As long as your business is smaller than a certain size software-as-a-service ERP makes all the sense in the world for a number of reasons. Cost, efficiency, scalability, multi-location benefits, mobility, even security are all factors to make you choose the online instead of the traditional approach.
Once that decision is behind you however the next step is to decide on which of the existing platforms you should adopt. A quick research might reveal that there are many solutions out there. Each has its own set of features, its own pricing, its own peculiarities overall.
Here’s the thing though: provided you’re not after a very specialized feature (and you shouldn’t be if you’re an small business), by this point down the evaluation path all the companies in your shortlist will seem rather similar or equal.
And your impression will be correct – because, and at the end of the day, all online ERP companies share their core functionality and differ in the extra, not so crucial features. So how do you decide?
Here’s an argument that you don’t hear often enough – usability. You would have thought it makes sense right? Still, people usually decide mostly on other reasons (number of features and cost for example) and they end up with something that takes a lot of time to learn, working with obscure menus, and generally resenting each day they see an ugly interface first thing in the morning.
It doesn’t need to be like that though. There are a lot of things you should be looking for when choosing an ERP vendor (or developing them if you are the ERP vendor).
First of all, the interface design should work. The layout itself needs to be self-explanatory and helping users navigate themselves through its many options. Usually this is in the opposite direction of pretty but it’s in the direction of helpful – and that’s more important.
Proper categorization of functionalities is crucial so that users don’t get lost in too much information. In fact, the design should revolve around the users and common tasks they have to do, not around whatever internal category of features the company offers. A lot of testing needs to have taken place to get this right – with real people – but when you do, it shows.
Help should be readily available – not on another window, a help file or a community section. Right in the website buttons and fields should explain what they do (see the AdWords interface and how much helpful information Google has crammed in it). Hovering the mouse on pretty much anything should show what you would otherwise need to look up in a FAQ – and disrupt you from your actual work.
Also, for beginners in the world of ERP or for users who just start on the company, game-like on-site tutorials or guided tours are an excellent way to get people familiar with the platform quickly. You should really offer that to your employees or your colleagues when choosing an ERP.
These are but a few of usability related items to keep an eye out for when deciding which ERP to use. Most vendors are not paying attention to offering a user friendly experience but as industry matures more and the feature sets converge, it will be whoever offers this ‘simple’ differentiating factor that will win the day.