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What's the point of "Enterprise RIA"? – an overview and two examples

Beyond videos, cartoons, and web sites driving towards entertainment, rich user experiences platforms are looking towards “enterprise” use cases for novel and productive uses. While the content and the interaction may be different – you’re trying to get something done in an enterprise setting, not just fill your time with fun – the basic technologies remain the same.

While at Adobe MAX this year, I had the chance to quiz a few people on what exactly “Enterprise RIA” is and, valuably, talk through how projects are done and then see a couple demos of such Enterprise RIAs in action.

What’s the point of Enterprise RIA? Ben Watson tells us

The discussion starts with Adobe’s Ben Watson who explains what this enterprise RIA concept is and why it matters to companies. The idea of having a compelling, engaging piece of software is normally cliché, but Ben does a good job of explaining why you want that, what the benefits are and how that kind of experience can help organizations:

You can also just download the video if you prefer that.

Mobile Kiosk

Next up, we talk with Universal Mind’s Chris Rogers who talks to us about the process and tactics of doing an enterprise RIA project. I tend to think that “has a good user experience” is a different requirement to push through a project, so I wanted to hear how Universal Mind manages to do it. Chris gives a good, quick overview based on their word in the field:


After this project and process talk, Chris shows us an enterprise RIA prototype they’ve built that around cellphone users interacting with their account across different form factors, including a kiosk that we see on the show floor:

If you’d prefer to download the videos, the overview and demo are just a right click away.

Beyond the clip-board with medical records

There’s few enterprise-y scenarios more fraught with pit-falls than converting the medical industry over to paperless, getting rid off all those paper and pen forms doctors, nurses, and hospital staff seem to have a tragic romance with. Thanks to the sheer beauty of new form factors, like the iPad, the folks at Ensemble have been finding success using enterprise RIA as the way to digitize medical records.

First, Ensemble’s Vlad Ghelesel gives us an overview of the project and how enterprise RIA is being applied:

After this overview, Vlad shows us a demo of the product in action on, of course, an iPad:

You can download the overview and demo if you’d prefer that over the embeds above.

In addition to the videos above, you can subscribe to the RedMonk Media feed, for example, in iTunes, to have them automatically downloaded.

Transcript – Ben Watson on Enterprise RIA

Michael Coté: All right, well, here we are at Adobe MAX 2010. I mean we’ve seen a lot of consumer-based technologies and RIA use and things like Google TV and AIR on phones and things like that, but in the context of business users, like what is this, what is sort of this Enterprise RIA or Business RIA stuff?

Ben Watson: Enterprise RIA is a marketing term. It’s a group of technologies, a set of methodologies, a set of best practices, there are some patterns that we bring from SOA, from experienced design, from user experience. We are bringing them to bear in an application. So if I think about it from an enterprise perspective, it’s connected to the backend systems. It’s got audit and control mechanisms in place that are going to please IT, it’s going to make sure that that application gets delayed, and doesn’t just get ripped out kind of later on.

The bottom line is RIA is a term; it’s a yet another kind of technology acronym. It’s error backwards. I think it’s kind of about as passé as color TV and we’re going to have these applications at the edge; maybe we can call them edgeware or whatever we’re going to call it that ultimately integrate, talk to, manipulate data from, collect information and collect user interactions in a meaningful way and apply them against those underlying systems. I really mean everywhere because I see it yes, I see it in the consumer space, I see it on TVs, I see it running on hundreds of different kinds of devices, but I see that as B2B, as B2C, as within supply chain as a way of a doctor understanding a patient history, a way for a loss adjuster in the insurance market to understand and interact with a situation that’s taking place in the field.

We are replacing metaphors from our everyday life. We are replacing human interaction with a much more intuitive way than previous applications partners. We don’t go though our life in a page based metaphor, kind of clicking on next, next, next or navigating using a drop-down in order to organize our thoughts. That’s counterintuitive. But if you design something based on my goals, based on my motivations, if you use persuasion, some game theory, give me some beautiful, emotional, kind of graphics that are going to make me feel engaged and make me feel like I am part of something then that’s a rich experience. And this is really just about an experience at the end of the day. My experience happens to be with a business or with an enterprise and that comes with conditions and expectations that I have of that company, I have of that brand and that persistent brand needs to trickle and bleed through the interface in such a way that I feel compelled to keep using it that I feel compelled to share with other people what a great experience it is.

So you know I kind of push that terminology aside and say it’s an opportunity for designers and developers to work together. These two sumo wrestlers, they are used to be facing off against each other on the mat and banging their bellies into each other while seeing who yell the loudest that was kind of a pointless development, kind of waterfall exercise. And instead what we have is this great collaboration that can take place where I can use an agile methodology; I can shift ideas back and forth in the design and development process. I can prototype at high speed and I can take advantage of what I learn from that prototype, inject that back into my applications, use it in different and new and exciting ways, share components of what I’ve learned with my other developer friends, with my other designers.

Let that brand persist through the development and design process across everything that we are doing on top of the enterprise. So I am taking this clunky Siebel, highly complex SAP backend, I am not forcing you to self-select yourself into a database, make a bunch of the columns and rows, and I am not using a page or not clicking through life going next, next, next. You are going through completing a goal. You are going through following through in what you are motivated to do and you just happen to be doing it in the context of an application.

Michael Coté: Can you sort of explain in this context, what engagement or engaging user experience looks like in a business context?

Ben Watson: I think maybe it’s as base as the laws of attraction, it’s as common as feeling compelled to sit down in front of a piece of art and study for a few minutes. When you hear a piece of music for the first time and a shiver runs up the back of your spine, there’s some magic that happens in design and we persist that through the interface in such a way that people feel that compelling need to interact with it. I am sure I’m captured on your motivation, I didn’t happen to hear music because just out of the blue, I like music, I went and found music, I just happened to find a piece that I became really interested in. In this case, I needed to do something, I needed to get something done and a designer who understood that, understood my motivation, who spent time understanding what it was that I wanted took some additional time, some extra time to build in my motivation, to build in my need to that and I recognize that and that’s what’s engaging me.

I recognize my own needs being met, I recognize maybe in some cases intuitively that this is for me and it’s something I really want to do and in other cases, maybe really logically because I understand — I have a process in mind maybe, I want to go through and fill out my tax return, I want to purchase a complex service from an insurance company or a bank. I am not really thinking about bank and I am not thinking about brand and I am not thinking about application. I am thinking about driving my new car properly insured, I am thinking about making sure my family is safe and then my property is safe. I am thinking about how much that’s going to cost me maybe at the end of the day and how to factor that into my budget and maybe I have got some kind of thoughts or competitive quotes or all of those kind of things.

These little things that happen in my life that are motivating me to do that, are opportunities for design to recognize my situation, my own personal experience and kind of bleed that, persist that through the interface in such a way and that’s going to make me feel better about what I am doing. I am more likely to share that experience and less likely to have buyer remorse at the end of the cycle because I felt good through that, somebody was actually holding my hand but they were doing it in this invisible kind of untethered way and I felt okay about that.

Michael Coté: So in sort of like the Adobe ecosystem, I mean Adobe obviously sells the software that builds these kinds of experiences. Can you give us a sense for the kind of like ecosystem of other people out there who are building these kinds of applications?

Ben Watson: Sure! I think that’s a critically important factor. I would say the most important thing for Adobe to succeed in our new mission around customer experience management is to embrace our partner ecosystem to understand the new skill set, to put our arms around business analyst and usability analyst in a way that we haven’t in the past, to make sure that we can act as a catalyst to move a discussion back and forth between a business need and an IT need, to help each other understand what’s going to change, what’s culturally going to have to change, what’s going to change from a delivery point of view, where am I going to feel uncomfortable in this process, what’s going to make me feel, this isn’t how I’ve done things in the past. There is a new opportunity for user experience professionals.

I think it’s their time in the sun. I see the growth in the community, I see the growth of online dialog, I see the growth of the terms in social channels like Twitter, etcetera. The conversation around user experience is increasing and it’s an opportunity for us to not only continue to provide great tools from server platforms, things that help you get your job done, things that push products to market faster, things that ensure that services are secure and built in an enterprise way, but maybe even more importantly to have the right conversations with the right professionals and put them together with our customers, so that they can form the meaningful relationship that’s going to be required to get the stuff built.

Transcript – Chris Rogers on introducing the process of Enterprise RIA

Michael Coté: Well, here we are at MAX 2010 to hear about some people who’ve been doing Enterprise RIA and engagement and exciting stuff in the business world that doesn’t involve just streaming videos. Why don’t you introduce yourself real quick?

Chris Rogers: I’ll do that. I am Chris Rogers. I work with Universal Mind. I our VP of consulting which means I manage our core business, which is working with customers primarily in the enterprise and in the innovation space around RIA.

Michael Coté: We were talking with Adobe’s Ben Watson about what it means to sort of be in Enterprise RIA or to fit kind of the Adobe experience into a business context and what’s interesting about you guys is you actually go out and do the hard work of doing that with the tools that they provide and others. What’s interesting in that aspect is that people seem a lot of software projects are kind of dismissive of actually, this is going to sound corny, but studying what the users actually want and how they interact with their software. And how do you sort of convince people that they should take the time to actually figure out how their users are using the software versus just kind of satisfy a list of features that they should put into that, the software.

Chris Rogers: Yeah, so I’ll give you an equally geeky response which is we used to begin our user experience exercises with the discrete research fogures and if customers aren’t sort of convinced that that’s needed, often they are clients I should say, clients feel like they know their customers really well, we faked into more of an iterative design approach. So in short sprints, we go all the way through concepts of user research through prototyping, which is something a customer does understand in the user experience design sort of world. So we sort of snuck it in by making sure that we do it in an iterative fashion and we can go from user research, understating users to wire-framing and prototyping up those experiences so very often customers get to see what’s happening and why that’s important. So it’s a bit of an education process, but as long as they’re getting out of it at the end of these brief sprints, what they are looking for, they seem to get more about in and it becomes more part of the process with that client.

So there is a couple of different ways that this works. In some senses, an Enterprise RIA can refer to something that’s within the four walls of an enterprise and is used for a customer to interact in a business transaction. So there is a finite user group and for us that’s an easier way to interview folks, understand personas and understand their sort of interactions and workflows. Enterprise might also refer to applications that are business focused like something like a banking application, even though the target user is a consumer. That’s sort of an undefinable user group because it could be anyone who banks and that’s sort of all of us.

Michael Coté: And again, a lot of what you getting at is figuring out the touchpoints the user is having with the software, and then really polishing the crap out of those touchpoints.

Chris Rogers: Well, there maybe software and there may not be. There will be software once we are done with them, but in some cases, it might be a process that already exists in another fashion. So it might be interactive in multiple applications or physical things like calculators and calendars that are hanging on their wall. There is one example where we worked with financial services company where we went into a user’s cubical and found posted notes and calculators and calendars hanging around the wall.

We found out that those were just crutches that they were using in addition to the technology that they’d had in-house that they thought was just fine. By integrating a lot of sort of the crutches that they’re using in their day-to-day process into the application, we sort of made a much more relevant and usable application for our customer.

So a great user experience doesn’t have to be flashy and full of animation and sexy choreography; a great user experience means that the process is accomplished in as few steps and as elegantly and obviously as possible in most cases. So where a visual metaphor is more important with something potentially like a mapping application or something where you want to see the where and the when of the information and the data, I think we can go down that path.

But user experience for the sake of sizzle is really not the end game in Enterprise software. I think the Adobe toolset, things like Flex and LiveCycle Data Services, etcetera these are enterprise grade platforms that not only foster that user experience, but the IT professional on the backend understands and is not afraid of and can tie into existing data and services.

Michael Coté: When you sort of deliver this project or these kinds of
projects, what’s kind of — the sort of “leave behind” you do for management or whoever to kind of rate the success of it — like how do know their project is done and know to be happy with it?

Chris Rogers: There are a couple of answers there. One is if a customer is getting into sort of a crowded space and wants to enter that space and differentiate by innovating, then the answer to that is how we build something that takes them one step ahead of where the competitors are. So an example of that is working with, for instance, Kodak Gallery who self-admittedly kind of got behind the Shutterflies, and the Snapfishes of the world.

When we help them to build in innovative features and innovative experience to the new website, they can go off and then measure, are they having greater use of the features that are featured on the website and are they getting better adoption, things like that.

On the other hand, if it’s more of an enterprise focused application where market share and things like that aren’t as important, we sort of leave it to, are the customers using — are users getting more out of the data and using the existing enterprise applications in ways that they probably were afraid of doing before. Admittedly, we don’t do so much of that measurement. There has been a lot of discussion here around Omniture and some of the analytics tools that Adobe offers and it’s probably something we could do. But really, we’re in the business of making sure that we translate what a customer is either the problem that they are trying to fix or strategic objective that they trying to realize and making sure that at the end of the project, we’ve done that.

Michael Coté: Well, thanks for being on.

Chris Rogers: Thank you for having me.

Transcript – Vlad Ghelesel on Enterprise RIA

Michael Coté: Well, here we are at Adobe MAX 2010 and we have been talking about different Enterprise RIAs to use the term loosely or just fun RIA experiences in a business context. We’ve got someone else who is going to walk us through one project that they worked on that definitely fits into that context. Do you want to introduce yourself first?

Vlad Ghelesel: Sure, my name is Vlad Ghelesel, I am with Ensemble Systems and I am the VP of Business Development, and I essentially touch all of the projects that are ongoing on Ensemble and all of the relationships that we have with our partners like Adobe and our customers whoever they might be.

Michael Coté: There is a project in the healthcare sector for a hospital that you were working on and can you kind of lay out what the need was that they had, like what were they trying to accomplish by engaging with you guys?

Vlad Ghelesel: Sure. So, yeah, the need is more than just at the hospital level. So we are working with the National Health System basically in the UK and the need is to make the whole system more efficient and to deliver patient care in a more efficient way whereby access to the assets that belong to a patient as they are making their way in their lifetime through the medical system will live with that person all the way along. So if they see a physician at hospital X and then they go to hospital Y, there is a consistency of the information available to all the different clinicians that are working with that patient to deliver out services.

Michael Coté: It’s sort of like a portable file that’s electronic.

Vlad Ghelesel: It is. It’s more than just the mobile story. It’s the whole system behind having the ability to have all of these what are normally pieces of paper be put into this system that then allows mobile devices or workstations to access this information from a single source.

Michael Coté: I mean it seems like traditionally and currently, it’s very challenging to get, I think, the phrasing is always doctors to stop using paper or whatever. In this case, how did the client and yourselves and other people that you are working with, how did you get over that. We’re actually going to do this and electrify and digitize all this.

Vlad Ghelesel: Yeah, interesting question. So first off, the work is being done is a very strong partnership between ourselves, Cognizant and Adobe consulting in the UK and it’s being rolled out to some specific sites in the UK. But I think we got involved with this particular customer that the first instance is being rolled out at and we just had such great buy-in right from the beginning because they are looking for this wow factor and the way that that came out was particularly in showing them an iPad application. You walk into a room full of hospital executives and you hand them all an iPad and you show them this application and they absolutely fall out of their chairs basically because it just changes the game. It changes the space that they think about because everything is very much paper, everything is file folders and clipboards and writing stuff down and now you are imagining having a tablet based device that you can do digital dictation so you are doing your voice into a device and that’s being transcribed on the device.

You can do video collaboration to talk with a specialist at another hospital while you are seeing a patient in this hospital. You can do stuff like dash-boarding. I mean there are all sorts of things now that as you’re talking to these hospitals is just such a different way of thinking of how to solve the problem that it’s just — it’s led itself into them saying you know what, let’s go for this and we’ll do it.

Michael Coté: It sounds like, and correct me if I am wrong, but the way to appeal to that big change is not through functionality, but really just through engagement or even beautiful applications.

Vlad Ghelesel: So there are a couple of things. We all talk about software, we all talk about engagement and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s a people thing. It’s you are building these great usable experiences and fantastic looking things, but unless you are spending time with the people that are going to use it, you can miss the mark. With the environment that we are working with this customer in the UK, we have great access to commissions in the hospital that are working with us on requirements, the same way that Universal Mind will spend time in a call center and look at someone working in a cubical and figuring out that these are these posted notes and calculators and all that kind of stuff, it’s the same kind of exercise you go through.

But in this case, you are talking about being in an environment where there are literally lives around you that are at stake. I heard an interesting quote from someone who I will not name. But basically the ROI for an application like this is in a life saved that’s what the ROI is.

And when you think about all these enterprise applications and RIAs and all the stuff that are being built, and you think about a dollar value that’s attached to it, we do business and consulting. We do business where it’s about Return On Investment in a dollar amount. But we’re in this new paradigm where well, how many lives have you saved, and that’s the ROI.

Disclosure: Adobe is a client and sponsored these videos.

Categories: Conferences, Enterprise Software, Programming, RIA, RIA Weekly.

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2 Responses

  1. I agree that having compelling, engaging software could be cliche but it still seems to me that talking about it is more cliche than actually doing something about it.

    I still see a lot of enterprise software that looks like unreadable spreadsheets or is simply a scrape of terminal applications in a runtime chrome.

    On the other hand I also suspect that we are not going to get up on our soapbox without faceplanting off the slippery top. The power to create compelling, engaging interfaces is inevitably going to fall into the wrong hands and we are likely going to see some apps that are too rich and too engaging and just as effectively silo’d as their predecessors before the real killers emerge.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] this topic is RedMonk’s Michael Coté, who posted a video interview with Adobe’s Ben Watson about the methodologies behind enterprise rich Internet applications […]