Many enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications are too difficult to use, and so force up implementation costs by as much as 15 per cent, according to analyst firm Forrester Research.
Forrester investigated ERP applications from 11 leading vendors. It examined how easy it was to complete three routine tasks: changing a user's security profile, altering the organisational hierarchy and downloading a patch from the customer support site.
The results were less than stellar.
"Overall, the usability of these products is not acceptable for the amount they cost," said Laurie Orlov, research director, Forrester.
Orlov explained that such poor usability meant firms were spending between 10 and 15 per cent of their overall implementation budgets on training users. And if systems are not user-friendly, businesses risk wasting their money on unused technology.
"It is a buyers' market now, and buyers should exercise their powers by demanding more intuitive systems.
"Having paid so much for the apps, users should be demanding the sort of intuitive design of something like PowerPoint," she said.
But users remain sceptical about the practicalities of reducing levels of training. Given the current IT skills of the workforce, introducing any change will necessitate training, said Ronan Miles, chairman of the UK Oracle User Group.
"No user interface is intuitive. It's a case of what you're familiar with," he said.
"What companies need to consider is the quality of the training they use, striking a balance between the costs and how quickly they get staff up and running," he added.
Many vendors have rejected Forrester's criticism, arguing that the tests failed to reflect end users' experience.
"When looking at usability, I tend to focus on the user community banging records into systems. The tests they've chosen appear to be ones for technical staff," said Thane Jensen, services automation product manager at PeopleSoft UK.
But improvements in usability may be some time in coming. Most vendors have undergone major changes in their products, moving from a client-server to an internet architecture.
Having very little code on the workstation has made it more difficult to incorporate features such as drag-and-drop functionality.
This is changing with newer releases, noted Jensen.
"Vendors spend a great deal of time examining usability, and we are increasingly seeing improvements," he said.
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