Implementing enterprise resource planning software was once the preserve of large organisations with deep pockets and plenty of in-house resources. Today, the demand from mid sized companies for enterprise software to help increase efficiency and reduce costs has seen a range of smaller vendors coming into the ERP market.
They are challenging the large, traditional enterprise software vendors as they struggle to change their existing products to suite a more flexible, project centric market.
Enterprise business software as a product offering has matured to the point where functionality is available to accomplish most business tasks, and vertical industry specialisation is becoming more commonplace. However, enterprise software, in the main, is still complex and difficult to use.
In a recent survey, which polled 300 senior IT Professionals in the UK and the US, just under two thirds (64 per cent) were using their enterprise system’s core functions. About half said they didn't need all the capabilities while a fifth explained that they didn't make use of all the functionality due to lack of time to learn how to apply them.¹
Some enterprise suites have greater barriers to useability than others, and these structural barriers include:
• Multiple purchased products integrated into a suite, which forces users to learn many different interfaces and architectures rather than just one.
• Modules that do not facilitate easy flow of information between one part of the suite and others (from purchasing into finance, for instance).
• The applications are too disjointed, or the vendor’s business model does not allow for, an integrated enterprise application search tool.
• Convoluted architectures that will make it hard to evolve applications towards a more useable interface.
The last bullet point above may be the most problematic for some market players, because without a fully-developed service-oriented architecture (SOA), it may be necessary for a software vendor to fully redevelop their application just to simplify the user interface.
In some cases, vendors may chip away at the usability problem by selling additional products, like search tools that bolt onto an application. These tools not only bring additional license costs but typically require a significant integration effort to properly implement. This added expense may be difficult for mid market companies in particular to absorb, resulting in fewer companies using these technologies and therefore losing out on the benefits.
Functionality has become commoditised and the real differentiator between vendors and products will be the degree to which that functionality can be easily understood and used throughout an organisation.
Enterprise application users are becoming more accustomed to the highly simplified but very powerful applications they encounter on the web and want their enterprise tools to look and feel the same way. CIOs want to be able to surf their enterprises as easily as they surf the web.
As business becomes more complex, our software must become simpler. In the mid sized market, it’s only those software vendors that simplify and streamline their applications for useability that will survive. IFS launch their next generation web interface ‘Enterprise Explorer’ in August.
¹Accenture survey: www.cio.com May 15th 2009
Rob Stummer, Managing Director, IFS Australia and New Zealand
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