You’ve heard the complaints: your systems are too clunky, slow, have too many steps, and they take too long to execute everyday transactions.

The dialogue plays out probably hundreds of times a day in offices throughout the world: users complain about to-hard-to-use systems and their IT departments tell them they just don’t know the right way to use them.

This can be a big problem, but costs and other impacts are not easy to measure. A rough estimate can be had by extrapolating the lost time per user across the enterprise.  A 15% hit to people’s productivity because the systems they use slow down their work actually means you need 1.176 people to do the work of one person.

Extrapolating this, if you have a 500-person organization, an equivalent of 88 of those people are needed only because you have sub-optimal systems.  As convincing as this seems, it’s hard to get the money to improve systems based on this argument. With perfectly-efficient systems, you wouldn’t actually need 88 fewer people because the sum of wasted time is across all 500 people.

What do you do? Two relatively low-cost options are user interface (UI – what you see when you look at the screen) tools and mobile applications.

UI Tools: There is an active market for these, which are intended to be used with widely-deployed ERP systems like SAP and Oracle. These solutions modify or enhance the system’s UI for simplified navigation and a more intuitive feel, and may combine several steps in a transaction or query into one, like an Excel macro.

One company marketing UI solutions (Winshuttle) claims to “turn everyday SAP users into heroes who transform the way their companies work.”

Solutions like this are only relevant for those companies that have full control over their systems environments – companies that own their own “instance” of the ERP system, versus those who use a SaaS ERP or one that is shared across many different business units. This is because you’ll need access “under the hood” to configure these tools.

Mobile: A shortcut (sometimes) to simplified ERP transactions is via mobile applications. A mobile application, out of necessity, must have minimal steps involving minimal data entry. No one wants a Windows version of the ERP system on their 5-inch smartphone screen.

This forces the software to consolidate steps in the transaction and pre-populate fields with user data and settings. If a given ERP transaction involves 5 or 6 steps on a desktop it will likely require only 2 or 3 steps on a mobile device.

Several of the large ERP vendors already have mobile versions of the most frequently used transactions, such as purchase orders and purchase order approvals.

You can always design your own mobile applications (there’s no shortage of people creating new smartphone apps), and doing so can lead to some very creative results that have a huge impact on user morale.