SOLU Business Solution
Between 2007 and 2012 I worked as Lead UI Designer at e21 Solutions. My day to day work revolved mainly around designing user interfaces and layouts for web sites and product catalogues of various Finnish construction companies. For running those websites and catalogues we used our own product, SOLU Business Solution, which was a CMS optimized for maintaining and displaying large amounts of product information. Internal development of SOLU was one of my favorite tasks during my days at e21 and I practically had free rein in developing the workflow and UI features in SOLU at the time. Bliss!
Let’s take a short tour around this awesome product and its main features.
Briefly about SOLU Business Solution
SOLU’s purpose is to serve faster, easier and always up-to-date product information to customers. In the 2000s business started being increasingly done online and product information needed to be easily available and searchable. This applied especially to industrial, construction and technical companies, who have lots of product information, options and variables. Producing and updating large product catalogues was expensive. Salespeople needed excessive amounts of time to find and update information and provide it to customers. A more modern approach was to create the point of sale online, where the catalogue maintenance and administration could be streamlined.
SOLU Excels at
Rich Product Information management
Management of large quantities of products, campaign and customer-specific pricing, and product information publishing on different media such as WWW, order system and extranet.
Customer management and profiling
SOLU includes tools for identifying and profiling customers and managing company and customer information. Managing the customer-specific information (product lists, prices, availability, history) is a breeze.
Robust e-commerse and sales tools
All installations using DATA product management have a ready-made ordering system and online shop modules that can include for example shopping cart, payment transactions and order tracking services as required.
From basic services to diverse multiform systems - will easily expand alongside the business. That leads to versatile options for connecting to existing information systems. Basically SOLU communicates with everything.
Where I left a mark
Lots and lots of clean-up for the HTML and stylesheet-codes. Redundant and duplicate files were discarded, thematically appropriate files combined. Helper styles defined and arranged. Outputting files were compressed. This served to increase the longevity and ease the maintenance of the file structure in the future and made developing new features more fluent (and less prone to breaking things elsewhere). It also helped make sure that the system worked nicely in older browsers - which were still in plentiful use in the Finnish construction industry. Cleaning project files is usually underappreciated work, but I get a weird kick out of it.
Adding appropriate microcopy to make users welcome. Microcopy is one of the more fun ways to make sure that your product has a personality and that the user is in interaction with the product instead of just a passive recipient of information. One example of this was the login experience. I wanted to make sure the user was greeted with encouraging or warm messages that varied depending on the time of day, such as: “Good morning, Commander.” At night the system might remind you that almost nothing is so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow so you can get a good night's sleep. During the holidays (if you were in the unfortunate position of having to make updates during Christmas, for instance) you would be met with a custom graphic and season’s greetings. Incorrect password entries had their own humorous error messages, and so on. Similar custom messages with personality can be seen today in Slack, for instance.
Documenting the Support/Help-manual and making video tutorials. Developers who like to write documentation or help content are few and far between. Well, just so happens that I get a kick out of big documents that helps new users in tricky situations. (This tendency is best evidenced by the House Rules we wrote for the Friendship Inn in Case Ystävyyden Majatalo.) SOLU was so robust that new users were usually given an hour-long training as part of the package. However, some users were already familiar with other CMS’s on the market and wanted to start managing their page on their own right away. For them, it was vital to have a manual at hand if (when) they found themselves in a situation where they would need it.
Hundreds of big and small features for the UI. Examples include WYSIWYG Template features; unifying the color scheme for different UI elements, areas and buttons; unifying how all the iframe dialogues behaved when clicking a button; adding zebra-stripes to long data-tables; enabling bulk editing operations for handling truckloads of data; visual cursor changes on different actions; and keyboard shortcuts and tab indexes for experienced users.
P.S. I would highly recommend e21 Solutions as a partner-in-crime in your online sales adventures. The technical team I got to work with were one of best I’ve come across and the management side have the strongest understanding of digital business services for manufacturing and technical trade in Finland that I know of.