As anyone knows who’s traveled by train: A person wants to travel somewhere by train, so they rush to the nearest train station to buy a ticket from the ticket machine. But just the process of entering the destination and selecting the right ticket can often be complicated. The attempted quick purchase of a ticket is foiled by the user interface and in the worst case you might not even be able to read the display surface because of the glaring sunlight.
To solve this common problem, most transportation systems have implemented apps for ticket purchasing. They can be easily used and greatly simplify the process of purchasing tickets. The bottom line: Such apps offer significantly better usability than traditional ticket machines.
Usability is generally underestimated as a factor in assessing a software. This is true all the more when it comes to the digital core of companies, the ERP. When setting up a new ERP or modernizing an existing one, such factors as functions and costs usually take on critical importance. But this can prove to be a tactical weakness, because if the ERP later turns out to be difficult to use, all the functionality in the world is of no use. In the worst case, costs rise and investment in the software becomes a long-term problem.
Reasons for the ERP usability as a central selection criterion
There are many reasons to place usability at the very top of the list as a decisive criteria in selecting a new ERP:
- A promising Enterprise Resource Planning system should use all of a company’s resources as wisely as possible to protect the company’s bottom line – i.e. it’s about efficiency. But if ERP usability is limited, this will impact the overall efficiency and productivity of a company. A controlling process that is difficult to use will have immediate ramifications for the finances. Complex marketing and sales processes will hamper the process of building and maintaining business contacts. And a cumbersome document management system will significantly increase the cost of administration.
- When usability is good, you will also see a noticeable drop in the error rate of employees. This will increase the profitability of the company, because business processes can run efficiently and there will be fewer errors to be corrected. Training costs and implementation time are also reduced when user interfaces and ERP processes are simple and intuitive
- Compliance has been assuming greater importance at companies since long before the introduction of the GDPR regulation. It is not just a legal consideration, but in the best case can even become a quality criterion for collaboration with business partners. An ERP system that impedes compliance because of poor usability thus becomes an obstacle.
- And it is also clear that when an ERP has a simple and intuitive functionality, this increases the fun factor for employees. This generally has an impact on their satisfaction and both fosters greater motivation and contributes to a longer tenure with the company. Nothing is more harmful than a complicated ERP system that makes everyday work difficult. And in the age of smartphones, employees already have heightened expectations for the usability of software of all types.
Usability is not User Experience!
The two terms Usability and User Experience are often confused with each other in trade articles of software descriptions. They foreground different aspects of a software or the ERP.
User Experience encompasses all of the emotions that are evoked by a software program. Such emotions can be evoked at the mere presentation of a new ERP, when certain functions or processes appear particularly useful. And User Experience can also be associated with the use of software, as e.g. when there is an identification with the ERP being used.
Usability is different: It is strictly the smooth use of a software program, i.e. an effective and efficient completion of the task. Unlike User Experience, Usability pertains only to the phase during which the software is used. We can also speak of user comfort or how well users get used to the ERP.
User Experience encompasses a wider spectrum, during and after use. Usability refers to the time during use.
What is clear: Usability and User Experience are related. Is user friendliness is poor, this will hardly inspire happy feelings in the user. But if a software is easy and intuitive to use, the User Experience will also increase automatically.
What does the Usability of an ERP depend on
A couple of initial clues about what the Usability of an ERP is, is found in the EN ISO 9241: It sets out guidelines for the ergonomics of the interaction between human and computer. This is primarily about simplifying use – which means: Usability – and avoiding harm to health.
In one part it names general criteria for facilitating the use of software solutions. For example, it should be appropriate to its tasks and easy to learn, and it should allow easy error correction or individual adjustments. It should be easily controlled by the user, should be easy to understand and it should offer help where necessary. Finally, it should conform to expectations for software, i.e. it should meet the expectations of the user,
Important factors that determine the Usability of an ERP
However plausible these factors may be, they are still a bit abstractly formulated. When someone needs assistance in selecting an ERP in terms of usability, there are concrete criteria are provided. The following aspects should be considered:
- Individual and workplace-independent personalization, e.g. of screens and menus
- Intuitive and self-explanatory structure of the ERP
- Easy to learn
- Low click depth in standard processes
- Helpful links, such as for offers on products
- Integrated search and copy function
- Access control using individual authorizations or role assignments
Summary: If you are looking for a new ERP for your company, Usability should be at the very top of the criteria for your selection. The best functions of a software are useless if they are cumbersome to use. In the worst case, a new ERP will not simplify routine work at all, but will make it harder. For that reason it is advisable to examine a potential ERP for aspects that are critical in determining the user friendliness of the software solution.