What if Steve Jobs would have interfered with ERP?

Think of the following situation: The purchase department sends out a purchase order with 256 lines of different toys to a vendor. Considering the standard purchase lead times of the items, the purchase employee Alicia already knows that the ordered goods will arrive around December 27, too late for the Christmas shipments!…

“Creativity is just connecting things.” – Steve Jobs

…However, the vendor has anticipated on this kind of indecisive customer behavior, so he has built up a higher stock position. Vendor’s sales taker Susan sends the order confirmation that the goods will be at the customer site already on December 17.

Customers of the customer  
Children of the customers of the customer    
Now guess who is  ?

Indeed, the purchase employee Alicia who has to change 256 confirmed delivery dates line by line manually! In the purchase order, she switches to header view, and on the fast tab Common she enters the contact Susan, and the vendor reference (sales ID). Then Alicia switches to the line view to enter a confirmed delivery date in each individual purchase line. While changing the confirmed delivery date on purchase line 128, she’s happy to be half way through…

This example clearly illustrates that a task “Enter vendor reply” may be atomic (undividable) in the eyes of the user. However this data has to be entered on different screens and tabs in AX. Let’s take a closer look at the causes:

Focus on NEW

Since the early days of ERP, many changes are feature driven. Adding a new feature seems more important than improving existing functionality.

Even within the entities in the ERP system, this focus on new is visible: In a couple of cases, e.g. when you enter a new item, new customer or a new order, AX has a convenient “create screen” where the most relevant data is entered. However, when you want to add information to an existing item, customer, order etc. there is no central entry screen. All data has to be maintained at the place where the information is stored according to the tables in the data model, so the user has to go through many screens and tabs to enter the additional fields.

Focus on functional areas

In a typical ERP implementation, there is a shift towards defining and entering data earlier in the process. This will improve the quality and predictability of the process steps thereafter. This means that the employee who enters the data initially, needs to go through multiple functional areas, and more screens with each new version of the ERP system you’re using. Think back to the last time you entered an item, including the purchase data, logistical data, sales data and finance data and you understand what I mean.

In my opinion AX 2012 means a giant leap by the extensive use of icons, and combining functional data into logical ribbon tabs and fast tabs. If you know for which functional area the information is used, you can imagine on which ribbon tab you have to enter the data. Entering a new entity such as an item, a customer or an order is made easier with a dedicated entry screen. Some update processes on existing orders tend to be neglected, though.

Entering the reply from the vendor into AX consists of different types of data, which will serve different functions. Hence, the information from one source (the order acknowledgement e-mail from the vendor) has to be spread over multiple fast tabs in multiple field groups.

Optimizing the “enter vendor reply” process by means of a new single entry screen, will certainly improve the user experience, even though there is no new functionality added.

At HSO, we consider the user experience as very important (it goes without saying that the enter vendor reply functionality is part of the HSO Business Platform).

We do not purely focus on new functionality. Just like Steve Jobs combined existing functions into one device, we try to make the smile on the user’s face a little bit bigger by combining data entry fields for an atomic task into one screen, together with the information needed.

We do not know the final answer to the question “what if Steve Jobs would have interfered with ERP”. Fact is that Steve Jobs did not launch an ERP system. Maybe he stayed away from ERP because it tends to be rather specific, difficult to predict, not very sexy.

From my personal point of view: for all new and adapted functionality that we imagine, invent, describe, build, test, rework and implement, it’s worth asking yourself what if Steve Jobs would have interfered with ERP….

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