Enterprise Software Needs to be More Human

You’ve been burning through the tasks on the Kanban board since the start of the morning, slipping in and out your email app, blasting through the project tracking app. The software is slick and the UX is is smooth, the UI for each a little different, but many similarities, the integrations amongst a few of them are nice. Things get done. Until that moment. That moment you’ve dreaded all day, put off as long as you can. It is now time to enter the ERP program. The Beast as everyone calls it.

The Beast has so many acronyms your team had to build a library of them in a shared note app. On the shelves at the back of the workspace there are several thick binders full of screen shots and commands that you can use. You know you’ll be pulling one of these off the shelf today. You even check to make sure the coworker on your team that knows the ERP best is at her desk. She’s the guru but she’s been promoted and is moving on to run her own product team at another division in another city. She won’t be there next week. No one else on the team wants to take on that role. Everyone is afraid of The Beast.

Back in 2013, Avon, yes, that Avon, had spent $125 Million on a pilot app for tablets for their sales reps in Canada. It was so difficult to use the app that reps began to quit. Research by IEEE estimates that $150 Billion a year is lost to wasted development time. The same study suggested that bad customer-facing software can cost a company $243 in lost revenue per customer due to bad user experiences. Internal software that is poorly designed can add to employee stress, anxiety and frustrate their ability to get the job done. Then they quit. Then you’ve got to hire, train and pass knowledge to a new employee.

ERP programs can be good and many are. Up to a point. A big challenge for ERP companies is that these tools are often designed as a massive platform with many moving parts and capabilities. The account executives sell features and promises of glory. The engineers and developers create the code for them, not the end customer. Then the customer wants all kinds of modifications to meet their specific business requirements. So, we have a morass of sales reps, sales engineers, product engineers, DevOps, UX/UI designers, business analysts and so on. Some ERP makers do the installations, while for most ERP’s there is a whole micro-economy of supporting consultants hungry for billable hours.

And this is the series of problems that results in software that is distinctly not designed for humans, but for workflows that apply to a system that doesn’t take into account context or human behaviours. ERP programs and the plug-in and subsequent apps are distinvtly not agile. The ecosystem that evolved around them has become valuable only to the original creator and the consulting industry behind it. When a problem or need is uncovered, the solution is to always add something, when taking something away might be better. The teams of business analysts sent in to the client company are focused on features and workflow, not the humans. They think in the abstract term of user.

This is an exciting time for software and digital products. Gone are the worries of waterfall development where the end product was CD’s that had to be shipped to physical locations, massive hours of single-instance installations across the enterprise. With the cloud, virtual machines, agile development methodologies and an ever expanding cadre of well trained UX/UI/CX people on the market, ERP companies have an opportunity to do better. The challenge is that may mean reduced billable hours and a smaller ecosystem of consultants. If they flip that thinking, they could avoid being disrupted, create exciting and well designed products that work for humans and their businesses.

This is a bold shift in thinking, but within the next few years, startup disruptors or startup units stood up by an ERP platform, will disrupt others. With the pandemic seeing the rise of the Digital Workspace, this is ever more likely. ERP companies need to shift to thinking about humans, not users and workflows that are less adaptable. It’s all about Digital Adaption.

2 responses to “Enterprise Software Needs to be More Human”

  1. […] You might also enjoy our article on why enterprise software needs to be more […]


  2. Reblogged this on SIx design hats and commented:
    Anything that brings the ‘human’ into development catches my eye. A good read.

    Liked by 1 person

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