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ERP software gets a makeover

Bruce Harpham | Feb. 18, 2016
Can typically staid ERP software take a page from leading consumer apps when it comes to improving usability?

How Sage Software delivers a better ERP user experience

Sage Software produces a range of software products for the enterprise including several ERP offerings. “To improve our ERP products, we interviewed around 50 of our customers to understand their workflows for activities such as producing an invoice and handling orders,” says Jeff Clark, vice president of product design and experience at Sage. Those interviews, among other inputs, have spurred Sage to significantly improve the ERP user experience. “Reducing the complexity of work tasks is a key way to improve the experience for enterprise application users,” Clark says.

Building new capabilities and integrations with other products is a key priority for Sage. “In 2015, we announced a partnership with Salesforce. With that partnership, we are going to add Salesforce capabilities directly into our products,” Clark says. Putting customer relationship management functions into an ERP means improved efficiency and less need to switch between applications to complete work tasks. Sage is also looking into adding payment processing features to future editions of its products.

Taking lessons from successful consumer apps and software

When it comes to improving usability, there is no need to reinvent the wheel – consumer apps and software suggest interesting possibilities for the enterprise. “We can take inspiration from Uber and other consumer apps. They make the user experience simple and intuitive: training programs are not required. After all, hard to use consumer apps rarely last for very long,” says Deloitte’s Krumkachev.

“We regularly look at major tech firms such as Google, Apple and Microsoft for user interface and experience ideas,” says Sage’s Clark. “AirBnB and Uber have both done great work in in user interface. These apps are easy to use and they demonstrate the value of building in collaboration capabilities.”

The case for better enterprise application user interface goes beyond productivity. If the experience frustrates users, they are likely to conduct business outside the application. These alternate practices – such as using email or phone calls to complete work – pose challenges for reporting, governance and consistent service delivery.

Getting started in ERP improvement: understanding your users

There are many options available to improve an ERP interface, so it is difficult to know where to start. Mapping out the current practice and steps staff use to accomplish work is an excellent starting point. “I suggest using the cognitive walkthrough technique to improve enterprise software usability,” says Craig Rosenberg, a PhD in human factors and user interface design who has worked with a variety of clients in the Fortune 500. 

“With this process, you gather together software experts and the end users. The next step is to have the end users complete ten or twenty work tasks and narrate what they are doing,” Rosenberg says. “For example, you may hear users say something like ‘I expected the order information to be here but it looks like I will have to go somewhere else for it.”

By understanding the workflow experience, IT managers and developers can identify ways to build a better ERP. Improvements may take the form of improved forms, eliminating steps or providing better integration with others.


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