Your Business Is Losing Money Because of These 3 ERP User Experience Design Mistakes
- Though worth over $6 billion per year, the ERP industry is still not user-centric enough, in terms of designing solutions.
- ERP deployment can cost upward of US$20,000 and requires hundreds of hours of human labour.
- 46% of ERP users polled don’t even understand some of the features that they have to use on a regular basis.
With the software-as-a-service (SaaS) business rising to prominence, the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) industry also accrued more and more value. By 2010, the latter industry was worth as much as $6 billion.
By 2010, as it were, the vast majority of Fortune 1000 companies was already using such software, essentially employing significant numbers of employees to stare into computer monitors and feed data into the machine. We can thus conclude that implementing these usually massive ERP systems is a complex task.
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In fact, judging by the opinions of the IT execs interviewed by CIO.com, deploying an ERP system is one of the most complicated, expensive, and time-consuming jobs an IT department can be saddled with. It takes hundreds of work hours to successfully deploy backend ERPs.
The businesses that depend on their proper functioning are often literally worth billions. Multi-nationals with operations spread out across the globe would not be able to survive without them.
1. A lack of end-user feedback leads to poor design
As any web designer would readily admit, enterprise software is radically different from consumer-targeted software, in terms of the design process involved. And, yes, this is first and foremost a matter of sheer size and scalability. ERP systems are designed for large businesses, whose communication problems they usually inherit.
In other words, it’s difficult to properly design user experience-focused ERP software, when you’ve got thousands of pages and screens to map and execute, but are also suffering because of a faulty feedback loop.
It seems that the majority of ERPs are plagued by what Robert J. Herbold, former Microsoft COO, termed ‘the fiefdom syndrome’. Most of the stakeholders involved simply focus on their own short-term goals and interests. Rarely do they find the time and energy to actually close the feedback loop and tell user-centric designers what they actually need the ERP in question to do.
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2. Functional area managers and IT departments don’t really care about, or understand user experience design
Fact #1: In large corporations, functional area managers have limited experience with day-to-day transactions. As such, they’re not the best information source for designing user experience-focused ERPs.
Fact #2: IT departments insist on owning the ERP requirements, but they often lack the user experience design research track record that creating such a system entails. It is often the case that IT departments introduce sophisticated new technologies without any form of prior impact assessment and, hence, don’t generate any end-user productivity boosts to talk of.
Fact #3: According to the 2012 MorganFranklin Corporation yearly ERP survey, 46% of ERP users didn’t understand the systems’ key features (including the features they were actually using!)
So, what happens when all these elements come together? You end up with a massive investment, worth in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars, but which actually helps no one.
One potential solution, which would help a company avoid ending up in this situation, would be to create a key feature master list. This list should also necessarily include feature usage, so that software designers and programmers come to understand which features are useful, which ones still need tweaking, and what new features need scripting and implementation.
3. ERPs built from the bottom-up will never provide good user experiences
On Quora, Hubba CEO Ben Zifkin, long-standing ERP provider, offers a brief explanation of the historic evolution of enterprise software. He states that the field has seen a massive update over the past decade or so.
Whereas the old ERP design model started from developing ‘powerful’ features and then slapping a UI onto them, the new one works in the opposite direction. The ERPs of yore boasted endless feature lists: massive data storage abilities, complicated workflow automatisation, intricate calculations, and so on.
Yet, back then, at the other end stood an overwhelmed user, left on her own to make sense of an often poorly designed interface. Nowadays, Zifkin explains, ERP systems are being designed according to a process that looks something like this:
Problem the business needs to solve ->
Human approach (How would a human solve this problem?) ->
Problem resolution automatization (Building the technology required by the simplest solution)
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The times—they hopefully are a-changing, since automatisation and SaaS accessibility are established trends, here to stay. So are big data processing and analysis.
With more focus on user experience design, ERP user interfaces can actually start helping users to solve their problems, instead of creating more of those problems for them!