Studies prove Vanilla is the most popular ERP flavor

Posted: December 13th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Archive, Design & UX, Systematic Viewpoints | View Comments

I’ve been watching the kerfuffle over Scoble’s post and chewing on the subject some more. As Thomas points out, we’ve been over this before but it still merits thought.

My perspective? I have little insight into how usability and interface refinements will make their way into ERP products as delivered because I don’t build the stuff. I’ve been responsible for implementing it, I certainly have had to use it, and now I make a fine living making it usable in big-ass companies.

I used to take the stance that there was no reason that enterprise software shouldn’t be any harder to use than transactions at Amazon, eBay or [your favorite e-tailer here]. Those sites buffer a lot of complexity and multiple integrations from us tender humans.

I can name 2 differences that matter. First, the effect of the money trail – if users of commercial interfaces can’t complete their transaction, revenue stops. The enterprise doesn’t always have that level of motivation, depending on the function in question. Second, I’ve yet to see an organization that has deep global processes. Of course certain processes are mandated into localized versions, but more often its a reflection of the M&A activity that grew the organization on top of the regional variations.

Most often, companies fund a ‘vanilla’ ERP deployment and hope that their users can get through some training. It’s a big challenge in global organizations to quantify the variability, organize all the assets, apply security and personalization and make the stuff easier to use. Given the lack of budget for usability features and the heavy lifting it takes, it’s little wonder that most organizations aren’t taking the steps necessary, but why aren’t they demanding better user experience from their enterprise software?

In most cases I think it’s because they too have been conditioned to think that it must be complex. Perhaps this comes down from the days when the computers were behind glass and their keepers wore lab coats. All too often the IT community projects a certain machismo around ERP usability:

  • It’s non-essential, ‘nice to have’
  • It’s a ‘training issue’.
  • Not an issue, everything passed UAT.
  • We delivered the user requirements

Enterprises should share some of the blame and adding ease of use is to the features they’re requiring vendors to deliver. I’m seeing this begin to happen as ERP maturity evolves within companies. Users are speaking up, and in some cases where metrics are not being met it’s being linked to usability issues.

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