Calculations. Design is everything.

(For those readers that are unfamiliar with Element AssetHub and need an overview, you can read our co-founders primer).

We're excited to introduce Enterprise Calculations. Calculations reside within our Asset Templates, allowing customers to define relationships between sets of attributes, and can be further used in the Element AssetHub (for more information on Asset Templates, read Sameer’s blog (link).

With this initial release, our teams have taken great care to create an easy to use experience. We thought it might be interesting for you if we were to lift the hood on our design process, so you can get a sense of how hard we work to come up with features that help to make your job easier.

Design Goals for Calculations

Whenever we embark on a design, we outline a clear set of goals that will help to guide our process. Since good interaction design contains engaging features that help users to accomplish their goals, our primary goal with this design was to create an easy way to input formulas that would be intuitive, streamlined and guide people.

Target Persona

Our initial version of Enterprise Calculations focuses on the needs of the Process Engineer and their corporate counterpart, a subject matter expert, (SME). These are the people who intimately understand the knowledge that needs to be encoded. They may rely on IT or a OSIsoft PI administrator to encode some calculations, but our goal is to build a set of “self-service” tools that empower users to encode that information directly.

Dominique

A sample high level profile of our Process Engineer persona, Dominique. We leverage more nuanced versions for our internal work.

During meetings, it's not uncommon to hear our team members ask: What features are most important to Dominique?

Understanding User Needs

Enterprise Calculations can be used to define relationships between attributes, usually via an expression. Once defined, these expressions can be deployed globally across all like equipment. As a result, companies can: Deploy virtual/soft sensors, determine instrumentation calibration issues, define KPIs, support condition-based monitoring, and enable a predictive analytics strategy.

During our qualitative research phase, we determined that our first version of Enterprise Calculations needed to encode the following types of information:

Physical Relationships

Typically standard mechanical, physical, or chemical equations. These define physical/chemical/electrical relationships between attributes on a Asset Template (e.g. Power = Current * Voltage)

KPI's

Insights or information that can be used for reporting or decision making (daily averages, utilization rates, etc)

Operating Envelopes

What limits should the equipment or process be operating within

One of the key insights we learned from customers was that calculations are currently stored in multiple places, such as spreadsheets, R scripts and Python scripts, making it difficult to track and maintain formulas that can be scattered throughout an organization. Having this insight led us to frame our design as a way to centralize calculations, in order to reduce friction. A key decision we made was to tie calculations to Attributes on an Asset Template and then associate those templates with multiple assets. Conceptually, this model should sound familiar to programmers, as it's the foundation of an object oriented approach. By decoupling calculations from individual assets, we allow users to apply a single calculation across an entire set of assets. This approach also centralizes management, which makes it easy to track and update calculations in the future.

Design Principles Guiding this Design

An overarching goal was to offer our users an experience comparable to one they would have in a consumer grade application. In our last design blog, we covered how design principles help to shape our products. For this exercise, we grounded our activities on the following three principles and key user considerations:

PrincipleDescriptionKey User Considerations

Easy

clean and straightforward design

How can we empower users to enter calculation formulas with minimal friction?

Clean

an intentionally subdued user interface

How can we eliminate extraneous details to help users focus on the task at hand?

Efficient

streamlined tasks requiring minimal mouse clicks

What affordances can we use to surface up options, so that the user doesn't have to manually enter complicated formulas?

How can we design a system that takes advantage of object oriented programming principles, which will lead to reusability of calculation formulas, and easier maintenance?


Collaborative Conceptual Design

One of our strengths as a company is that there are teams of people behind our products collaborating to make experiences more human, natural, and contextual. Team members lend their individual strengths to solve complex problems, since amazing product experiences require a convergence of disciplines to look at the problem from multiple angles.

For this functionality, our Product team defined a clear set of use cases and we discussed how Dominique would be using calculations. The Design and Engineering teams then created task flows and system flows, respectively, in real-time. While design focused on the key moments of creating a calculation, engineering drew a system flow capturing back-end and front-end communication between different components. Proto-wireframes, (quick gestural sketches of the user interface), quickly emerged to signify user touchpoints during this experience. This approach of working on two points of views simultaneously, allowed us to plan, then move quickly when executing because everyone on the team was able to align on a north star from the start.

Design Flow

Result

When we set out to create our new calculations functionality, we wanted to create an easy way to input calculation formulas that would be intuitive and guide the user through the process. The result of our hard work is a feature that is easy to use and provides contextual guidance to the user, so that they can enter calculation formulas quickly and at scale.

Calculations Sm Final

We hope this quick behind the scenes look into our design process provides our readers with a sense of how our teams work hard to create a product that is easy to use and makes your work easier. We will be introducing more complex relationships and rollup calculations in the near future. In the meantime, we invite you to explore this functionality and experiment with it.

Let us know what you think and how we’re doing. How can we improve calculations? What would make this, or any part of our products even easier to use and tuned to your needs? We’d love to hear from you!