January 16, 2003

Forrester: ERP Usability Sucks
Forrester analysts tried their hands at performing basic tasks in 11 different ERP software systems - you know, the systems that cost millions and millions of dollars. If you want to check out their findings, you can currently read a two-page brief on the Forrester site called "App User Interfaces Still Need Work" (if you register for guest access), and ZDNet has a short article on it as well which incorporates some additional quotes. Here are some excerpts and my take:

From the ZDNet article:
"Forrester analysts received no user training before testing the software. Companies typically invest in extensive training for their workers, spending between 10 percent and 15 percent of their project budgets on average, according to Forrester. However, the analysts tested what they thought of as "straightforward" tasks that shouldn't require training"

"Forrester receives many complaints from businesses about the poor design of ERP software, Orlov said. While such complaints aren't necessarily on the rise, Orlov said, in a depressed market for corporate applications, now is the time to improve the situation. "In a buyer's market, customers should be demanding better usability," Orlov said. The costs to businesses that use poorly designed software are huge, according to Orlov."

From the Forrester brief:
"While users invest trillions of dollars in enterprise software to supercharge productivity, boost customer satisfaction, and increase revenues, hard-to-use apps mean that users suffer decreased productivity and increased costs."

"Would anyone buy a Porsche if shifting gears required weeks of model-specific training and a lot of muscle? Just as shifting is basic in a sports car, so are these application-management tasks.

"Poor usability creates angry customers -- by driving up costs and squandering user productivity. To avoid this, vendors must perform scenario reviews on their apps and support Web sites. The next steps?
- Get outside help. Vendors should choose an accredited reviewer. The reviewer should follow a methodology focused on detailed design personas and perform lab and real-world testing.
- Prioritize fixes. Once problems are identified, vendors should prioritize based on importance to the user and the ease of fixing the issue."

My Prediction:
Until corporations learn to incorporate real usability measurements in their software evaluation processes, they will continue to buy expensive software that becomes shelfware, requires lots of additional training, and sucks productivity out of their businesses. Companies need to make usability a priority when talking to vendors: they need to ask when, how and if usability tests are conducted, they need to ask for test results (ideally reported by third parties), and they need to suggest that vendors add usability professionals to their staff. Until they do that, vendors will keep cranking out bloated featureware with horrible user experiences and steep learning curves.