Desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones . . . what do all these devices have in common? They’re all accessing the same data through the same system, but each may have a different look and feel. The enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems of today have quickly become a Swiss army knife of systems, functions, and apps across all departments of the enterprise, from finance and human resources to manufacturing and inventory control. Whether you’re managing a legacy ERP system that may be on its last legs or in the process of evaluating or even implementing a new system, the ease of use and uptake of the system by employees is paramount.
This is where the lesson of Google’s recent design standard comes into play. It’s possible that as a developer or even as a chief operating officer you may be responsible for integrating Google Apps functionality into your ERP system, old or new, and if it’s not Google Apps, then it’s likely Microsoft Office, as there really are only two dominant choices today in the office productivity marketplace. The lesson to be learned here from both Google and Microsoft is that they have taken painstaking steps to ensure that the user experience is excellent and common across all their products and across all devices.
As strange as it may seem, it sure did take Microsoft an awfully long time to provide apps on the iOS platform for Microsoft Excel, Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint. Those products have taken off quickly and become quite popular. As much as it may have pained Microsoft to provide its software for a competing company’s operating system, it should have done it much sooner—both because it was inevitable and because Microsoft may not have lost existing customers to either Google Apps or the Apple iWork suite. The moral of this discussion is that when Microsoft did take this bold step, it ensured that the user experience was as close as possible to the experience on a Windows or Mac desktop or laptop.
And this brings us back to the fundamentals of Google’s Design Standard. If you’re going to have a customer base access your ERP data from multiple devices, a surefire way to frustrate them and lose them as users is to separate the design teams between mobile and desktop. Now, this may seem counterintuitive, because you likely have different sets of developers in your shop who have different skills, and you would naturally put them into different design teams when it comes to software development. Unless you’re careful, however, and have an overarching design standard in place, you’re likely to have products that have different user experiences, different buttons, and different color palettes, all of which contributes to confusion for users.
Take a look at the principles behind Google Design. If you’re not a product designer or manager, these concerns can get quickly become lost in the heat of feature requirements and deadlines, and you’ll be left scratching your head trying to understand the frustration of your users as they move between desktop and mobile devices. When you’re investing the kind of money and resources it takes to implement and maintain an ERP system, go that little extra mile and focus on the look, feel, and aesthetics of your platform. Unfortunately, features and functionality aren’t always enough at the end of the day. Look, feel, and usability are just as important and shouldn’t be afterthoughts in the design process. You’ll find these types of design standards at the center of the best hardware and software companies of the world: Google, Microsoft, and Apple. They’re worth emulating.
About the Author
Robert Fine is the publisher of The Social Media Monthly and The Startup Monthly. He has more than 20 years of experience with Conservation International, CMGI, Hughes Network Systems, ioWave, and Raytheon. Holding a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Villanova University and an M.S. in Environmental Science and Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University, Robert provides IT strategic consulting services to private and nonprofit organizations. Robert is a Studio Banalyst and tweets at @bobfine.