There is a familiar but disappointing trend we see all the time in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software that we use at work every day. The software is simply put, boring. It looks nothing like the other software that we use in our daily life. The software that we use to listen to music, watch movies or post our beautifully edited photographs. Why is there such a difference when it comes to the experience users have with ERP? And can we make this experience more enjoyable?
It is true that ERP is mostly used for tasks much more mundane and bland than updating our social media feeds with pictures from a recent vacation. It mostly involves tasks like managing real-time supply logistics or inventory and warehouse management. But why can’t that mean that the user experience for the software can’t be more pleasing to interact with. Often, designers forget to apply one important tenet of design thinking to the ERP problem – keeping the software user-centric and building something delightful.
Blending enterprise software and consumer design thinking
ERP software can be user-centric and design-centric too and increasingly a lot of designers are waking up to that fact. ERP software is a huge and incredibly important software category used by the biggest organisations all over the world every day. It covers all the different business sectors – be it global cash positions or product planning timelines. But if these software are so ubiquitous in our world today, why does their design not compare to other more familiar software we see every day on our phones?
Usability in the driver’s seat; Design in the backseat
One major reason that designers don’t put a lot of effort into making ERP pleasing is that the users of the software just don’t place a lot of importance on design. The industry is more concerned with features than prioritizing experience. Usually companies just compare which software can deliver more functionality and ignore the rest of the considerations. Like usability or delight. And although functionality and functions are the top priorities when it comes to ERP, it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation where it comes at the cost of usability or seamlessness. They indirectly affect the usage of the software and the more the software is used by the employees, the more they will end up using all the available functions.
Implementing good UX in ERP systems is hard
First we must understand why UX is important. What does it mean to have a good design that delights users? Usually this means that a software is easy to install and easy to maintain. It should also have a gradual learning curve. Maybe it is important to the user that it be usable across devices. Or that it has a certain amount of customizability and personalisation. Although usually simplicity or minimalism is another consideration for a good user experience, this may not apply in the case of ERP. In fact, simplifying the ERP dashboard too much can reduce its functionality and slow work down by making tasks harder to find and harder to execute.
That is what makes UX so difficult. The needs of the design vary from client to client and good design means designing something that works in a particular context. Not designing for the sake of designing.
Other reasons why designing for enterprises can pose a challenge:
- Cost – the cost a company pays for subscribing for an ERP is prohibitively high and is a deterrent for them to change the software and train every one again.
- Highly specialised – the tasks that the ERP is built for are very industry- or company-specific and it would take designers considerable time to learn.
- Legacy integrations – another hurdle to overcome can be the integrations that the ERP needs to have with other systems and platforms.
- Users are not buyers – often the people buying the software and the people using it on a daily basis are not the same people so they might not see the problems the current system has.
Seamless Enterprise UX integration across devices
The proliferation of mobile technology and cloud computing has raised the expectations of users who were normally used to working with uncreatively designed ERP. Now increasingly users expect a seamless user experience across devices that syncs up even when you are on the go. Employee adoption and delight are becoming more and more important factors for companies to stick with the software they use. This brings new challenges for designers, but it is an exciting opportunity to focus on a type of software that has conventionally not been known for being ground breaking or eye catching.
If software is too clunky or painful to learn or use, then users will eventually move on to one with a smoother overall experience. Better looking and working ERP software is going to differentiate itself and stand out from the other competitors.
Design that enhances employee productivity
It is true that the people who have to use the ERP software every day are not the same ones that pay for it. So they do not have direct control over which software they have to use. But if users have to use a software day in and day out, it helps if it is a software they like using. If the ERP can offer the users a delightful experience, then it stands to become their go-to software for completing tasks. This means that the design thinking behind the ERP will make it a software that increases employee productivity. And this increased productivity will surely be a consideration the next time a purchase or subscription decision involving the ERP software has to be made.
Mixing work and play
Usability is one thing. But can ERP software actually be fun? This is where the concept of delight comes in, which goes a step beyond satisfaction. Sure a software that helps you complete the task you were assigned has done its job and you are satisfied with its performance. But a lot of ERP work like data entry can be very tedious. And, software that goes a step beyond satisfactory and makes the work actually enjoyable will have a tremendous impact on your productivity and output. If designers can add mechanisms to the ERP software design that pushes the product from MVP or minimum viable product to MLP or minimum loveable product, they will have themselves a winner.
In the end, it is not surprising that consumer-centric design will always win over the less thoughtful and less intuitive software. As important as functions are, and they are still the number one priority, design can increase adoption and engagement in the business world too. Warehouse and inventory management can also be a delightful experience if we let it.