been stuck with:

 

Creating a new user experience

The purpose of the project was to create a new user experience for partners, while continuing to invisibly use the original backbone systems to provide uninterrupted ordering and direct tie into back end fulfillment systems. The deeper cultural goal was to regain the user's confidence that a better user experience could be delivered. 

 

How far can you push an enterprise platform? 

The Siebel front-end framework was pre-selected for the project long before user experience could provide guidelines for user drive capabilities. This created a fundamental challenge that impacted the entire project for it's year long duration. The user experience was to be created somewhere in between the two opposing forces of user needs and severe system limitations. The Siebel front-end framework is an extremely dictatorial and limiting design framework. Unlike a framework like Bootstrap UI (which allows heavy customisation), Siebel heavily restricts what can be changed or how interactions can be implemented. Unfortunately, Siebel is commonly present in enterprise user experience because it is the out-of-box front-end associated with Siebel back-end systems, which power a number of large enterprises. 

 

UX between a rock and a hard place

How do you create an award winning user experience between the rock and the hard place? Between a technical framework that cannot be set aside and a user experience that must be satisfied. 

We selected an agile / lean UX approach to provide early and rapid concepts in conjunction with immediate user feedback. This also had the advantage of dovetailing with the agile development process that was already in place for the project development stream. 

The UX design would be delivered using Axure RP software, which allowed for richly interactive and hosted prototypes. This was extremely important, as a significant portion of the team was located in Melbourne, with the development team located offshore. Using Axure would allow them to experience the proposed system before it was even built.

 

Sprint Zero - The Architecture 

Using existing detailed user research that had been conducted by a previous user expeirence team, we initiated an Agile Sprint Zero, architecture stage. It is a crucial step for user expeirence in an agile context. 

Though subsequent iterations may deeply amend the concepts, it is essential to create a baseline design concept that expresses a first perspective of the fundamental user experience architecture. This includes transactional user experience assets like: 

  • Entity (data) model
  • Information architecture 
  • Navigation model

We tested the user experience architecture derived from sprint zero with users and made adjustments directly post feedback. 

 

Sprint Two to Four - The Iterations

Using the feedback and improvements gained from Sprint Zero, we entered a sequence of two week sprints, delivering blocks of functionality into the larger user experience design. We carried out a repeated pattern of internal business feedback, technical feedback and then user feedback. Each round of rapid feedback resulted in updates and changes to the UX design. 

 

But we thought that would work!

Although the system functioned effectively, and many UX design solutions proved to be implementable, the process was not without significant challenges and occasional road blocks. 

In several cases, UX design proposals created parallel technical experiments as the implementation team struggled to develop the proposals as dictated by the design. Daily stand-up meetings (conducted virtually) were supplemented with bi-weekly UX - Technical negotiation sessions. 

In these sessions, UX design proposals were discussed in the context of the outcomes of the technical experiments designed to test their feasibility. In many cases, significant changes needed to be made. In a number of cases, compromises needed to be made. To help organise the challenges, especially as new feedback arrived from end users, a triage system was developed to grade the user experience challenges into a sequence of Deferred, Minor, Trouble, Critical and Blocker. 

All UX challenges were recorded in an online Kanban style card wall (Trello), so that the entire team had access to the state, priority and status of the UX challenge. Because both the UX challenges and the Axure prototype that represented the entirety of the solution were hosted online, all team members across all locations were constantly up-to-date with the content. 

 

Outcome

After nearly a year's worth of work, the team had transformed an out-dated and difficult user experience into a modern and user tested solution that revolutionised a complex enterprise ordering process. 

Note: Screenshot below has been changed to greyscale to obscure the identity of the client.