Digital transformation is changing the way people live, but it’s also changing the way people do business. To remain competitive, businesses are making changes and introducing new technologies that reduce cost, create new revenue opportunities and improve the customer experience.

In complex industrial settings realizing digital transformation can be a challenge. Asset-intensive businesses and complex field service operators should apply technology very differently than other sectors.

Digital transformation depends on usability

Usable systems engage people. To realize digital transformation, highly usable enterprise software is needed. A consumer application like Facebook is sticky to the point where it is hard for many users to stay off it, and once they are on, they can lose track of time. Without this engagement, even a firm mandate from senior management to use a system of record will not always be successful in ensuring that information critical to the enterprise winds up in a central repository used to make corporate or board-level decisions.

A recent usability survey commissioned by IFS and covering more than 200 industrial users of enterprise resource planning (ERP), field service management and enterprise asset management looked at how enterprise software usability affects the ability of these industrial organizations to digitally transform their operations. The study found that respondents who said their enterprise software prepared them well for digital transformation were more likely to report the software was very easy or somewhat easy to use (Figure 1).

Usability is about more than the interface. Respondents and industrial workers, in general, want their software to deliver enhanced usability by offering better integration between modules and by making it easier to align the software with changing business needs.

FIGURE 1. Survey responses show that readiness levels for digital transformation are higher where the enterprise software is very or somewhat easy to use. (Source: IFS)

Does Excel run production?

When ERP fails to deliver the usability a company’s employees require, they find a way around it by using another system. The IFS study found in situations where enterprise software usability was poor, a sizable majority of respondents (88%) said they would be likely to use spreadsheets instead of their ERP system, with 84% citing Microsoft Excel (Figure 2).

If ERP in a business stands for “Excel runs production,” it is missing out on the key benefits that an enterprise solution is designed to deliver, including increased visibility, governance and control. If employees can bypass an ERP solution, the processes are distributed in far-flung and disconnected spreadsheets. Determining how information and value flow through a company will be a challenge. In addition, users will experience a higher risk profile than those with agile, effective enterprise systems.

FIGURE 2. In situations where enterprise software usability was poor, 88% of respondents said they would be likely to use spreadsheets instead of their ERP system, with 84% citing Microsoft Excel. (Source: IFS)

Poor software usability drives away best employees

As complex industrial organizations seek to evolve, there are several things that can hold them back. Poor enterprise software may not support their developing operation, and this lack of enterprise software usability can cause talented managers to leave for greener pastures.

The study found that on average 26% of respondents said they were definitely or somewhat likely to change jobs over poor software usability. However, the average tended to increase based on age—45% of the 36- to 45-year-olds and 33% of the respondents in the 46- to 55-year-old and 56-plus categories said they were definitely or somewhat likely to change jobs over poor software usability.

The younger demographics, the 18- to 35-yearolds, don’t always have the best understanding of enterprise software. Only 26% said they are definitely or somewhat likely to change jobs over poor software usability. This may also be because they are not secure enough in their profession at this stage in their career or because they are dealing with relatively straightforward elements of enterprise software such as work orders, field service technician interfaces or engineering change orders.

This is interesting when compared to the older and more senior-level employees. When let down by poor software usability, the research found that 45% of mid-career and senior executives would leave for other organizations. Poor usability sends the skills, knowledge, business connections and creative capacity out the door, leaving a business with a pool of employees who are lacking experience in these areas (Figure 3).

FIGURE 3. About 40% of survey respondents indicated they would speak up about usability issues if ERP software is difficult to use. (Source: IFS)

Losing the movers and shakers

Another piece of recent research showed a lack of talented employees is one challenge businesses face in pursuing digital transformation. More than one-third of companies (34%) felt either slightly or totally unprepared to deal with digital transformation due to talent deficiency.

Highly usable enterprise software facilitates digital transformation. And professional, ambitious people demand usable, agile software that helps rather than creates a barrier as they work to drive value. The ability to digitally transform depends on talented people, so enterprise software usability is essential for digital transformation.