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Business applications for iPod generations

Some expressions that will be used in the text

The term "Web 2.0" describes the changing trends in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that aim to enhance creativity, communications, secure information sharing, collaboration and functionality of the web. Web 2.0 concepts have led to the development and evolution of web-culture communities and hosted services, such as social-networking sites, video sharing sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies. The term first became notable after the O'Reilly Media Web 2.0 conference in 2004.[1][2] Although the term suggests a new version of the World Wide Web, it does not refer to an update to any technical specifications, but rather to changes in the ways software developers and end-users utilize the Web.

An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site. It is the modern equivalent of a traditional bulletin board, and a technological evolution of the dialup bulletin board system. From a technological standpoint, forums or boards are web applications managing user-generated content. People participating in an Internet forum can build bonds with each other and interest groups will easily form around a topic's discussion, subjects dealt within or around sections in the forum.

A wiki is a page or collection of Web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute or modify content, using a simplified markup language. Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites and to power community websites. The collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia is one of the best-known wikis. Wikis are used in business to provide intranet and Knowledge Management systems. Ward Cunningham, the developer of the first wiki software, WikiWikiWeb, originally described it as "the simplest online database that could possibly work".

A blog (a contraction of the term "Web log") is a Web site, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.

Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs. Most blogs are primarily textual, although some focus on art (artlog), photographs (photoblog), sketches (sketchblog), videos (vlog), music (MP3 blog), audio (podcasting), which are part of a wider network of social media.

*Tag clouds
A tag cloud or word cloud (or weighted list in visual design) is a visual depiction of user-generated tags, or simply the word content of a site, used typically to describe the content of web sites. Tags are usually single words and are typically listed alphabetically, and the importance of a tag is shown with font size or color.[1] Thus both finding a tag by alphabet and by popularity is possible. The tags are usually hyperlinks that lead to a collection of items that are associated with a tag.

Tag Cloud


The internet has collapsed time & distance and created many new ways of interacting. The emergence of social networks, online forums, blogs, wikis, etc are all part of the movement towards web2.0* and have changed our way of exchanging information with friends and colleagues. By adding web2.0 tool sets to our professional life, using the new technologies and work processes in designing business applications and increase the focus on optimized employee efficiency – the utilization of business applications will increase substantially.

Human Computer Interaction research, Rich Internet Applications, new information controls and visualization, web2.0, seamless integration of free internet resources – all of these techniques will be important when building the next generation of business applications aiming for the iPod generations. It’s all about increasing the utility, usability and agility of business applications

With the above as a goal IFS (Industrial & Financial Systems, the global enterprise applications company) is running a project to optimize employee efficiency and user productivity and study design principles that could be used to increase usability of the business application. This will all be part of the next generation of IFS Applications – the result of a program with the code name Aurora – with an initial deliverable in a next generation user interface, IFS Enterprise Explorer.

HCI – Human Computer Interaction

IFS’ focus on usability forced us to study (for us) new disciplines, Cognitive Science – the science of the human brain and how it uses our senses, and Human Computer Interaction (HCI). In order to understand how to build a user interface optimized for usability, we studied how software facilitates a number activities including:

- thinking
- remembering
- learning
- daydreaming
- decision making
- seeing
- reading
- writing
- talking
- etc

We learned, for instance, how to best use colors and shapes to emphasize the most important information and to de-emphasize other parts of the screen. We found that it was important to adjust how users navigate through a system, and to develop new controls for better overviews of information. In order to help control focus, we found it was beneficial to offer the ability to zoom and filter and to drill down in details on demand.

The application OEE – Overall Equipment Effectiveness

When looking for a suitable application to run as a pilot, IFS finally decided on Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). OEE is a quite straightforward production analysis that identifies actual output compared to a theoretical maximum. Basically, your plant is built to produce at a certain theoretical maximum output. This output is reached only if you run the facility 24x7 at maximum speed, with no stops and no waste due to poor quality.

A = Availability (runtime)
P = Performance (speed)
Q = Quality (sellable)

OEE Index = A*P*Q

Therefore, if you run 90% of the time, at 90% of maximum speed and you produce 90% sellable quality your OEE Index is still just 72.9% -- Basically you loose 27,1% of your theoretical production capacity. The OEE analysis is all about trying to identify the reasons causing the lost production as a foundation for decisions on how to make additional investments the will yield the best ROI.

The main challenge in launching an effective OEE program is that OEE tools and processes must encompass many different roles and disciplines in the company. The program must hold up to daily use by the production line operator, allow for analysis and follow-up by manufacturing professionals and management, support maintenance technicians and design engineers, and fulfil many other functions throughout the plant.

In the past, plant-floor-oriented OEE systems united multiple equipment databases and provided a good interface that allowed operators to view data on the operation of automated components and equipment, but they were still missing the integration to the enterprise asset management (EAM) or enterprise resources planning (ERP) world. Other OEE products offered OEE as an add-on to the maintenance management application, but did not capture any of the data and business intelligence contained in real-time equipment operations records

In the case of IFS Applications there was an existing software module with real-time data capture, as well as integration to the EAM/ERP world. The challenge in getting the operators to register data and experience values into the system as a complement to the automatically recorded events. The step from the ordinary graphical operator environments (like different SCADA systems) to IFS’ existing OEE application (with the look and feel of a traditional business application) was simply too great a leap for these operators.

SCA Ortviken Sundsvall AB / Asset Intensive advisory council

After some discussions with one of our important EAM customers that had fully utilized OEE, we embarked on a usability project together. A group of developers and designers from IFS Research & Innovation (a part of IFS R&D that was establishing the applications’ future direction) was working closely with a group of operators, manufacturing professionals and management from the paper industry to design and define a new application for maximum OEE.

In addition to the kernel project team we also used an existing asset intensive advisory council with participants from several industries such as the chemical industry, steel industry, nuclear power plants, truck manufacturing, etc. as a sounding board regarding the results and directions.

Results and experiences

As a summary you can say that working in very close cooperation with a customer group of end users completely changed the way we built the business application – in this case OEE. After a period of “getting to know and respect each other,” the group worked very well and realized that there was knowledge on both sides of the vendor/customer divide that were essential to the development process.

In an interview, Christer Bystrom, IFS system owner at SCA Ortviken, described a few of the benefits of their participation in the MaxOEE project:

  • A high increase in the use of OEE
  • More than 50% more registrations
  • Dramatic quality increase of registered information
  • Almost no education was needed
  • As the application is seen as more important, it also drives operational education as people see it as more important that information entered into the system is correct

In the end, the MaxOEE system had changed completely – not only in the way it looked, but also in how people are now working in the system and how utilized the system is. We all looked upon the project as a great success in all aspects.

User Productivity – taking the next step

Working with the MaxOEE project, we learned a few things:

  • Design Matters Design is in itself important for a number of reasons. It can of course make the system more usable and better designed for its specific use, but it can also be part of the work environment —giving it a modern touch, driving an interest for the application in general, creating an attraction to the work/role, etc. We believe that design is more about driving efficiency than about look & feel.
  • Working close to customers is getting more and more important as we drive development into more refined areas – for instance designing applications for domain specific tasks
  • Focus on usability brings more user value than if we spend the same amount of time and money adding more functionality and technology.

For many years the main focus when designing and developing enterprise applications has been on technology and functionality. Year after year, in a never-ending evolution, business applications have utilized new technologies and added new functionality, delivering new fields and new features. In many cases, these enterprise applications have been built to serve a wide range of industries and user groups. To meet the needs of a number of different domains, many business applications have become quite complex to navigate and actually less and less efficient as a tool for the end-users. In some cases, end-users revolt, refusing to enter data into the systems. They find the work involved in using the system is not being balanced with enough reward from the application. This could, in the end, become a major threat to EAM/ERP systems across the board.

Most enterprise applications are operating in quite mature environments and the financial benefits brought by adding new functionality are often limited. By changing its focus from expanding functionality to optimizing usability, IFS believes that greater financial rewards will be delivered to customers. The financial impact from improved user productivity and improved utilization of the system will be much higher than if the same investment was made by adding new technology or new functionality.

Love the Application

Basically, one goal would be to get people to “love the application”, to get users to feel excited about new opportunities and the great abilities of the new application. When you buy a new car you long for the weekend when you are able to take it out on the road. When you buy a new stereo you look forward to unpacking the boxes, setting it up and checking out all the new features. But when was the time you felt like that before an ERP/EAM upgrade? It should be an adventure with lots of new opportunities, but most of us just see a pain in the upgrade interfering with our ordinary business processes.

Focus on the main time wasters

In a usability survey carried out with 350+ ERP user companies, we tried to define the areas where ERP/EAM end users were finding the biggest time wasters. The result was:

  1. It is very complicated to search for and find the information I need.
  2. Navigating around and between applications.
  3. Different modules have different structures, commands and work in different ways.
  4. I cannot transfer data from one application to another easily.

As the last two bullets were not as much of a problem for IFS users as for users of products from other vendors, we decided to concentrate on the first two bullets and, with that as a base, also drive towards a intuitive, efficient and attractive user interface to drive usability and decrease the need for training.

Some examples of new design as a result of meeting the challenges in the survey:

  1. Much more graphical design and new ways of navigating When was the last time you read through the manual, or attended a course, before using a self-service check-in terminal in the airport? Our mission is to make IFS Applications a “walk up and use” enterprise application. While domain specific knowledge in purchasing, manufacturing, and other areas will always be necessary, our goal is to make our technology as easy and as surfing the web or using an iPhone. Simple and effective tools to navigate, search, and perform actions removes the biggest time wasters when using enterprise software. All this combined with an attractive design makes for an application that creates user excitement rather than user frustration.
  2. The sticky (or the Post-It note) Several of the end-users indicated that they felt that they had information that they wanted to add, but the information did not feel important enough to enter into the formal fields. They wanted something less pretentious that could be used just like a Post-It note added to a formal piece of paper. This lead to the creation of the digital Post-It note that can be attached to any object or window in the system. It has been used a lot since its introduction.

    Figure: The screen is fully adaptable to each role using the system with ability to set personal layout and controls as well as setting up the screen complexity based on the individual work space. The sticky “post it note” is a new way of communicating.

  3. Improving the search functionality to find things faster One of the most frustrating things about using enterprise software is trying to find anything in the vast array of screens and query boxes. It can feel like using the Web before the days of Google, when in order to find anything, you paradoxically had to already know where it was (exchanging cool links with friends ☺)! That is why IFS introduced the industry’s first integrated Enterprise Application Search (EAS), making searching your enterprise data as easy as using Google. As it is an integrated tool in the business application, not only can you find information fast and easy, but the information can also be grouped based on the result – customer, customer order, invoice, etc.

  4. Figure: Google like enterprise application search engine

  5. Improve different ways of collaboration The increased focus on collaboration has made it easier for users to find, share and use both structured and unstructured information, keeping it visible to all in the relevant business context, rather than lost in an individual’s mailbox. Seeing all relevant data – including documents attached to a record – is easier than ever before. Sharing thoughts and comments with colleagues is intuitive, and now also facilitates interaction that is more fluid and less formal. Exchanging not only conent between people but also the actual context.
  6. Symbiosis with the web One thing that made the web so successful is the ease with witch content and applications from multiple sources can be linked together. IFS extends this benefit to the enterprise application, making it as easy to link to any specific forms, or objects deep inside the application, as it is to link to “”. The user interface looks and feels like the web, seamlessly guiding the user through application and web pages alike.

What is next for enterprise applications?

Well the world has become smaller, and we are all sharing the same information, best practices and knowledge. Globalization is part of more or less any company’s work day today and the pressure to adopt agile practices is greater than ever.

We see web2.0 developing on Internet sites like Facebook, Twitter, different forums, Wikipedia and others. Blogs, and other communications devices are changing the way people relate and exchange information with each other. Many of these tools also drive a new and more efficient way of working – and in a professional environment we talk more and more about Enterprise2.0 when describing how these tools are moving into the corporate world.

I will try to describe how we look at the development of the next generation of business applications from 3 different drivers: Technology, Society and Business.

Technology Drivers

  • Internet is THE driver of all software today. It eliminates barriers by collapsing time and distance. Example: writing e-mail vs. office memos. Working over many sites in real-time, video conferences, chats etc.
  • Social networks. Collaboration and communication. More and more applications today let people interact with each other and benefit from each other’s knowledge. Wikipedia is the most obvious example. But there are others as well such as different domain specific forums where people interact, blogs that solicit user comments, allowing author and reader to interact with each other.
  • The classic paradigm of how data becomes information and information becomes knowledge now needs to happen faster. Today, you can select and use the tool and the media best suited to your needs instead of showing everything in a simple table. Table views will remain, but where applicable we will be accompanied with other tools that might be the best suited way of displaying information -- be it video, charts/graphs, or other innovative ways of displaying data to become information
  • Location awareness is here, and it is now letting us see not only the static location of assets, but now the movement of objects, vehicles and personnel as well. Nokia just bought a virtual-map-of-the-large-cities-of-the-world company for a lot of money. GPS + preference content is the next frontier.
  • Technology, and particularly the software industry is not for nerds anymore. It affects all of us. The nerds have moved on to BioTech, NanoTech and the Artificial Intelligence Robot industries. Ordinary people occupy the software arena. Means this industry is rather mature now and we are all expecting turnkey/walk-up-and-use applications to a greater extent than before. Here to stay.

So how does this drive what people expect from their applications? Well, we can already see how social networks are starting to develop as a social tool and increasingly they are being used by people to add value to their business applications. Most of the time it has been a service driven by consultants implementing applications, but companies like IFS are creating social networks (openIFS) for the end users to exchange information between each other – without the interference of the software company. This has turned out to be a great resource for engaged users and is open to all customers, partners and IFS people around the world – 24x7.

Our first experiences from end user forums proved that they helped each other with answers to a lot of different types of questions, sharing experiences on how to handle certain situations in the application as well as what to think about before an upgrade. We have also used wikis, blogs, tag clouds, to help users get even more value from this environment. But where we see the value of Web 2.0 tools really taking off is from combining these technologies with the business application itself:

Forums in the business applications
When we develop access to openIFS straight from the window of the business application, we can bring extra value to the end user by giving access to a network of other people sharing experience from the same very window or business process.

Wikis in the business application
Quite often we access the manuals and handbooks from within the business applications but they are often too general in their descriptions to actually give he company specific details on for instance how to fill out the travel expanse report, what facts that should be added and in what order. If we could create the ability to edit the information (creating a wiki) we could add information on the way a specific company uses the application, embedding that as a dynamic, editable wiki in the application itself.

Adding live dialogue based on online availability
In many parts of the daily use of a business application we interact with many roles that are part of creating, authorizing, delivering a product. If we could see which individuals involved in eac of these roles that are online we could, for instance, open a chat or an IP call to exchange data in real time straight from the business application – sharing the same context.

Figure: Using chats and online availability indication to increase collaboration

Society drivers

  • Green is THE trend right now. This has been the case for a while, and will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.
  • Fair trade is another trend we see growing in importance. A company can get into real trouble even from the perception of handling things in a socially unacceptable fashion. This goes hand in hand with the trend of increased corporate social responsibility. The greenest, most fair company will win in the eye of the audience/customers
  • Another big trend right now in society is that customers are starting to expect companies to be agile i.e. respond to their specific needs. Industries and consumers alike are becoming intolerant of inflexible product and service offerings that cannot be customized. They no longer accept having to wait for delivery – at the very least they want to know exactly when they can expect it. We are no longer in one universe ... but rather in a universe of one. Mass customization, the ability to change or deviate from plan, the ability to operate on a customer’s timeline rather than to a rigid production schedule ... all of these are critical in today’s environment.

So how does this drive the expectations for business applications? Well we can already see how different software is working to supporting companies being “good corporate citizens.” Risk management is getting more important as the world gets smaller. We are expected to not only benefit from production in low cost countries, but also to ensure that no children are employed or unethical practices used at our sub-sub-supplying companies – although we don’t deal with them directly. Regulations as well as customer demand are driving companies to invest more in their ability to follow up on different green initiatives, such as measuring how various business decisions impact the carbon footprint and other environmental impacts.

ecoManagement – Enviromental Footprint

In many ways en ERP-software is to the business what the circulatory system is to the body. Today most companies use an ERP to consolidate financial flows in the company and to do different types of cost calculations, but it could as well be used to calculate and consolidate other types of resources and non-financial impacts. We have, for instance, developed a costing module to consolidate the environmental impact of different decisions. Many expect that companies will need to declare their products’ environmental impact in different ways and already today some companies are driven in this direction by their customers – for instance when proving that it makes environmental sense to transport bananas to Sweden instead of growing them in heated greenhouses.

Figure: Creating a costing module to follow up on environmental impact

Business Drivers

  • Globalization is here to stay, and is now starting to affect companies outside Fortune 500.
  • Maintenance and other services are becoming more important to the total revenue of many companies.
  • Customers are asking their vendors to engage in new business model involving more complex and large scale products or programs. Projects and Mini-networks are being initiated to deliver on this demand.
  • Everything is becoming more complex, demand for leaner operations is high, there is less slack and fewer buffer zones in the supply chain, and this increases enterprise risk.
  • Growing demand for flexibility and agility -- i.e. “go with the flow, change when change is needed”.

So how does this drive the expectations on business applications? Well we can already see how more companies are using a project-centric business model -- no matter what part of the operation they address. Developing a new product is project, entering a new product on the market is a project, finding a new supplier is a project, building a new facility is of course a project, etc. many companies are in need of better project support in all parts of their operation. As the globalization is here most companies are part of a more complex supply chain and with higher risks. Single source has driven up the risk in the event that something happens to the single supplier. What happens to your supply chain if there is an earth quake in China or Brazil? What are the risks of a tsunami, and how does that affect my operation? Built-in analytics is another piece of functionality growing in importance fewer people are doing more and that the complexity is increasing.

Risk Management

Leaner operations, less slack, and fewer buffer zones are making it critical to be able to handle incidents before they happen. Risk management becomes more important and tools to handle those “what if?” -analyses are more important.

Long term planning and simulations In many companies we need to be able to handle simulations of more complex nature to take the right decisions for the future. What happens if we get this order? Do we need to add capacity? Should we outsource or build a new line?

Figure: Using new controls to better illustrate and analyze risks


Building business applications for the iPod generations will change much of what you can expect from a business application. We believe that:

- Look and feel will be replaced by a focus on product design and real ergonomics to optimize the application as a tool.

- Usability is important, but only a focus on real user productivity rather than “convenience modifications” brings value to the bottom line.

- Technology is only important if it is used as a driver for integrated innovation

The next generation of users will be less accepting that their professional tools are designed with less of a focus on usabilty than the toys they use in their spare time. It’s a brand new world!

Figure: Driving towards the next generation of business applications

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