An ERP project will succeed or fail based on a number of criteria, not the least of which is the system’s usability. Today’s end-users are accustomed to intuitive, easy to-use interfaces akin to what they experience when using technology in their daily lives. Whether it is an app on their tablet to buy concert tickets or a touch screen on their PC , today’s end-users live in a world where the user interface is clean, simple and intuitive.

Unfortunately, there are still many ERP systems out there that are not designed with the end-user in mind. Instead, they look dated, often requiring multiple entry and data points to process information and build out dashboards. A poor interface dramatically impacts end-user buy-in, usage and adoption. In some cases, poor and overly complex user interfaces drive users to not only resist the changes but outright revolt and revert back to workarounds and manual processes.

We are often asked about the usability of a system and if it is similar to using Outlook with its folders and icons – in other words, is it user-friendly. Following are four questions to ask your ERP vendor or ERP consultant regarding usability:

  • How easy will it be to navigate the system via the user interface?  Usability also relates to how well the software fits your business operations and vice versa.
  • Are your business processes easily executed in the system?
  • Can your employees perform their basic job functions without the software inhibiting their day-to-day responsibilities?
  • Does the software allow the company to seamlessly, efficiently and effectively run its operations?

If the answers to all of these questions is “yes,” then the ERP system has a high usability factor. If any of the answers are “no,” then the problem is probably related to a misalignment between the software and the business operations. Other usability issues stem from changes in the enterprise over time, such as mergers and acquisitions, growth, international expansion, new regulations and a host of internal and external drivers of change.

Unfortunately, most ERP systems fail to keep up with these changes, creating a misalignment over time.  In many cases, this misalignment is attributed to the software itself rather than a failure to allow the technology to keep up with the business.

So how can an organization avoid the pitfalls of poor usability? Here are three tips to proactively stay ahead of this particular challenge:

1. Ensure initial ERP system usability. When you are evaluating potential ERP systems, you must ensure that you have clearly defined what employees will need to do with the system. In other words, specifically how the business processes need to look and how the software needs to support the business. It may sound elementary, but we see far too many organizations gloss over this important step to achieving ERP usability.

2. Train the system to be usable. That is not a typo – the system needs to be trained to be usable. Once business processes are clearly defined, the system needs to be designed and configured to run the business. Far too many companies assume that they’ll just flip the switch and the software’s “best practices” and “industry pre-configurations” will magically get the job done. Make no mistake – unless you are a start-up or a very simple organization, this approach is a recipe for disaster. You’ll want to ensure that your processes define how the software will be used as today’s enterprise solutions are far too flexible to rely solely on best practices.

3. Assess ERP software usability along the way. Employees not only need to be trained on your organization’s specific business processes and shown how the system will support these processes, but both your staff and your processes need to be assessed prior to and periodically after go-live. This will help identify and address misalignments over time. As the business changes, the software needs to change as well.Ongoing organizational assessments to evaluate the usability of the system are the only way to help the software to keep up with your business.

Focusing on employee and operational usability is key to ERP success. It is also key to ensuring that the software and the business stay in-sync as the company evolves over time. Not only does this exponentially increase potential business benefits, but it also results in a much longer lifespan for your ERP system. Most of our clients replace their ERP systems after ten to 12 years, but they would not necessarily need to if they maintained this level of operational and technical alignment over time. ERP usability is a multi-million dollar proposition for most organizations.

Learn more by registering for our on-demand webinar, Five Signs That Your ERP System is Past its Shelf Life and the Best ERP Strategy for Your Organization

Written by Rick Platz, Manager of Organizational Change at Panorama Consulting Solutions. 

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