Solution Central Edge
A PTC SaaS solution
What is Solution Central Edge?
PTC began its transition into the world of SaaS around 2019. Solution Central Edge (SCE) is one of the first SaaS solutions developed by PTC, a leading computer software and services company.
SCE is a SaaS solution that seeks to bring ThingWorx Kepware Server functionality to the cloud. The ThingWorx Kepware Server is a connectivity platform. Its design allows users to connect, manage, monitor, and control diverse automation devices and software applications through one user interface.
For example, in a manufacturing plant, the Controls Engineer wants to monitor the status and health of all machines. ThingWorx Kepware Server will help them do just that. The Controls Engineer can use the incoming data to run various analysis and diagnose problems on the machine floor to optimize the production line.
My role on the project, as the lead Principal UX Designer, was to figure out how to translate the functionality of an extremely powerful ThingWorx Kepware Server client to a SaaS solution.
I worked with two Product Managers (PM), two Technical Product Managers (TPM), a copywriter and two teams of engineers to accomplish this task. One team was focused on the platform while the other team was focused on UI development. I had to communicate with both teams to ensure proper API was developed to deliver the desired UX.
In order to tackle this large endeavor, we broke it down into manageable tasks. The PMs determined that the most important piece was to allow the Controls Engineer to connect to devices and monitor them via Tags in the system.
We had to understand how users connect to their devices.
My first order of business was to understand the current ThingWorx Kepware Server thick client. I was introduced to the interface by the PM of ThingWorx Kepware Server and a tech pre-sales associate intimately familiar with the thick client. We had several meetings where they introduced me to the interface. My agenda was to discover the following:
What features were most used
What features were least used
What did users like and why
What did users dislike and why
What did users need to accomplish their tasks easier
Working with the UX Research team, we identified and defined two user types for SCE.
To helps us understand the user needs and goals, we defined two personas. They were named Devin, the Developer of IoT Devices, and Chandra, the Controls Engineer. To generate the Devin and Chandra personas, the UX research team conducted interviews with PMs, TPMs, UX Designers, and internal users.
The outcomes of the discovery interviews helped me determine which functionality had to be kept, eliminated, and improved. The personas helped me design the functionality to accommodate the skills, pain points, and goals of the users. Working with a digital strategist, PM, and TPM we developed detailed and involved user flows that incorporated our defined personas.
We identified the main tasks the user will need to perform:
Identify a site
Create servers on a site
Establish a connection with the server
Define a structure of data on the server
Identify data points
Building out a server connection structure involves configuration of thousands of data points. In addition, there is a possibility the user may need to configure hundreds of properties. I had to consider how the user will navigate these properties across many categories, and how the user will know which are required vs optional.
At the beginning of my design process I create wireframes and interactive prototypes for early testing.
The way I work is I like to develop interactive prototypes whenever possible. Static prototypes, in my opinion, are not enough to know how the user experience will flow. Interactive prototypes are also extremely useful for early user testing.
For SCE, I built the interactive prototypes using Axure. We used these prototypes to conduct a preliminary UX study. In addition, numerous meetings were held reviewing Axure prototypes to gain early feedback on the UX from the team.
Part of my process involves reviewing very early ideas (static or prototyped) with PMs, TPMs, and Lead Developers. I do this to ensure what I'm working on fulfills the user requirements and the functional requirements. The Lead Developer is invited to attend in order to understand what their team will be focusing on. These early sessions allow for open discussions of the UX. The sessions also help developers understand how to develop the API so it delivers the appropriate information. It serves as a preview for what all teams need to be working on before the UX is even finalized.
Once the UX is agreed upon, the prototypes are delivered to the platform engineering team and the UX/UI engineering team in a hand-off meeting. They use prototypes to understand what to develop.
Before launching the product, and even while it was being developed, I worked with a UX Researcher to write a script to evaluate the new SCE design.
The goal of these remote moderated studies was to validate the UX designs. We conducted two studies for SCE. The first study utilized the Axure prototypes to test the server connection UX. The second study used a development branch to evaluate the complete UX of SCE.
During these studies we learned that the users found the new UI to be less cluttered and generally pleasant to use. We also learned areas of improvement such:
Clarification was needed to grid column headers
Error messages weren't clear
We confirmed our own hypothesis of desired new features
Detailed outcomes of the study were captured in a spreadsheet and used to populate Jira stories for UX and engineering. The UX study feedback was shared with the entire team during a presentation by the UX Researcher which was synthesized with myself, PM, and TPM. The attendees included PMs, TPMs, Design Strategists, Engineering, and other UX designers.
Delivered UX/UI Design
I used our design system to produce the new design of ThingWorx Kepware Server which is now called Solution Central Edge. SCE is being released as a BETA to select customers.
I incorporated the input we received from initial interviews. Some of the biggest changes included:
The wizard used to create new nodes in the connection tree was replaced with a simpler vertical flow form that displayed in a modal.
The floating property panel in the thick client was replaced with a slide out right side panel. This allowed the user to view the properties of a node while referencing other information on the page. It also allowed the user to browse the nodes in the tree.
New functionality of Sites. Sites allow the user to define the location of their IIoT device. The user can then assign servers to that Site for better management.
Identification of required fields
Filtering of the results
It's always a fun challenge for me to breathe new life into something outdated. In the process I needed to accept some technical limitations. Because this project was just getting started, we had a small team of developers. We couldn't develop many desired features because of limitations of resources. However, those plans have been backlogged and will be prioritized once the team ramps up.
We are planning on launching our BETA program, which will include a select set of clients . These clients will be expected to use the product and provide feedback we can utilize to improve the UX of SCE.
Solution Central Edge has been renamed to Kepware+. I kept the original name to reflect my prototypes.