Elliott Computer

Are Your Apps Too Hard to Use?

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Photo: control panel of a British-made Elliott computer, circa 1960, Creative Commons license.

You’ve heard the complaints: systems are too clunky, slow, have too many steps, take too long to execute transactions.

The dialogue plays out probably hundreds of times a day in offices throughout the world: users complain about to-hard-to-use systems and their IT departments tell them they just don’t know the right way to use them.

Are these serious issues or just complaints from people used to the ease of an i-Phone?  Here are some signs that it’s a serious issue:

  • Your department heads have to look for people with specific software experience for certain jobs;
  • Work slows down, mistakes are made, shipments or deliveries are delayed, and there are real business impacts resulting from people not knowing how to use systems correctly;
  • Your IT department support desk spends a large proportion of their time training or re-training users on certain systems or transactions

It’s easy to blame the problem on people being too lazy or not competent.  But do you hire a senior sales director for that person’s ability to learn and use effectively the software you’ve had for five or ten years?  If they don’t possess that particular acumen, are they a bad choice for a senior sales director?

This is a big problem, in many enterprises, but costs are not easy to measure. A rough estimate can be had by extrapolating the lost time per user across the enterprise.  A 15% hit to people’s productivity because the systems they use slow down their work actually means you need 1.176 people to do the work of one person.

If you have a 500 person organization, all who use sub-optimal systems every day, an equivalent of 90 of those people are needed only because you have sub-optimal systems.  As resounding as this seems, its hard to get the money to improve systems based on this argument, because if you do you won’t actually let 90 people go, because the sum of wasted time is across all 500 people, not just 90 specific people.

There are solutions to time-sapping software without overhauling everything, notably for the ERP systems like SAP and Oracle, because these applications out of the box have lousy user interfaces (UI) that can be hugely improved.  A good UI will get the maximum potential from your systems; a lousy UI will get the same, but with a lot more user training, thought, skill, time, workarounds, improvisation, and creativity. Which UI do you want?

A company offering solutions in this area is Winshuttle, that claims to “turn everyday SAP users into heroes who transform the way their companies work.”  Winshuttle uses a combination of Excel and other forms together with its software to simplify a user’s interaction with SAP.

Another of these is Synactive, which markets GUIxt and Liquid UI. With these tools companies can customize the SAP user interface for high volume functionally-specific purposes.

Solutions like this are only relevant for those enterprises who have full control over their systems environments.  This means that if you want to apply any of these efficiency tools you need full access to the software the tools will interface with.

Another way to simplify transaction steps is to acquire pre-packaged mobile applications that can integrate to your ERP systems, or develop them on your own.  This can be done for many routine tasks like creating and approving purchase orders.  Kony, Inc. has a wide range of mobile apps that work with enterprise systems.




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