Three dangers of a poorly-designed ERP user interface

Interestingly, while most folks don’t consider ERP user interfaces (UI) to be particularly critical, they are the most important component in any enterprise system.

If you think about it for a minute, what active system element interacts with every worker, every process, every database, and every internal utility?

Right - the UI does.

While the uneducated may believe that the front-end of a system represents the ‘most mundane of all process components’, they’re wrong; since every bit of information within is either created by, or delivered as a result of your ERP UI. Nevertheless, even experienced developers disrespect this kind of criticality; periodically producing interfaces that are neither effective in terms of performance nor easy to deal with at a practical level.

When these characteristics emerge trouble is right around the corner. So, while we’re talking about it, let’s take a look at three of the more glaring dangers related to a poorly designed user interface.

1. Operational failures

As suggested earlier, nearly everything related to data/information development within an ERP platform associates itself with the UI. However, while this implies a largely serially-based execution loop, even the simplest processes will fail if a UI is malformed, or misbehaves at a production quality level.

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For example, if you are using a form generator and you’ve produced a front-end that is cluttered, or its verbiage is unclear, the chance of having a worker make an entry error goes up exponentially. In addition, if the same UI has not been properly QA’d; that same worker may think that one thing will happen when another occurs, leading to cascades of failure until the situation is resolved.            

2. Unexpected support costs

Since it is acknowledged that your ERP UI ‘touches’ everything, it stands to reason that if the utility interface fails, and remedial action is not immediately identified and resolved promptly, unexpected costs are likely to go up. So, if a basic UI is badly designed, any spontaneous failure costs can silently continue to mount, until the failure complex is so large that it cannot be denied. By then, however, costs may be out of control, triggering even bigger problems for developers, managers, and ultimately, the overall enterprise itself.  

3. Declining sales efficiencies

While most considerations associated with the UI suggests internal interaction, the same kinds of design failures apply in the case of customer-facing components. In this case, the rubber hits the road when sales folks can’t communicate with customers, either due to confusion related to the UI’s form, or due to QA problems at a process trigger level.

Given the speed of today’s commerce, customers don’t particularly want to deal with balky or confusing interfaces when just around the corner, competitors are waiting to serve them instead. This kind of failed customer preference issue is typical, but at the same time is largely unidentified, since customers tend to simply move on to a next system option, rather than fight with an obstructive system, even if a long-term business relationship is damaged.

Unfortunately, these three impacts are just the tip of a potential iceberg. So if you’re taking a hard look at an ERP effort, be sure to investigate the UI in detail, otherwise you’re just asking for trouble.

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Rick Carlton

About the author…

Rick Carlton dba PRRACEwire, has worked as a tech journalist, writer, researcher, editor and publisher for many years. In addition to his editorial work, Rick has also served as a C-Level executive/consultant for a wide-range of private and public sector U.S. and International companies.

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Rick Carlton