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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977


Usability and Business Applications

Some of you may (or may not) be familiar with the acronym ERP
or Enterprise Resource Planning. “ERP applications are a type of business
management software designed to help companies automate day-to-day tasks, such
as taking orders, keeping books, and managing human resources.” Over the
last decade or so every self-respecting and competetive company implemented
an ERP system. Popular vendors include Oracle, SAP, J.D. Edwards, Peoplesoft
and Microsoft, to name just a few big players.

It has been known for a while that most ERP
systems fall short on overall usability
. Last week I, together with some
fellow students, was invited by SAP
to visit their headquarters in the Netherlands and testdrive their latest R/3
. Let the fun begin, oh boy, where do I start. See, I’m pretty
confident their system does work in terms of bare-bones functionality —
it’s just that it’s hidden behind a plethora of usability issues
and poor user interface design. It’s such a shame that the technical ingenuity
of these systems is not maximized (or even used at all) because of a mediocre
graphical user interface.

From what I was able to test it seemed noticeable SAP tried to improve some
usability features in comparison to previous releases, but the overall achievement
was pathetic at best. Poor information architecture, unclear navigational widgets
and dubious iconography, the whole system felt unnecessary complicated and extremely
difficult to use. Moreover, placement of diverse elements was unlogical in their
context of use.

For some years now it has been acknowledged (both in research and practice)
that ERP systems can add significant value to business processes (if implemented
correctly). It still strikes me as odd that crucial factors to success such
as usability and design have been neglected, or relegated to an inferior priority.
Next time a company fails to implement an ERP system succesfully — mostly
due to employee reluctance — they might want to think twice about how
and design influence their rate of success

This item was posted by dhilhorst on Tuesday, March 9th, 2004.


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