By Malcolm Fox, Vice President Product Marketing, Title, Epicor Software Corporation
At the start of an ERP selection project, functionality is often the number one criteria. However when we ask our customers why they selected Epicor ERP, one of the top answers has always been usability, or ease of use. This is an important point. Return on investment, productivity, customer satisfaction and general efficiency are all impacted if an ERP system proves difficult to learn, and hard to use. Employee adoption needs to be as swift as possible in order to realise the new system’s benefits.
Some of the triggers for changing an ERP system typically include scalability, changes in business model, a lack of visibility and overall complexity – but not just with regards to processes, also relating to ease of use. For example, as traditional, transactional ERP systems have been customised to fit industry specific processes, end users, and in particular new users, have needed more extensive training before they could become proficient and able to carry out their tasks. Today's modern ERP systems are much more user-friendly, and coupled with more comprehensive online education techniques, a workforce with varying IT capabilities can be fully trained and working live with the system within days, or even hours.
If employees feel confident and happy with a new system, the transition from old to new will be much easier. Employees often tend to resist change, but a user centric ERP system can empower even the most inexperienced employees as well as those with little IT knowledge. The sooner you get the buy-in from your workforce, the faster your organisation will start to reap the benefits, a faster time to added value and a lower total cost of ownership
Although training around functionality remains essential, the user interface (UI) can further add to the user experience. Familiar navigations, a visual layout and a logical flow of operation, all help increase ERP usability. Mash-ups and dashboards are becoming more mainstream, and even more intuitive when they are role based and can be personalised. From here access to tailored reports, supported by real time data, enables decision making, facilitates strategic planning and gives the user a comprehensive picture of relevant activities at any given moment. The more that relevant information is brought to the user from inside the ERP system, the less they have to look for it. Additional web parts or social media type applications can bring added value providing more contextual information. As UI’s develop, it will not be surprising to see evidence that inspiration has been taken from sites such as Amazon, YouTube and even Facebook – simple layouts and simple navigations that don’t require extensive training but add considerable value to the user experience.
As businesses expand operations and travel becomes commonplace, ERP systems must not only be scalable to adapt to the changing needs of growing operations, it must become more flexible. ERP needs to go on the road. Everyday devices such as smartphones and tablets allow business anywhere, and when users can take their ERP system with them wherever they go, there is no starting or stopping business activities and operations can run smoothly. Furthermore, if the desktop version is replicated in the mobile version, users can easily transfer their ERP knowledge making the mobile format instantly usable.
It is evident that new technologies will continue to increase the user experience and create loyalty in the consumer world, it’s logical to think that this will also become the case in the business world. When you look closely at what contributes to a successful ERP project, usability impacts not only the short term adoption but business efficiency and customer satisfaction. There will also be a connection to cost reduction and ultimately the overall total cost of ownership (TCO). Perhaps usability should be more measurable criteria in the ERP selection process?
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