ERP User Experience: Managing Back Office in a Mobile World (Part One – The Challenges)

We live in a connected economy.  We live in a connected world.

We want our games, our movies and our friendships to be accessible on our phones and tablets.  Why wouldn’t we also want to be able to manage our work life on those mobile devices as well?

Answer: we do.

Most modern applications are designed from the ground up with mobile support in mind.  For these applications, security is designed around the idea that identity is the new perimeter (check out our Security blog entries for more about that). 

And, to meet today’s consumer expectations, modern applications invest a lot of dollars in the development of mobile-friendly user interfaces that utilize modern technologies, such as HTML 5 and other responsive technologies that provide a smooth and efficient user experience.

But, what about legacy applications? What about ERP systems released in the 90’s? 

These applications were usually designed to be accessed only from within the network, and typically only by a select few users using tailored client applications running on the desktop.

Those legacy systems are still being used by many companies to handle critical operations including human capital management, financials and supply chain. 

How can these applications meet the demands of the new connected world, where managing my work life via mobile is just as important as managing my personal life?

Before we talk about solutions, let’s talk about some of the usability challenges of exposing those applications to a mobile world.

Mobile Devices

Smartphones, tablets and all of the other evolving mobile device footprints vary in their features and specifications. And typically, their capabilities fall well short of the routine desktop computer sitting in your office or home.

How?

  • Drastically reduced screen size
  • Limited power and processing capabilities
  • Challenging data entry methods (virtual keyboard, etc)
  • Range of operating systems (iOS, Android, Windows, etc)
  • Lack of standard security models

Mobile Connectivity

Desktop computers typically rely on wired connections to a network. Those connections have historically been stable and reliable.

Mobile connectivity is far more more dicey and depends on local conditions that dictate reliability, bandwidth and consistency.

We’ve all had a game of Candy Crush crash because we moved into a cellular dead zone – haven’t we?

Don’t judge me.

And, like the phone games we love to engage in, ERP systems also typically rely on long-lived sessions and multi-step transactions that depend on stable connectivity and session persistence.

The End User

Historically, applications had been designed around technology-oriented interfaces. We get back to the old model of legacy applications being implemented for selected users via a dedicated user interface that maximized the user’s ability to get their job done.

Modern applications, with mobility in mind, take a user-oriented approach to interface development. When you push connectivity out to the mobile world, you need to be able to support end users with different levels of skills (self-service, admins, etc).

How do you provide a user experience that supports retirees, many that may have accessibility challenges, trying to access benefits information via a phone? How do you support students that want quick and easy access to course scheduling and performance reports? How do you provide a mobile user experience that allows managers and administrators to access application functionality required to perform back office tasks?

More to come on this topic. 

After all, challenges breed solutions.

In the meantime, please reach out to info@appsian.com (or just click on our little onsite chat helper that tends to hang out at the bottom right) to get more info on how Appsian can help bring ERP into the connected world.

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