Posts in Category "Uncategorized"

XOA Traits: Coarse-Grained Experience Components

The notion of fine-grained versus coarse-grained services is an oft-debated topic in SOA; if you take a look at this paper by IBM as an example, you’ll see how terse this discussion is, and how completely in absence of the end user of the software application it actually is. I’ll refrain from the debate.

XOA suggests that service granularity, and the services themselves, emerge from the needs of a presentation tier component, of an “experience”. Rather than hypothesize on the services we might want to expose in our banking systems for instance, we allow the user-experience of the application consuming the services to dictate the service, and the parameters/interface/signature of that service.

I recently presented on XOA to some of the innovation team at Credit Agricole, and they shared a great anecdote which I told them I’d use, and they allowed me to credit !

In the design of a service for transfering money between 2 accounts, the IT organization put a check in place in the service…if the account from which the transfer was being made didn’t have sufficient funds, the transfer did not take place. However, there was a very specific use-case from the broker team, where they needed to be able to transfer money from an account that was overdrawn … however, the use-case only revealed itself in the design of the end user-experience, and was never envisaged by the SOA architects. The consequence — no re-use, 2 services created, one of which is a more generic instance of the other, and now code to maintain in 2 places if business rules change. It’s a trivial but real example.

In an Experience Oriented Architecture, we would create a reusable component – in my world, this would be in Flex – that delivered the best imaginable experience for moving money from one account to another.

The component would encapsulate all the design findings from the user-experience team; it would provide visual affordance if the transfer was going to overdraw one particular account as a consequence, it would give meaningful feedback as to when the transfer might take place, or the duration of time for the transfer, it might also look at pending transfers in both accounts to inform that “though this won’t overdraw you right now, by the time the transfer takes place, this cheque will have cleared from this account and you will be overdrawn…do you want to instead transfer on this date, transfer less money, or also move money in from elsewhere to cover the cheque”.

In support of this enhanced, user-informed experience, is most likely some complex choreography of back-end services, most likely some horizontal integration of different back end systems (another trait of XOA I believe … for another day) and some implication to the SOA team on the services that need to be exposed in support of the user-experience the user deserves.

There will of course be complexity involved; the back end systems might include integration between different banking systems …. for a bank (such as Royal Bank of Scotland) that has 2 underlying banking systems as a consequence of a merger between 2 banks (RBS and Natwest), it might be the case that some accounts hold transactions in a CICS mainframe, some in an Oracle 8i system on the other side of the firewall, and the balance checking in both systems is different.

However, the contract with the application developer is “use this Flex MXML component, style and skin it according to the Flex programming model, and implicit in the reuse of this component, we will handle all of the underlying complexities of LiveCycle Data Services integration across CICS mainframes and Oracle 8i, and the nuances of balance transfer across the firewall, or within accounts”.

So XOA drives out coarse grained components (“An Account Transfer Component”), and these components handle the complexity of choreographing and orchestrating underlying services. And as a consequence, the decisions around which services are required, and the interfaces/signatures upon those services, is driven from user-needs, not from Business or IT.

Recording of “The Value of Creating Intuitive User Experiences”

A recording is now available of the presentation Ron Rogowski and I presented for the Adobe Webinar “The Value of Creating Intuitive User Experiences”.

As part of this presentation, I demonstrated “Project Hendrix”, an application that my team has been delivering internally within Adobe to allow our support staff to help more customers, first time, in less time, every time. The application is a Flex experience delivered upon a complex enterprise architecture, most notably SAP CRM, and leveraged our user-centric 3D Methodology to discover the insights, to inform the design and requirements of the application that was ultimately delivered.

Enjoy the recording here.

Experience Oriented Architecture (XOA) – Addressing the Failures of SOA

The concept of “Experience Oriented Architecture” (XOA) is really picking up momentum within the corridors of Adobe in California, as we continue to think about how we help our customers and partners create innovative customer-centric solutions for the digital enterprise. Though I have spoken about XOA in this blog in the past, I want to share more real-time the hallway conversations that are taking place as we align and define on what we mean by taking an experience-oriented approach to a technology project.

I first spoke about XOA at a Butler Group presentation in London, in July 2007, when invited to speak at a Service Oriented Architecture conference. The contentious position I wanted to take amongst a SOA audience, was that focussing on the SOA challenges like governance, fine grained versus coarse grained services, OASIS specifications and service bus approaches was fine and well, but it was missing the most important consideration in software development — that all of our efforts are in service of an end user, and that we must put them in the center of our approach.

To position this argument, I cited 3 of the acknowledged failures of SOA initiatives (in terms of not realizing the intended ROI), as taken from an Information Week article from March 2007:

  • Re-use (by creating a well-exposed service-tier, one hopes that services will be re-used more readily)
  • Business Agility (with a well-exposed suite of services, one hopes that others will be able to more rapidly deliver new products to market)
  • Alignment of Business and IT functions (with the service-tier arguably the exposition of the underlying IT infrastructure to support business needs, it could be argued that an SOA initiative brings these groups to the same table, and offers the opportunity for an alignment that otherwise can fail to occur)

I very much believe that the philosophy of Experience Oriented Architecture (XOA) can address these failures, by reframing the problem around users, not systems.

I thought a quote from Annrai O’Toole, the CEO of ClearCape, that appeared in the March 2007 edition of Information Age was apt here, “…unless you really understand what services you are going to create and why, there is no point in doing SOA. You must have a revolutionary approach.”

I believe that XOA, though simple in concept, is indeed a revolutionary approach to thinking about how to create innovative customer-centric solutions in today’s digital enterprise.

Do you know of any other approaches ?

AC@MAX2008 on "RIA Development with Cairngorm – Tips from the Experts"

Peter Martin (Adobe Consulting, Edinburgh) and Eric Garza (Adobe Consulting, San Francisco) are both key members of the Adobe Consulting architect community who together have been responsible for leveraging many of the same patterns and practices across wildly different projects, whether they be financial services, manufacturing, military or healthcare projects.  Fundamental to all of their projects, have been underlying implementations based upon the Cairngorm architecture, and along the way the teams they participate in have had to face many of the same challenges that you are facing on your projects. 

Have you ever asked yourself:

“How might I use Cairngorm with Modules ?”

“I’m sure Adobe Consulting aren’t advocating a single huge ModelLocator class for all my client-side state, so what might be some tips or best-practices for managing the model in a Cairngorm application ?”

“Are there standard ways for managing Login and Logout behavior in a Cairngorm based RIA ? How can I more tightly tie this to the underlying security model of the application server, and how can I ensure on Logout that I’ve really cleared down the local state on my application ?”

“Are there times when I don’t need a business delegate and service locator; like when I’m using Data Management Services for instance ?”

I’m sure you have many many more questions, where the answer isn’t always that we should be adding more library, more code, or more APIs to Cairngorm, but rather we should be sharing with you the tactics and strategies we use when addressing these recurring challenges, and addressing them in a way that fits elegantly within a Flex and Cairngorm application, using the “right part of the right framework for the job”.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve observed Peter and Eric engaging the worldwide Adobe Consulting community in an “archaeological expedition” to dig up all the tips and best-practices that we could categorise and share around how we work with and within Cairngorm on our own Flex and AIR applications.  This presentation is very much a catalyst for us documenting so many of our learnings, will leave you with numerous tips and techniques that you can immediately apply to your own project, all presented in the context of learnings, solutions and recurring approaches on real-world Adobe Consulting projects.

If there are any particular tips or techniques that you’d like the guys to share, leave me a note in the comments and we’ll see if it’s something they can cover in the time available!

Session Details:

RIA Development with Cairngorm: Tips from the Experts

Learn some of the tips and tricks from Adobe consultants who are using Cairngorm on large-scale Flex, Adobe AIR, and LiveCycle ES projects. Discover emerging usage patterns on topics such as security, modules, internationalization, data management services, and working with AIR, and take away ideas for your own developments.
Speakers: Eric Garza, Peter Martin
Audience: Architect, Application Developer
Skill: Intermediate
Products: LiveCycle DS, Flex, AIR
When:
Wednesday, November 19, 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Adobe Consulting Track at MAX 2008

I’m delighted that this year, Adobe Consulting has been given our own dedicated track at MAX 2008 where our consultants can share presentations that leverage our learnings of the last year delivering Enterprise and Dynamic Media projects on behalf of Adobe Customers. 

Next week, I’ll post a talk-by-talk breakdown of each of our talks, but for now, let me introduce the sessions and the speakers, to get you thinking about signing up for MAX 2008 and signing up for some of our talks.

Our talks are drawing down the experience of our User Experience Design practice and our Technology Practice, as well as drawing down on our experience of using technologies including Flex, AIR, LiveCycle ES, Flash Media Server and Flash Media Rights Management Server.

Lazy Innovation – Strategy for the Design of Innovative User Experiences; George Neill and Jerome Doran

Television on AIR – Creating Custom Media Player Experiences; Xavi Beumala and John Bennett

RIA Development with Cairngorm – Tips from the Experts; Eric Garza and Peter Martin

Delivery of a Mission Critical RIA for NATO; Peter Martin and Mansour Raad (ESRI)

Agile Testing of Enterprise RIA with Flex and LiveCycle ES; Alex Uhlmann and Herve Dupriez

Rapid Enterprise RIA Development with Solution Accelerators; Danny Saikaly and Steven Webster

Architectural Best Practices for Flex and LiveCycle ES Applications; Tunde Turner and Steven Webster

Delivering Collaborative Applications with AIR and LiveCycle Data Services; Xavier Agnetti and Alistair McLeod

Flex for Java Architects – Delivering Rich Internet Applications with Java, Maven, Spring and Hibernate; Francois le Droff and Eric Garza

As you can see above, we’re going for a dual-speaker approach to each presentation – I’ve paired our North American and EMEA consultants together on each talk, to ensure that what we present to the community in each of these subjects is harnessing the experience of our worlwide consulting team, across the maximum spread of our projects.

The prevailing theme for all of our presentations in our consulting mantra of "Innovation on Both Sides of the Glass", helping to bring together useful, usable and desirable user-experiences upon Flex and AIR with either the enterprise infrastructures of LiveCycle ES, the data-rich infrastructures supported by LiveCycle Data Services, the media and broadcasting infrastructures supported by Flash Media Server, or some combination thereof.

Our team are busy preparing these presentations – if there are any topics or examples you would like us to cover under the above subjects, then drop me some comments in the blog, and we’ll see if we can work them in for you.

I hope to see many of you sharing your your experiences with us during these presentations!

Enterprise Web 2.0 – Banking on Facebook

As I meet with enterprise customers, whether they be Financial Services organisations, Government organisations or other enterprise service providers, a question I’m often asked when speaking about creating innovative solutions upon Adobe technology is "…but what about web 2.0…"

I often talk to customers about the need to "match the medium to the moment".  When we think about creating innovative user-experiences, it’s not about "will it run on a mobile", "will it run on AIR" and "will it run on a set-top box" but "when would a user want to engage with their mobile", "what tasks and goals would a user want to accomplish when offline" and "what aspirations would they have engaging in front of their television on a set-top box rather than sitting on their laptop or desktop computer".  The medium must match the moment, and the moment most likely defines a different pattern of engagement.   When I’m stood at the bus-stop, perhaps I’ll want to quickly check my bank balance, or even transfer some money into one of my accounts – but I’m less likely to want to chart my spending and see how much money I’ve spent this month on home improvements (but that is the kind of analysis I might prefer to do sat on my laptop, not connected to the Internet necessarily, in an offline client).

So often when I am asked about web 2.0, I’m being asked about "gadgets" and "widgets" and integration with social networking platforms.  Personally, I think the real innovations around "web 2.0" are when we think about architectures of participation and wisdoms of crowds, and I really want to post some more on how I think companies like Mint and Wesabe are doing a great job of creating experiences in commoditised service industries.

But I did see this announcement today – Albany based credit union SEFCU have created a "Facebook Banking" application that offers secure, one-click access to account information through Facebook APIs and the Facebook platform.  The application has been developed by a mobile banking company, MShift (out of San Jose) – and what’s interesting here is that 2 different mediums (mobile and facebook) have very similar, I believe, moments.

I see great opportunities here, when you look at how organisations like Mint and Wesabe are delivering innovative financial services by leveraging the collective intelligence of their userbase, with applications like SEFCU are creating.  When you start leveraging the collective intelligence of your trusted social network and not just the collective intelligence of a website’s entire social network, innovation opportunities abound…

What do you think ?  Would you bank on facebook, or on another social network ?  Are there innovative services that you can think you might trust more because they were in some way validated or surfaced through your chosen crowd ?  Would you refinance your mortgage with a certain provider because your facebook friends did ?

User Experience Disruption: Car/Auto Insurance (Part 3 of 3)

So in the final entry on this topic, I’d like to explore the user-experience innovations that can occur "behind the glass", to complete the investment we have made in Part 2 on creating a more innovative experience for quoting and buying car/auto insurance online.

In Harvard Business Review (HBR, May 2008) there’s a paper (you can read the first page of it online without a subscription) called "The Customer-Centered Innovation Map" (Bettencourt, Lance, A., Ulwick, Anthony, W) that outlines a methodology called job mapping, that (my phrase) applies design-thinking to services that customers currently use to identify opportunities for innovation.  This process involves taking a customer-centric rather than process-centric view of what the customer is trying to accomplish, with a goal of identifying what customers are trying to get done at each step, rather than what they are doing currently.  I find this approach incredibly analagous to user-centered design as a way of focussing on user-needs over technology-capabilities when we are thinking about innovating user-experiences "on the glass", and more importantly, it recognises that user-experience design professionals can wear many of the same faces of innovation (Kelley, 2005) – the anthropologist, the collaborator, the experience architect, the caregiver, the cross-pollinator – to innovate the non-customer facing aspects of delivering a service.

So again, let’s think about car/auto insurance and let me discuss how Adobe technology combined with a customer-centric approach are a recipe for innovation that can create a differentiated user-experience.

Representing your Car/Auto Insurance Application as a PDF

So in part 2 of this blog series, you may recall that I suggested our guided form or "Form Guide" experience capture data through the medium of RIA, but record that data in the schema of PDF.  In previous entries I have also talked about LiveCycle ES as a Service Oriented Architecture, exposing services that allow us to efficiently move information between the digital and paper worlds, between people and processes, from one side of a firewall to another.

Taking your form offline

So here’s the first use-case for PDF that takes a customer-centric view of the application process; from time to time, you may want to complete an online transaction offline.  With AIR, there’s now an opportunity for us to achieve offline rich data capture, but PDF has supported the offline data capture method for a long time, and still offers an approach for taking your data offline, completing it offline, sending it to someone else to complete offline (perhaps you want to send your car insurance application to your wife, so she can add details of her own driving history, then she can email the form back) before you submit it.

Digitally Signing the Application Form

With PDF, there is the option for you to digitally sign the application form and submit it electronically, with assurance that it was submitted by you.  This is an excellent example of job mapping as described in the HBR article I mentioned at the top of this post, recognising a task within a job ("I want to prove that this is the application I wish to make, and that it came fromme") and then innovating upon that task. Once submitted, the insurance company can confirm that the document is from you, and that it hasn’t been tampered with since you submitted it.  The data can then be perfectly extracted from the electronic form, ready to participate in the application process behind the glass.

But what if I can’t accept a digital signature ?  What if I need a "wet signature" ?

So perhaps the insurance company insists upon a "wet-signature", requiring you to put pen to paper.  You print the PDF, but now the data has left the electronic world to become meaningless ink on paper.  In many organisations, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) will be a task that you would identify in job-mapping as a means of trying to extract the data electronically from a piece of paper, to remove the need for someone to manually rekey the data.

Irrespective of whether paper is OCR’d or manually rekeyed, the one inefficiency we can expect to fall foul of, the poor experience that we introduce behind the glass, is one of the data the consumer provided not being the data we provide back to them.  Ever completed an online application, for at some point in the future to find that your name is spelled incorrectly on your policy document, or perhaps your address ? Most likely someone did a predictable yet poor job of manually rekeying your form, or the OCR software didn’t do a 100% job.

But perhaps you’re thinking – when I bought my insurance I didn’t have to print and sign, I just submitted a form online.  Well, don’t assume that has taken paper out of the equation.  When you look at the job-mapping process behind the glass, you may be surprised to find that a 3rd party organisation is handling the process of completing your application, or that your application needs to be digitally archived.  And the currency between these systems ?  More often than not, it’s paper, as if you’d printed the form and posted it to the service provider yourself.

Enter the Barcode

With a PDF, we can leverage services of LiveCycle Barcoded Forms ES to apply a 2D barcode to a document – and even if you edit that document offline, squint carefully at the barcode and like the Matrix, you’ll see your information dance as 1s and 0s representing the data you are updating on the form before printing it are encoded into the barcode.  At whatever point in the process – whether printed by you for wet signature, or printed for archiving or as a process handoff – the data on the form is encoded electronically in the barcode, ready to be extracted by a scanner or barcode reader to remove all of the chances of what you entered in the form being mutated before the insurance policy makes it back to you.

Personalising your Policy Booklet

So let’s go back to the submit button; you chose to take insurance for 3rd party fire and theft, you chose to insure your stereo with the optional stereo package, and you elected for breakdown cover from your insurance company.  Instead of receiving a huge policy document through the door with all the clauses for fully comprehensive insurance (that you didn’t take out), for windscreen cover and how to claim (which you didn’t take out), wouldn’t you rather receive a simpler, easier, shorter booklet that’s personal to you?

Remember the fundamental principle of the experience economy – creating a memorable event that engages with the customer in an inherently personal way.  So what if we were also to "stitch" to the back of the policy document everything you needed to know about your stereo insurance, and about what to do in the event of a breakdown (since you took the optional breakdown cover).

The services of LiveCycle Output ES would allow you to create such personalised documents, dynamically merging the customer’s information into a personalised, dynamically generated booklet.  And when we think about the experience economy, in this world of Web 2.0 where user-generated and 3rd party content is seamlessly merged with your own content, why not include some pages that take the customer’s postcode/zipcode and print a map with annotations of the closest 5 garages/auto-repair shops where they can take their car in the event of an accident ?  Why not take the details of their car from their insurance application, and personalise all the imagery in the policy document to include their car.  Why not leverage the imaging capabilities of software like Scene 7 from Adobe to show their model and their color of car ? 

In the experience economy, we can consume services like Scene 7 and LiveCycle Output ES behind the glass, to match the fidelity of the experience we delivered on the glass, creating a personal and engaging user-experience that allows us to differentiate our service offering in an otherwise commoditised marketplace.

Summary

I could go on and on picking and choosing services from LiveCycle ES that would allow us to perform job-mapping techniques to streamline the behind the glass experience.  Most notable in ommission is any discussion of LiveCycle Process Management ES, which would bind all of the experienced I discussed above together, mapping the customer’s job of applying for an insurance policy into a process that could be managed by LiveCycle ES to orchestrate all of these services, whether they are short-lived digital services or longer-lived services that require approval by the various people that have a part to play behind the glass.

What I do hope is clear from these 3 related articles, is that by picking one problem (applying for car/auto insurance) in one industry sector (Financial Services and Insurance) we have taken a relatively commoditsed service, and we have looked in-depth at how applying the principles of the experience economy, we can innovate on the glass, and we can innovate behind the glass, by leveraging client technologies such as Flex, AIR and PDF and consuming software as a service, such as the numerous solution components of LiveCycle ES and Scene 7 onDemand services to create a personal and engaging experience that will differentiate in an otherwise crowded marketplace.

So I’m curious….we do a pretty good job of helping you think about how to create great digital experience on the glass, with Rich Internet Applications, but have these articles helped you understand more about our service platforms, and how you can create great applications behind the glass ?  Are there other problems that you recognise the technologies I’ve talked about as helping to innovate ?  Can I do anything else to help you better understand how these technologie can be leveraged in your applications ?   What else can we share ?

 

User Experience Disruption: Car/Auto Insurance (Part 2 of 3)

So how does Adobe technology enable an experience economy around car and auto insurance for example ?

In a previous post, I talked about some of the disruptions that are occuring in the car/auto insurance marketplace, with comparison websites commoditising those who choose to deal directly with their customers online.  And at the same time, as more and more of these comparision websites emerge and commoditise the very experience they had built upon insurance products, I asked whether perhaps there was an opportunity to gain ground by differentiating on the customer-centricity of the quote and buy insurance experience, and whether that opportunity presents itself equally to comparison sites and direct sites alike.

Let’s consider some of the recurring frustrations in the online insurance marketplace; and as you read these, recognise that many of these problems recur as wolves in sheep’s clothing elsewhere in other industries.  It’s a recurring problem for which a common solution emerges.

Improving the Data Capture Experience

The first step in any insurance purchase, is to collect a quote.  Unfortunately, in order to quote a policy, we must give almost as much information as would be required to purchase the policy – indeed it’s this very inefficiency upon which the innovation of comparison websites has really emerged.  The comparison is part of the benefit; but not having to tediously enter the same or similar information across numerous sites is also a tremendous reason for uptake.

Though I can’t recall and cite the source, a statistic I have often used and validated, is that the typical online insurance application from in the UK is between 9 and 11 pages.  Furthermore – and more worryingly – users abandon the process at a rate of 5% per page.  You can extrapolate yourself to see that abandonment rates of 40-50% would not be unreasonable for an online application.

Replacing Multiple Pages with Single Screen Forms

There are many reasons for such abandonment rates; most are associated with the frustrations of a page-based and page-refreshing application.  Replacing multi-page web forms with single-screen offer a number of untold benefits. We can create form-based experiences that allow more natural navigation back and forth between screens, without forcing a page refresh back to the server.

Though you might think it’s cheating a little to suggest these applications are "single-screen", effective use of choreography (a key UX principle we apply often is that "motion has meaning") in the application can bring the appropriate parts of the form into focus.

Adobe LiveCycle ES offers a feature known as "Form Guides", which allow us to render these guided data capture experiences as views onto a PDF form.  A PDF form may look like the paper form that needs to be pushed around and archived within an organisation for compliance, but a Form Guide can ensure there is a 1:1 mapping between data required in the PDF form and data captured in the more effective RIA experience.

In part 3 of this post, I’ll talk more about the benefits of that data being captured into a PDF form, even if the data capture mechanism is an RIA.

More Innovative Approaches to Data Capture

In addition to removing some of the page-based frustrations, leveraging an RIA affords a more innovative approach to actually capturing some data.  Consider for a second that you were making a claim against an accident in your car, and you were being asked to complete a text box describing how the accident happened, where it happened, where the other car came from, etc.

That’s a tough ask of a user with a text-box; however if we consider that traffic police do a very good job of describing how an accident occured, not by writing about the accident but by sketching the accident.  This is an innovative insight that leads to a more innovative data capture experience:

Example of a Form Guide Panel for a Car Insurance Claim

 

What you now see above is a form-guide experience where we can navigate between the different "panels" for the policy details, our driver information, and then provide this more innovative panel for sketching the accident.  It took me seconds to position these cars and the point of impact, having chosen the road and the accident type, and the number of vehicles (key information that needs to be captured) from the drop-downs.  This sketch can then be dropped into the PDF of the claim form as an image snapshot, with the picture accurately and unambiguously telling those otherwise 1000 inaccurate and ambiguous words.

More Innovative Approaches to Configuring your Quote

As we observe users get a quote for their car insurance, there is a very common pattern that emerges – having obtained a quote, there’s a period of "what if" configuration that occurs. 

"What if I add a voluntary excess on my policy ?". "How much extra would it be if I added protection for my car stereo ?".  "What can I do to bring the premium below £400 a year ?"

With a richer user-experience, irrespective of the envelope of data that needs to be posted back to the server to get a quote, we can make the appropriate requests back to the server for every option that the user change.  Let them change their voluntary excess, and give direct feedback on the price.  Let them add car stereo protection, and update the price.  Or even toggle a few of these options on the user’s behalf, and offer them the quote they asked for, a cheaper quote if they remove something, or upsell to a more expensive quote by adding some additional protection.  This user-experience concept of "direct and immediate feedback" provides a sense of responsiveness and feedback, as well as a comforting sense that the application is in service of the user, and not vice versa.

Rich Internet Applications have already shown themselves to be an excellent medium for product configurators – think about Nike ID, Harley Davidson or Volkswagen UK for instance.  These are all excellent and proven examples of creating a more engaging experience by which someone can tailor the product that they want – and previously published research already measures for us that there is an ROI attached to this kind of investment in RIA.

Summary

So capture as little information as possible, capture that information as elegantly as possible for the consumer, quickly get the consumer to a configuration experience that helps them quickly, easily and enjoyably find a quote that matches their goals and aspirations and then make the process of completing that quote as streamlined as possible.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is just the "on the glass" experience — there are all manner of opportunities to followup a more useful, usable and desirable experience on the glass with the kind of horrendous customer service that has consumers back on the phones, back in the branch, or back in the welcoming arms of a competitor.

In my next post, I’ll consider some of what can be done behind the glass to improve the overall "customer onboarding" experience.  But most importantly, by understanding the goals and aspirations of users, by recognising Rich Internet Applications as an enabling technology for creating more user-centric applications, there is a significant opportunity to differentiate in a crowded marketplace, to move the process of shopping for insurance from a service economy to an experience economy.

Are there any tedious data capture experiences that you’ve seen solved more elegantly and effectively with richer user-interactions ? Trying to apply for a product or service ? Trying to book a flight or a hotel, or hire a car or purchase tickets at the theater ?  Where have you seen innovation in the experiences of data capture ?

RIA + SOA = XOA (Experience Oriented Architecture)

Abdul Qabiz left a comment in one of my previous posts about using RIA to create a widget/component platform where we essentially enable "user-generated applications" as well as "user-generated content".  This is an extreme of an architectural philosophy within the enterprise that I’ve been calling "Experience Oriented Architecture", and Abdul’s comment prompted me to complete this blog-entry that I’d started penning some time ago.

Almost a year ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Bulter Group’s Analyst Briefing on Service Oriented Architecture.  Amongst enterprise vendors like Sun, Hewlett Packard, CapeClear, the one question I kept getting asked on our stand in the exhibition hall was, "…what are Adobe doing at an SOA event ? "   The surprise stems from the expectation that SOA is a technology-led initiative – however what I presented was how Adobe has the SOA technology in LiveCycle ES, but blends that with a heritage of understanding design, and the importance of design-thinking in creating creative and innovative products and services.

Experience Oriented Architecture

The talk I gave was called "Experience Oriented Architectures", and in the talk I aimed to address some of the reasons why multi-million dollar investments by organisations in service oriented architecture have failed to realise the anticipated returns.  My thesis; that when any IT initiative is technology driven rather than user-driven, chance of failure is dramatically multiplied.  A solution I proposed, was to start thinking about "Experience Oriented Architectures" as a means of putting the consumers of services front-and-center of an SOA initiative, rather than the services themselves. Or to paraphrase Alan Cooper, to free the asylum from the grip of the inmates.

I picked 3 drivers for an SOA initiative that are most cited as not delivering the anticipated ROI (Return on Investment):

  • Re-use (by creating a well-exposed service-tier, one hopes that services will be re-used more readily)
  • Business Agility (with a well-exposed suite of services, one hopes that others will be able to more rapidly deliver new products to market)
  • Alignment of Business and IT functions (with the service-tier arguably the exposition of the underlying IT infrastructure to support business needs, it could be argued that an SOA initiative brings these groups to the same table, and offers the opportunity for an alignment that otherwise can fail to occur)

I thought a quote from Annrai O’Toole, the CEO of ClearCape, that appeared in the March 2007 edition of Information Age was apt here, "…unless you really understand what services you are going to create and why, there is no point in doing SOA.  You must have a revolutionary approach."

A Revolutionary Approach – forget technology, what does the user need ?

I believe that a revolutionary approach is to recognise that focussing on a bottom-up technology driven approach to deciding what services an SOA platform should deliver, then putting in place all manner of incentive and governance to align business and IT and to drive service reuse and greater business agility is an upside-down-approach.  Instead, we can turn this problem (and solve it) on it’s head by thinking of driving out services from the experiences that the consumer, citizen, customer, call-center operative, manufacturer, or whomever the user is, expects from their transaction.  I find this such an obviousism – that services are in service of the end user, and not vice versa.

Though we can be fascinated with identifying technology patterns, design patterns and architecture patterns, we are remiss not to recognise that there are patterns of engagement, patterns of behavior, user-experience patterns that once identified, self-identify not only the services that we may wish to consume consistently across our organisations, but the granularity of those services (another SOA challenge that much debate can circle around) and most importantly the manner through which these services should be consumed.

When we have user-experience patterns and fragments in an organisation, we create applications for which discoverability in one area of an application leads to expectations and easier understanding ("less cognitive dissonance") of other interactions in similar applications.  When we create reusable components that match service interactions – form guides, bank account statement displays, auction results, worklists, etc – we have RIA experiences sitting upon SOA services, that are in service of creating an architecture of "experience fragments" that can be easily reused by application developers.  Achieve reuse of the user-experience, and not only do we create more consistent experiences for end-users, not only do we accelerate the development of user-experiences within an organisation, but implicitly we achieve the re-use of services, the agility in being able to rapidly create new solutions upon those services, and we align business and IT not through governance, but through the shared responsibility of being in service of the end user.

Create Platforms not Application + User Generated Content –> User Generated Applications

In the consumer marketplace, we’re already seeing where organisations create platforms, expose widgets/applications upon these platforms, and create an "architecture of participation" whereby end-users can create "mashup" applications that sit upon the platform. Think of what Salesforce.com are doing with TheForce.com toolkit for Adobe AIR and Flex. Think of Intuit’s cloud-computing platform that is based on Flex and QuickBase. Think about eBay’s Flex SDK for creating applications that sit upon the eBay platform.

I think these are all tremendous examples of where creating a platform, but then creating the user-experience around which an architecture of participation upon that platform can emerge, is a powerful enterprise architecture trend.

Rich Internet Applications (RIA) combined with Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) = Experience Oriented Architecture (XOA).

What are your thoughts ?

Is this a pattern that describes the kind of architectures that you are creating in your organisation ?  Are you seeing this trend in consumer-facing applications only, or are you seeing these trends of building experience-oriented platforms and reusing UI plus services in your enterprise organisation as well ?  Are you perhaps working for a company creating a business model upon someone else’s platform ?  Is there an opportunity for you to monetise the creation of UI services upon someone else’s platform – is this an opportunity for innovation where you can commoditise someone else’s platform by providing value added services upon their platform (that perhaps you can interchange easily with the services of another platform) ? Or do you think that you’re more likely to embrace a platform if instead of having to invest your induction in learning the service API calls, there was instead a lower barrier to entry by reusing user-experience components that are built upon those underlying services ?

As always, I’d appreciate your comments and thoughts.

User Experience Disruption: Car/Auto Insurance (Part 1 of 3)

So I read with some interest over the weekend that Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L), the world’s fifth largest bank, is now struggling to raise the £7bn from the proposed sale of its insurance arm that includes brands such as Direct Line, Churchill and Privilege.  The reason for the difficulty – well according to analysts at JP Morgan, the rapid growth in price comparison websites (an experience economy disruption!) such as moneysupermarket.com in the UK marketplace is undermining older business models, where insurance companies have been delivering their product directly to customers online without having to offer margin to a broker or middleman.

I think it’s fascinating how this one might playout, as it’s a great example of an experience economy emerging on multiple levels. Who is going to lead this economy – will the biggest eat the smallest, or are the fastest beginning to bite chunks out the slowest ?

The Comparison Website Experience

If you’re not familiar with price comparison websites, they are portals through which a consumer enters a minimum amount of information, with the comparison site then posting that data to a huge number of online insurance companies, collating the quotes and then presenting them back to the consumer.  It’s a great example of where the service ("I’d like you to insure my car in the event of an accident") is being commoditised, and instead replaced with an experience ("I’d like you to search the market for me and find the company that is willing to offer me the lowest monthly premium in the event of my current circumstances, and then take me to that site with the information I just provided you passed on to them so I don’t have to enter it a second time").

And the success of these websites ? Well according to JP Morgan research, price comparison websites accounted for 5% of new motor insurance policies in the UK.  This year – these same websites are accounting for a massive 35% of new motor insurance policies, hitting hardest the insurance companies who run a large renewal book and expect customers to stay with them from year to year.  That’s a stunning growth, proof positive that delivering an experience upon a commoditised product or service can reap significant rewards

The Commoditisation of the Comparison Experience ?

So that immediately presents a question; with the explosion in price comparison websites (you can’t watch a television show in the UK without seeing an advert for one of these comparison sites) will they rapidly commoditise themselves, until someone differentiates with a greater level of experience ?  Or, as the comparison websites become as much a commodity as the direct insurance companies they are replacing, does a differentiated user-experience become the opportunity to level the playing ground ?

In my next post, I’ll look at some of the recurring solutions that Adobe technology offers to solve the challenge of customer onboarding, converting prospects to customers, and completing the on-boarding process as simply and easily as possible "behind the glass" in internal business systems.

Do you use price comparison websites ?  Do you prefer to go direct online, or are you one of the millions for whom the online channel remains a frustration that still drives you to a telephone, a broker or a branch to renew your insurance policy ?  What are some of the frustrations that drive you there ?  I’d love your datapoints, to see how they curve-fit with mine.