Ease of use

Does ERP mean Excel Runs Production? What Happens When Enterprise Software Is Too Hard to Use?

 “Ease of use” and the “user experience” are getting a lot of play these days. But what does that really mean? I currently have my inaugural Mint Jutras ERP survey live and have collected more than 200 responses thus far (just the beginning!)  So far, results show that ease of use most likely refers to time to complete tasks (50% picked this as a “top 3” in importance) and intuitive navigation (42%). Of course some other factors were also important including easy access to ERP from anywhere, any time (think access through the Internet and mobility) and the ability to stay in a workspace that combines ERP with other tools (e.g. email, Internet, dashboards, etc.)

In addition, earlier this year I helped IFS North America with a study conducted to explore how usability challenges may cause individuals to work outside the system of record, causing the manufacturer to lose value as employees use other systems. We looked at the degree to which corporate citizens will take action as the result of enterprise software usability challenges (including the use of various types of PC-based software and online free or low-cost applications). We were also looking for generational differences by comparing respondents in four different age groups:

  • 18 to 35 years old
  • 36 to 45 years old
  • 46 to 55 years old
  • Over 55 years

In general, we found there was a generational difference.  Once established in their careers, respondents were more likely to speak up about usability challenges in enterprise software. Instead, younger professionals (between ages 18 and 35) were more likely to change jobs as the result of poorly-designed enterprise software. So if you want to keep those future superstars, beware!

The quip “ERP stands for Excel Runs Production” is often true. When faced with usability challenges in the enterprise system of record, Microsoft Excel is the most frequent alternative. In addition, when faced with usability challenges, respondents indicated they may also use a number of free or low-cost online tools including Google Docs and Dropbox.

Speaking Up

Counter to popular perceptions of younger generations in the workforce, the 18-35 year-old group was least likely to definitely speak up or complain about the poor user experiences they were having with enterprise software. Those over 35 were most likely to definitely say something but extremely unlikely to simply suffer in silence. This pattern may be due in part to the fact that younger managers may feel, perhaps with justification, that they lack influence within the organization so speaking up would have no effect and possibly jeopardize their careers.

Meanwhile, those most likely to say something about their negative software experiences were respondents over 45 years, who would have more influence and also a good deal of experience with both business and consumer-level technologies and have begun to expect the same ease of use in business as they see in consumer technology.

Opting Out

More than 30% of respondents in each age group indicate that they would be likely to use enterprise software that was hard to use or poorly designed less frequently than software that was more thoughtfully designed or easier to use. A sizable majority of respondents also indicated that they were prone to using spreadsheets, including Microsoft Excel, instead of their enterprise system of record . In fact, respondents aged 18 to 35 were most likely to use spreadsheets (75%). Anyone graduating from college or business schools within the last 10 years (at least) has gained extensive experience with Microsoft Excel, seeking the comfort level of familiarity.


Some comments and suggestions offered to Enterprise Application solution providers by respondents:

“The interface needs to be seamless and intuitive. We don’t have learning curve time anymore.”

“Make it able to be seen more easily from smart phones.”

“Take lessons from the most popular software interfaces – Microsoft Office, Google, iTunes, etc.  There is nothing more frustrating than using an interface that looks like it’s from an AS400 in the 80’s but was purchased last year.”

“Just show me the information I need and don’t waste my time with ‘pretty’ graphics.”

In general the message was clear. It is all about faster, simpler, cost effective.

Download the study, “IFS: Does ERP mean Excel Runs Production,” at http://download.ifsworld.com/Excel_Runs_Production.  (registration required)





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