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Enterprise software: Why usability matters

The world is more interconnected and intelligent than ever and most companies operate in a global market place.

The world is more interconnected and intelligent than ever and most companies operate in a global market place. Best practices and operational excellence from a single innovative company, instantly affect the market for another company on the other side of the globe. As business gets more complex, the IT applications and systems that support it need to do the exact opposite — become simpler and easier to use.

Evolving expectations

Enterprise applications are hugely powerful and yet are only as good as the information that resides within them. This means that employees of all ages at all levels of the business need to be comfortable and confident in using them in order to maximise the benefits. User resistance can be a big contributor to IT project failure and a lot of this comes down to a poor user experience of dated, clunky user interfaces. In order to get people using business applications you have to make interacting and engaging with them more satisfying.

In parallel to this growing business need, user expectations have irrevocably changed, having a direct impact on enterprise application development. This usability evolution can be attributed largely to the internet where any solution has to be so intuitive that it can be used without prior training or knowledge, and the phenomenal uptake of social and online media. After all, one of the key reasons for installing enterprise software is to simplify the running of business processes so that decision making can be improved.

Usability traits

In order to better understand what users were looking for from enterprise applications, IFS recently commissioned a global study* carried out by IDC, which found that less than a third of companies find their enterprise applications intuitive and easy to use. The study examined the importance of usability and flexibility in enterprise applications among companies in the USA, the UK, Germany, France, Benelux, Scandinavia and India.

The survey, based on interviews with C-level respondents in seven different industries, verified that usability and flexibility are important considerations when evaluating enterprise application software. The most notable findings were:

  • Less than one third (29 per cent) find their enterprise applications intuitive and easy to use
  • More than half (60 per cent) consider some tasks a waste of time when using the enterprise applications
  • Almost half (45 per cent) expect noteworthy business changes to take place within the coming 12-24 months and 82 per cent of these respondents believe their business applications need modification to support these changes
  • 44 per cent believe their enterprise applications have a negative impact on business agility

Adapting to our environment

Enterprise software vendors need to embrace the design, look and feel of the consumer applications that are proving the most popular. In July this year, IFS launched IFS Touch Applications in response to the growing needs of a mobile workforce. IFS Trip Tracker and IFS Notify Me for example, enable customers to submit their travel expenses and approve purchases ‘on the go’ from any Android device or iPhone.

Enterprise applications across the board have to evolve and continue to get easier to use. The internet has set the standard for usability and only by embracing this will enterprise players increase ROI and speed up adoption.

Rob Stummer is the managing director of IFS Australia and New Zealand.

The IFS survey was conducted in March and April 2011 and consisted of 1244 completed telephone interviews with C-level respondents in companies with 100 Million USD or more in annual revenue. The interviews were carried out in Benelux (56), Scandinavia (301), France (102), Germany (102), India (216), UK (200) and USA (267) across all industries excluding financial services and the public sector.

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