The Ever-Changing World of the ERP Interface

I have seen a lot of evolution in ERP interfaces. My first ERP was ASK manman. Back in those days the user interface was ASCII codes you had to type in to get from one screen to another. Over the years, ERP vendors moved toward drop-down, hierarchical menus as a default access scheme. These were useful and mimicked Microsoft interfaces so they were familiar to most of us.

The problem with drop-down menus within ERP interfaces is that you had to step sequentially through a menu to get from one screen to another. This might mean a half dozen time-wasting keystrokes to move from the screen you were using to the one you wanted to use next. The ERP vendors developed work arounds to help us. If you knew the code for the next screen, you could type it into any screen and move with one step and skip past the menus. We also started opening several sessions at the same time. We might have several of our commonly used screens open at the same time in different sessions. Other vendors allowed the use of a right click on the mouse to short cut to a new screen. All these worked and we were able to get our jobs done. But this is where “ever-changing” becomes an exaggeration. For many years, ERP interface innovation was stagnant at the best of times. But 2013 has seen the resurgence of innovation in interfaces.

Social, Configurable, Mobile, Workflow Interfaces?

This year, we have seen a rise in social interfaces being used. These typically target individual engagement with tasks and fellow employees within the ERP system, with software giants such as Infor getting in on the act. They are stylish and they surely will help vendors sell their ERP systems to a new generation of users. I plan to wait and see if they bring any truly improved functionality to ERP.

Many systems are now moving to a configurable ERP interface model, the “dashboard” as people love to call it these days. I confess, I like the ability to semi customize screens in most ERP’s today. A vendor will offer many fields in a particular screen and all of these are used by some but rarely will any one business or role use all the fields. We can easily hide those we don’t use and we can change the label on those we do use to a tile we use every day in our business.

I also like the idea of workflows that some ERP vendors offer. These allow us to customize a series of screens unique to our business that lead to the completion of a task in a controlled way. An ERP offers a wide variety of inquiries and transactions but any one person will only use a selected few of these. Role-based workflows within an ERP interface ease training workloads and help control a to avoid process mistakes.

Several years ago I asked our IT to help customize an interface in a legacy code-based system. I wanted buyers to focus on only their assigned parts and vendors and to work sequentially from the oldest demand. This was primitive, but it led to significantly improved buyer performance.

There is little that has altered the destiny of the ERP interface as much as touch screen popularity. Touch screen ERP interfaces have been used in production areas and in the warehouse for many years, but these were often clunky. They cannot compare to the slick interfaces seen in many mobile applications of 2013. This is where the ERP interface will change in 2013, and with vendors such as SAP already jumpstarting the market with products such as Fiori, mobile ERP interfaces look to be a key USP for modern ERP systems. Imagine adjusting budgets with a swipe across your tablet rather than furiously tapping a poorly responsive screen manufactured in the 90’s. Imagine entering a cycle count with one hand while standing atop a ladder. Not sure what health & safety would say about that one, but you get the idea.

What we know for sure is that ERP interfaces look set to evolve at a rapid rate over the coming years and most of the time that evolution will make us more productive.

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Tom Miller

About the author…

Tom completed implementations of Epicor, SAP, QAD, and Micro MRP. He works as a logistics and supply chain manager and he always looks for processes to improve. He lives near San Francisco Bay in California and can be found on the water in his kayak or on the road riding his motorcycle. Contact Tom at customerteam@erpfocus.com.

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Tom Miller

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