Traditional enterprise software vendors find it hard to change their existing products to fit a more flexible market which is why smaller vendors have entered to address the demand from mid-sized companies. THABO NDLELA explains how software must become simpler as business becomes more complex.
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software was once the preserve of large organisations with deep pockets and plenty of in-house resources. Today, a number of smaller vendors have entered the market to address the demand from mid-sized companies for enterprise software that helps them increase efficiency and reduce costs.
These players are challenging traditional enterprise software vendors, who are struggling to change their existing products to fit 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.
Some enterprise suites have greater barriers to usability 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 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, such as search tools that bolt onto an application.
These tools not only bring additional license costs, but require a significant integration effort to properly implement. This added expense may be difficult for mid-market companies 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 simplified but powerful applications they encounter on the web. They 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 usability that will survive.
* Thabo Ndlela, Director at IFS Africa
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