Monday, July 27, 2015

WebCenter Is Getting A Facelift

In my last post I've shown you that sky is the limit when it comes to developing Content Server UIs - when you apply the App Refacing principles, no budget is too small and no reasonable timeline is no longer too tight. So that's all sounds good but, people are saying, only a few folks can 'drive it home' just like that and start impressing business users with these cool and functional UIs. Most others need an example.

So here's an example you want to study. Learn from it. See how it makes user lives easier by doing tasks better, in a different way.

Now let me tell you, we will be looking at a commercial product, and yes, some of you would seriously consider buying it, simply because the damn thing is sooo good. So if that happens, I won't be receiving a check in the mail. I'm not even counting on a thank you note, as this is not my goal. The goal here is to give you a good example. Buy it or learn from it - it will help you drive home a few important paradigms and hopefully get these light bulbs flushing in your head as you read this interview.

Welcome James Kelleher, founder of Generis, creator of Cara, replacement UI for a number of Content Management systems. The product has been successful for over a decade, replacing the UI of Documentum, Alfresco and SharePoint and, their latest addition, Oracle WebCenter Content.

The interview

D: Welcome, James! So what was the original reason why Cara was created?

J: Because several customers were saying that Content Management platforms are usually very strong at the back end, but they never invest enough time and money doing a nice UI.

The second reason is that clients always wanted to set up quickly, but if they wanted to see different metadata fields or they wanted a business rule implemented - there was always some programming required to do that.

D: Oracle is not the only company who hears complaints about their user experience? Documentum has also released their D2 product to provide an upgrade in user experience...

J: Yes. That was the aim. And it's certainly an improvement. There're still some advantages in Cara and we have a lot of customers in the Documentum space who evaluated both products and selected CARA. There's number of reasons for that like performance, greater configuration capability and so on. 

Alfresco UI is not bad, but it's more in the direction of social Content Management.

Our UI is optimized for people who do a lot of Content Management... They work with 20...30.. 40 documents at a time if they're putting together a report.... They need to multi-task... They are looking for rich functionality... So that's we've focused on.

D: Could you tell us more about Cara Dimensions feature? It seems familiar but I don't remember seeing it in any other CMS so far.
J: Right. The idea here was to come up with something, that could allow people to find documents without having to run searches. With folders too you can only find a document if you know exactly which folder it's in. 

Now if you wanted to see documents from a few folders together - what you had to do in the past is to run some kind of a search where you'd say that you want this type of document with this type of metadata... and it's a lot of clicks to manipulate the results. 

So we said that the power of any Content Management System is in the metadata. So we could use metadata to build the tree. And you could just pick from a list of metadata and build a tree.

So you could see your MS Word documents according to their authors and so on.

This is basically a search but it is given to the user as a tree, because users are very familiar with trees and this is an easy way to work on a system.

D: So users can build their own custom tree view of the content.

J: Exactly. And it's personal to every user and settings are stored in the repository, so if I log in with my iPad, the system knows that this is James and it recalls my settings and my custom tree views.

D: What were the biggest technical challenges you had to overcome when building the product?

J: One of the key things for us was to have all our configurations managed inside the repository. So that when you install Cara and you want to open a metadata screen - the way it is stored, all of its pick lists, behavior - that all stored in the repository. So we had to find an efficient way of storing the XML and also recalling it and caching it at run time to make sure performance is good. 

The other aspect was to make sure that we've adapted all our functionality to native things in WebCenter. For example, there's this concept of a folio, which is equivalent to Virtual Document in Documentum. And we developed something on top of that, which we call a Cara Structure. When you create a Cara Structure, you essentially creating a folio in Oracle. 

The WebCenter folio is an XML file and we had to make sure it was really multi-user, so if two people are modifying it at the same time - they can both modify it without blocking it. This was another challenge for us but we found a way to do that. So I think these were the two biggest questions.

D: And I believe, this multi-tasking ability is not present in the WebCenter itself, so you've actually provided an improvement over standard functionality...

It seems that Cara users will never see WebCenter's own interface and all tasks they need to accomplish are done through Cara.

J: Exactly.

D: Now that you have a mature in-demand product on your hands - what are the top 3 reasons people buy it today?

J: The biggest reasons are that it's very fast and it's user friendly. It's not like a traditional web app. It's got full drag and drop and contextual right click different things, so it feels as fast and as usable as desktop application, but running on the web. So performance and ease of use is the first reason.

The second is quite honestly is the control panel with all configurations. So the cost and time to setup different check in and property screens in WebCenter Content (and in Documentum - it's the same) it's usually a lot more than doing it through Cara, so customer saves a lot of time. The second reason is really the speed and ease of making changes to the setup through configuration. It reduces the cost and the time to manage your system.

D: So basically, you're replacing the Profiles and the Rules engine in Content Server as well with Cara - it has its own engine for customizations? And most of the custom component work required to modify the Content Server UI now does not have to be done.

J: Right.


So there you have it. Gaps in user experience is an industry-wide issue. And there're many ways of addressing it... I'll see you over at the comments. Love to hear your thoughts.

Stay frosty

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