A day in the life of an Oracle Applications Consultant

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Introduction to Oracle User Productivity Kit (UPK)

Oracle’s User Productivity Kit is perhaps one of the less well known of the Software Products on the price list, however just a brief consideration of its name indicates that it may be of considerable value to organisations. We invest significant money and resources in the purchase and implementation of software applications but do we realise, in practice, the levels of productivity that we would like to have and that will bring the full return on our investment?

Information from the industry analysts tells us that most of the problems relating to application implementations are, in fact, user related. Butler Group recently reported that 70 percent of CRM implementations fail, and a Gartner study also found that approximately 55 percent of all CRM projects fail to meet software customers’ expectations.

In his article on why CRM projects fail, Rajiv Chaudhry, a leading analyst, quotes: “You can design the best process in the world, and back it with the latest and greatest technology, but if your people don’t buy into the project, it won’t work.”

User acceptance isn’t the only problem affecting project success; there is also the very basic problem of user competence to use and get the best out of the system. According to Meta Group, 76% of Users have a failing or substandard understanding of new systems software.

Well here is UPK, something that claims to be a productivity kit for our users. Does it do what it says on the tin? Will it help us address these user productivity issues? If so, it is something that we should give attention to? Let’s open the kit and see what is inside and how it can help us.

UPK is a software tool that can capture all the steps in a system process. It records every keystroke, every click of the mouse, each menu option chosen and each button pressed. All this is done in the UPK Recorder by going through the transaction and pressing “printscreen” after every user action. From this, without any further effort from the developer, UPK builds a number of valuable outputs.

The most significant of these is the UPK Player Package. This is an HTML based simulation of the application process that operates in 4 modes.

UPK See It Mode See-It Mode is an automated simulation of the process that can act as a demonstration of the system. It is valuable in the change and communication activity, to demonstrate the system. Usually the final system is not available and access to it is not practical at roadshows and other events. The See-It mode simulation can be played from a USB stick on any laptop with Internet Explorer running. It can therefore be easily taken on the road to demonstrate the system in its most favourable light.

Oracle UPK See It Mode

Because UPK uses a discrete recorder, it only captures the intended and necessary user actions and therefore can play back the transaction with absolute precision and no user errors, mouse jitters or other extraneous elements that can detract from the demonstration. Presenting the application in a clear and uncomplicated way, in a demonstration that can be repeated with absolute certainty every time, is important to the users first view of the new system. You do not get a second chance to make a first impression.

UPK Try It Mode Try-It Mode is also a simulation of the application, but this time the user must interact with the simulation, completing all the actions required rather than watching it run unattended. This mode is most valuable in training; in the classroom or in a self-service learning context. Try-It Mode guides the users through the process, telling them what action to take and highlighting the area on screen where the action is to be performed, at every step through the transaction.

Using Try-It Mode is of great benefit for training, as the same exercise can be trained over and over without the risk of altering the data in the system and causing subsequent operations to fail. It can make the classroom training much more efficient, as when the users are doing the exercises the system is helping them with guidance, freeing the instructor and making the whole exercise more efficient. In addition, it is not necessary to cover every transaction that the user will need during the classroom course, as once users have become familiar with the concept of using UPK for learning, they will be happy to learn further transactions on their own.

One of the difficulties with large training rollouts is that there may be a time gap between the classroom training session and the users’ first time to use the processes after go-live. When UPK is readily available on the system, this ceases to be a problem because they can refresh their knowledge using Try-It mode in UPK.

UPK Know it Mode But how do we know if our users are really learning the system? This is where the third mode of the UPK Player Package comes in. Know-It mode allows the user to go through the process without the on screen guidance. Instead, the system tracks their actions, warning when they stray off course (the system is smart enough to allow alternative ways of navigating the system, such as using the mouse to negotiate the menus or the keyboard shortcut). If the user makes further incorrect attempts, Know-It mode will give more remediation, eventually completing the step for the user. The rub for the user is that at every incorrect action their score is reduced, potentially causing them to fail the test.

The system has usage tracking as standard so it is possible to see which users are making use of the system, in which modes and, if they are using Know-it mode, what their scores were.

UPK Do it Mode The fourth mode of the UPK Player Package is Do-It Mode. This is for Performance Support rather than training. In this mode the user is working on the live application and UPK is hovering in the lower right of their screen, providing visual instruction, in the form of a small video simulation, and written instructions guiding them step by step as they perform their work on the live system.

Oracle UPK Do it Mode

This Do-It mode performance support is instantly accessible from the application help menu or a Smart-Help button on the browser. It is context sensitive and, by recognising the screen that the user is on, will offer only the appropriate help for that step of the process.

When users are shown Do-it Mode as part of a Change and Communication event, or in the classroom, it significantly increases confidence in their ability to use the system and, as a consequence, they are much more positive about the introduction of the new system.

It is, of course, important to provide users with more information than just how to follow the steps of the transaction. UPK provides many facilities to include a wealth of other information in the simulations. Information and explanations can be included at every step of the process. This can be achieved by incorporating additional material or by linking to pre-existing material. For example, on an i-Expenses screen it may be useful to link to the organisation’s travel policy or to some relevant section of it.

Incorporating this information is the work of a UPK development team. UPK content development is a skilled job where, in addition to recording the process flow, the best and most relevant support information is linked in at every step.

From the above you can see how the UPK Player Package can improve user productivity and reduce project risk significantly, if used in an experienced and intelligent way. However, UPK does more than it says on the tin. As well as improving user productivity, it can significantly improve project team productivity. This is because all the information recorded and linked in is extremely valuable across the project lifecycle when output in other appropriate forms.

UPK works within a Single Authoring Session

UPK can directly output Business Process Documents, which are a specification of the transaction. These can, in many cases, be a requirement for compliance and a critical part of the system specification that is often overlooked in a busy project implementation, or created retrospectively as an after thought.

UPK can also output Test Scripts, either to support UAT or the System testing activity. It can generate scripts ready to be input directly to HP Quality Centre.

Finally, UPK can output Instructor manuals, student guides and quick reference cards directly from the same single recording exercise. The efficiency that can be gained across the project is obvious in terms of a single recording and development exercise supporting so many project activities. UPK could be financially justified on the generation of test scripts alone for a medium to large implementation.

I have sought to show that UPK not only does what is promised, but in fact brings many more benefits if used early in the project, and across the project lifecycle. It addresses the most critical and often neglected areas of user acceptance and user competence.

Project Lifecycle

Like all powerful software tools, it is best used by experienced developers who know how to set up and manage a content development project and how to create good quality UPK content.

About Larmer Brown Consulting

Thanks to Larmer Brown Consulting for allowing this article to be posted on the Blog. Larmer Brown’s primary business objective is to help organisations realise the desired business benefit from their enterprise applications, through successful User Adoption Programmes. They facilitate the Change and Communication, User Acceptance Testing, Training and Support activities. Our approach is based on Global Knowledge’s OnDemand Personal Navigator (ODPN) platform, which is also marketed under the name User Productivity Kit (UPK), by Oracle, and Computer Associates Proficiency Accelerator (CAPA), by Computer Associates.

About the Author

Peter McClintock is Director of Services for Larmer Brown Consulting, UPK Training and Project Specialists. He has worked in the Projects, Consulting and Training business for over 20 years. He can be contacted on .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)