Posted by Tom Grant on November 10, 2009
Not every unwelcome change is necessarily a fiasco. It's how you handle the transition that determines, to a large extent, whether people perceive it to be a fiasco.
Case in point: Oracle's transition from its creaky but familiar Metalink support site to the new support portal. I'm sure that anyone who has ever been involved in the transition from one web application to its replacement has learned just how many unexpected glitches can creep into the process. Certainly, Oracle has faced similar scenarios, such as when it switched the main corporate web site from a custom-built content management system to a new infrastructure based on Oracle Portal.
Unfortunately, the corporate web site, where people go to find high-level marketing information, is not the same as the support web site, where people go to get problems with mission-critical applications resolved.
Some of the new support site's problems, such as slow performance, are to be expected when you're putting a web application through its real-world paces for the first time. Others, such as the Flash UI that won't work in organizations that block Flash, are regrettable design decisions that should have been avoided. The team behind the new site can certainly fix these issues.
However, as Oscar Wilde once noted, "In matters of great importance, style, not substance, is the vital thing." Considering the style with which Oracle has handled the blowback from the My Oracle Support launch, they might take a few moments to ponder Wilde's maxim. For example, this snarky post from an Oracle support manager is getting linked pretty widely. In fact, the phrase, "Get in front of this one…seriously," might appear on a few T-shirts and bumper stickers, once the dust settles.
To their credit, people at Oracle are trying to both be responsive, and appear to be responsive. This detailed post on how Oracle handles usability issues in the My Oracle Support portal may include way more information than the average customer wants to read. But heck, when you're explaining the categorization and prioritization of usability issues, you're definitely being transparent to your customer.
Nonetheless, some Oracle customers are still alienated by the It's coming, deal with it message of the initial launch. And certainly, the industry is littered with examples of (allegedly) improved user experiences that either didn't improve anything, or that weren't marketed effectively to the people affected by the change. And, of course, there's the unfamiliarity factor of any new UI, which offends people who have built their daily work around the old, familiar UI. Why Oracle didn't heed these cautionary tales is anyone's guess.
Whenever anyone designs a user experience, they're well advised to remember another Oscar Wilde maxim, "Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter." The natural tendency is to build a UI that makes sense to you. Whether or not it makes sense to the person using that UI is another matter entirely.
[Cross-posted at The Heretech.]