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integration and implementation of technology-focused business solutions

February 2018

The importance of quality user interfaces

February 20th, 2018

With the number of web and phone applications available today, most people experience a number of different user interfaces on a daily basis. Most consumer-focused interfaces are pretty nice, but a lot of enterprise or internal company interfaces are not.

In my years of working with many different companies, I’ve seen some crazy things for user interfaces. Sometimes I find myself asking if the developer was colorblind, and other times I’m simply baffled at the number of steps required to accomplish a single task in the system. If I weren’t walking through the system with someone who had been using it for years, I wouldn’t even know where to begin to find the necessary information.

Developing a user interface is about more than just how it looks. It’s also about information flow. Do the menus make sense to the user? Does information in the system flow in a logical way for that specific business? Can a single task be accomplished from a single menu, or does it require three different menu options to do one thing?

Yes, the design matters, too. Some developers don’t understand the importance of a clean interface. But that’s sometimes what you get when a “bits and bytes” developer creates something for an entire company to use. It makes sense to them as a developer, and they don’t realize that it’s difficult for a non-developer to use. But many enterprise user interfaces are used by hundreds of non-developers every day!

A lot of companies continue to foster terrible user interface design either because they simply don’t know it’s terrible or they’re unwilling to invest the time (or money) in something better. But there’s a cost to poor user interface design-both in terms of employee frustration and in actual time spent using the interface.

How much money do you lose when employees can’t figure out how to use your system? Or when they have to click through multiple different menus to pull one piece of information? It’s an intangible cost, but it’s there.

In recent years, I’ve seen an increased awareness of the importance of user interfaces, although it’s still going to be quite a while before every company has a quality user interface. But new developers are leading the charge because they’ve been exposed to so many consumer user interfaces. They realize that enterprise interfaces deserve the same level of quality and ease of use. And that’s a good thing!

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Continued support for Oracle Forms and Reports

February 3rd, 2018

Oracle has always been known as a database company, but there came a point in time where they recognized a need to provide developers with additional tools for developing software that would easily integrate with the Oracle database. Thus, Oracle Forms and Oracle Reports came into existence.

Oracle Forms allowed developers to create data entry forms with fields that easily map to the database. Oracle Reports were also pretty straightforward with reports based on SQL select statements like most reporting systems. At the time they were released in the late ’80s, the formatting was pretty limited since they were running on screens with a black background and green font.

When initially launched, the systems were installed on each individual computer. It took time and effort to complete each install, and if someone got a new device, it had to be installed again. All of the heavy lifting was done by the individual computer, and the applications took up a significant amount of memory.

Over time, Oracle realized that things were changing and the applications needed to be web-based. They made that switch in the mid-to-late ’90s. Organizations no longer had to install the system on each computer, but rather simply accessed it by clicking on a link. The computer would bring up a Java application while using it, and once finished, the computer would let go of all those resources.

Despite some improvements over time, Oracle Forms and Reports are technically considered legacy applications at this point. Oracle has clearly stated that the current version of Reports is the terminal version, which means they will no longer invest in improvements to the system. While Oracle Forms hasn’t been designated a terminal version, there are better alternatives available today.

If building a new system, we would recommend choosing different tools to accomplish both forms and reports. But what about those companies that have a significant investment in those systems currently?

For some companies, it makes sense to switch to an entirely new system and migrate all of the data. Others may not be willing or able to take on such a transition. We had one client who had built an in-house ERP (enterprise resource planning) package over the course of about 15 years using Oracle Forms and Reports. They had hundreds of menu objects, about 1,200 forms that totaled nearly 5,000 pages, and 130 reports. The cost to fully convert was close to $1 million, and they couldn’t afford it, so we continue to support their existing systems.

As older employees retire, many companies are finding themselves without the internal knowledge to support complex systems built with Oracle Forms or Reports. It can be challenging to find an IT company that can support legacy Oracle systems, but it’s one of the many services we offer. If you are using Oracle Forms or Reports and need support to keep your systems fully functioning, contact us today for more information.

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