Using digital body language to transform applications

Chris Leone

Chris Leone is senior vice president of development for Oracle Fusion Human Capital Management, Oracle Taleo Enterprise Cloud Service, and Oracle Taleo Social Sourcing Cloud Service.

Steven Woods

Steven Woods is group vice president of software development at Oracle. He was the CTO of Eloqua prior to its acquisition by Oracle. He is also the author of the book Digital Body Language.

Chris Leone and Steven Woods of Oracle forecast how digital body language is reshaping applications.

Interview conducted by Vinod Baya and Bo Parker

PwC: Chris and Steve, collectively you represent ownership of a wide range of applications at Oracle. From your viewpoint, what trends are defining their future?

CL: We focus on developing solutions that help managers and employees do their jobs better. Many emerging technologies are playing a role, such as cloud, mobility, big data, and social. It really comes down to the consumerization of the application experience. Users spend their off-hours on consumer services such as Facebook or LinkedIn, or shopping on Amazon. They expect to have similar experiences in their business work with business applications.

Another significant trend impacting applications is the use of tablets is increasing. Tablets are displacing PCs. The majority of executives at Oracle use tablets for their work. They have their PCs, which they leave at their desks, but they get a lot done on a tablet. Everybody also does work on their smartphones. Where it makes sense, I think we’ll see more and more processes move to the mobile form factors. So we’re designing for those usage patterns today. In our latest release of HCM [Human Capital Management], every single self-service function is available on any mobile device.

“It really comes down to the consumerization of the application experience. Users spend their off-hours on consumer services such as Facebook or LinkedIn, or shopping on Amazon. They expect to have similar experiences in their business work with business applications.”
—Chris Leone

SW: In addition to what Chris has said, a key trend that is shaping the future of applications is what I call digital body language. We use this concept in our marketing automation product, but it is increasingly applicable to all functions.

If you look at information flows in buying and selling, they were very different before the Internet compared with the way they are today. Before the digital era, information was a fairly rare commodity. To learn about a vendor, you had to interact with the vendor via a series of conversations. With that interaction, a professional salesperson had the opportunity to understand buyers and their interests through their body language and their reactions and so on.

Fast-forward to today, and the information flows are fascinatingly different. The buyers have complete control over where they get their information; they search, read reviews, and compare specifications and opinions. The digital channels disintermediate the conversation that sales was able to have. Salespeople can no longer read a buyer’s body language and understand their interests.

Salespeople still need to get the insights that they used to get. That is where the concept of digital body language comes in. A marketer should use online behavior information to understand the hot buttons and interest levels of every potential buyer and put together a view of that buyer’s digital body language. Then they can engage their peers and the sales organization and say, “Here are the people you should be talking to. Here’s what they’re interested in, and so on.” I think organizations that can piece together that view of a customer based on the aggregate of their digital behavior and then use that information in all aspects of their organization—those are the organizations that are really well set up for success in the future.

PwC: What characteristics are new for applications today compared with the past?

CL: One key characteristic is the ability to look ahead and predict user interests or anticipate actions. Again borrowing from the consumer world, when you go to Amazon, for example, there is a prediction engine that says people like you also bought this other product. Essentially, the prediction engine helps customers get the right kind of products based on predictions from patterns learned from a broad population of consumers. We’ve taken that model and applied it to human resources [HR], as an example.

Techniques such as the digital body language that Steve described are also a resource for looking ahead. We use data we collect in the HR system around a person, and we try to predict answers to questions such as: What is the likelihood that this individual will be an overachiever? What is the likelihood they might succeed in this organization?

SW: I agree that prediction is a key new characteristic. Anticipating human behavior involves two major themes. One is the comprehensiveness with which we understand the individual. The other is an understanding of who else in the ecosystem is most like an individual and what their interests and next steps were. That really gets back to broadening the understanding across all aspects of your business. Everywhere the business interacts with an individual should be part of a single view of that individual. So the predictions are based on a valid data set.

CL: Social is another significant trend impacting the future of applications. In our next-generation cloud applications, every single major object is what I call socially active or socially aware. As an example in sales, if I am interacting with an opportunity, everybody who is participating around that opportunity receives updates in their activity stream. If an opportunity state changes from 50 percent to 80 percent probability of closing on a contract, everybody gets updated. Everyone starts to respond and react faster since important business events are placed into the social data stream.

PwC: What design principles are defining the development of your apps today?

CL: We’re developing for a SaaS [software-as-a-service] world, especially for Fusion and other cloud applications. We’re developing and optimizing for customers to run in a public cloud SaaS environment. We make it easier to set up, have public APIs [application programming interfaces], and enable extensibility. You can go very deep with extensibility and still be on a common code base. The design principle is the consumerization of IT in a cloud world.

SW: In a world overwhelmed with media and messages, the important thing is access to interests of the user. If you start looking into the psychology of interests, it’s highly dependent on the context of that user’s world at that moment in time. If I have a certain problem that I’m dealing with right now, then there’s a certain universe of information that I’m interested in right now. If I get that kind of information, I will be very interested in it.

“In a world overwhelmed with media and messages, the important thing is access to interests of the user.”
—Steven Woods

But if you put the same piece of information in front of me at a different moment in time, at a different stage in the projects I’m working on, I’m going to tune it out very, very quickly. This attention really correlates with what is on people’s minds rather than purely the internal workflows of the organization.

PwC: So in some sense, the flow of the user’s thinking, or their mindflow, is driving the application design rather than the process workflow?

SW: I think that is right. That’s really where we’ve tried to drive our philosophical thinking. The design of any application for any business function will exist within the same intensive world of information and media bombardment. They all need to catch the user’s interest and thinking at the moment in time so as to cause the user to take an action that will move them forward in the work they are doing, whether as a consumer or employee.

PwC: How is such mindflow represented or used in your solution, and how do you get at the mindflows?

SW: Campaign Canvas is our tool for designing and modeling the flow of the mind states of the customer. Its design is really predicated on our observations of marketers discussing and designing campaigns. Marketers live on a whiteboard: Here are the buyers I have. Here are the events that I can understand in their lives. Here’s what I want to have happen to them based on those events and following those events. They visually draw this flow on the whiteboard.

The challenge that we observed, however, was when they sat down from the whiteboard, they didn’t have any easy way to say, “Now I want to go build that conversation with the buyer that I just designed. How do I go build it?” So the paradigm for the interaction architecture in Canvas was really designed to model, as best as we could, how a marketer worked on the whiteboard to the point that it’s not just the flow but the sequence of thoughts of the marketer.

It’s really modeled around how the marketer thinks. I think that’s how today’s software should be designed. How does a human think given a certain task, and how will software mold that thought process?

PwC: How does the notion of mindflow and digital body language apply to other domains?

SW: Many of the situations in business are similar, whether you’re onboarding a new employee, a new distribution partner, a new user, or others. Success is predicated on the dissemination of increasingly complex bodies of knowledge to advance further. You must guide a person from the early definitive, “Go here, click this, do this,” to that second stage where they just need to know the way around and how to get answers to their questions. They’re going from sort of a novice to an expert in whatever the knowledge domain is. It’s the same structure of knowledge flow in all these situations.

The notion of digital body language applies here, because so much of what happens in an enterprise today happens interactively in digital environments. Somebody who’s struggling in an onboarding process or a partner development process will have a pattern. They’ll be searching internal knowledge sources. They’ll be sending e-mails to people with questions in them, and so on. So we definitely have seen people use the digital body language concept to resolve other kinds of knowledge challenges.

PwC: Chris, you said you are developing for a cloud future. How is the development different?

CL: There are principally two key differences. First, in a SaaS deployment model, we have a lot more information available to us that we can use to provide insights back to our customers. This is big data and includes external as well as internal data. For instance, in Taleo we have data on about 300 million job applications during the last 10 years. That is 10 years of data. We are categorizing some of the key job descriptions, and we will provide certain benchmark information back to our customers that are subscribing to the service—information about the best sources to hire, the time it takes to hire a new candidate or onboard a new candidate, and so on.

Second, we focus our development efforts on areas that need it the most. Because of the common cloud infrastructure, we have data on what features are used more than others. From a new development perspective, I can simplify the features used more frequently, invest more in them, and prioritize testing on them to ensure the best experience. We also track metrics on the response time on features—by time, by size of customer, and so on. I use this information to optimize certain areas in development.

PwC: How does the use of contextual information, such as location, impact the applications?

CL: Context makes the applications smarter. For example, we can look at the location of a person and if it is a location they usually do not visit, and they have time on their calendar, then we can see if there are others in their network who are in the building and who they haven’t met recently. We can suggest, “You might want to stop by and meet with this person, as you haven’t met with this person for some time.” Such features are simple today but will become sophisticated over time. Another example is time and labor. You can imagine when a user passes the time clock, it automatically clocks in the user. This capability is something we have as a future deliverable, so clocking in and out can become seamless and accurate.

PwC: Steve, what is the role of the CIO in marketing automation?

SW: I think the role of the CIO in modern marketing is a critical one if they’re able to engage. For example, the logistics industry moved from being orchestrated around people who understood how to catalog things in warehouses and how to drive trucks to one that was essentially an IT-driven industry. Marketing is the same way. The only way to understand buyer behavior is to look at the digital data. The only way to work with that data and get in front of the mindflows is to analyze, process, and build flows based on that digital data. We have two paths to get there: either marketing teams become more technology oriented, or IT teams become more marketing oriented.

PwC: Chris, what should CIOs focus on with respect to the future of enterprise applications and how they enable their enterprises?

CL: I think the best CIOs will be those who can generate insights across disciplines. If you are a CIO and your effect on marketing is constrained within the bucket of things marketing, then you really are not a CIO; you’re IT support for the marketing department.

If you’re a CIO with a horizontal mandate and you say, “Here are insights that our business collects about who our customers are, what the market trends are, where our products are coming from, and what’s happening with components down the supply chain,” then you are a CIO who actually has executed on a modern CIO mandate and can bring insights to the business that are new, novel, and game changing. By definition, the crux of that is very, very deep, flexible, data flows and integration between line-of-business applications.