Employees Refusing to Use Clunky Enterprise Software

Today’s tech-savvy workers won’t use IT’s desk-bound enterprise applications. They want mobile access to corporate data via intuitive interfaces.

Don’t look now, but many company employees are turning off their company-issued laptops and BlackBerrys. They prefer to use their personal devices—sleek, mobile and intuitive—rather than the company-sanctioned technologies perceived as outdated and hard to use.

This emerging trend hit me hard when Dan Matthews, CTO at IFS, an ERP vendor based in Sweden, introduced me to his company’s recent survey of 281 managers in manufacturing companies. In a nutshell, the survey says that managers are far less likely to use IT’s large, expensive enterprise systems (like ERP and CRM) if the application interface is difficult to use. And they expect to get the corporate information they want by using their iOS or Android devices to gain remote access to corporate systems.

Bypassing Big Systems

Being a bit tongue in cheek, IFS titled the presentation “Does ERP Mean ‘Excel Runs Production’?” referring to the tendency of managers—especially younger ones—to bypass the big enterprise systems by using spreadsheets and cloud-based apps to operate their business functions. Seventy-five percent of managers of all ages admitted to using an open-source tool or spreadsheet—or simply refusing to use the system—if the interface is hard to use.

The IFS study shows that there’s a disconnect between the way software behaves in employees’ personal lives and the way it behaves in corporate America. “Those who use Facebook, Amazon, Orbitz or other online functionality that is entirely intuitive may have a hard time understanding why it is so much more challenging to use the enterprise software functionality necessary to issue a work order or access key performance data,” the study says.

Even more surprising, the survey shows that managers are less likely to take a job at a new company if they can’t use cloud-based apps and connect their personal devices to the new company’s enterprise systems. Further, one-third to two-thirds of the managers (the number is higher among younger managers) say that they’re likely to change jobs if their employer’s corporate software is too difficult to use.

Moreover, today’s managers expect to be working at non-traditional hours—even on vacation. That means accessing enterprise applications and data via iPhones, iPads, or Android-based smartphones and tablets. They won’t carry a laptop, and they’re growing frustrated by the limitations (including insufficient apps) of BlackBerrys.

In the old days, IT would whip these defectors into shape. A simple call up the chain to the CIO, who would call the CEO, and lickety-split the cowboy manager is brought back into doing things the way IT designed them to be done. But today the defector is just as likely to be the COO, CFO or CEO. There’s no way for the CIO to complain about adhering to IT policies when fellow C-suite executives are the first to request easier access.

IT is going through a rapid market shift. Its old source of power with users—being the sole provider of technology—is rapidly eroding. Yet, IT is still expected to extract business value from costly enterprise systems. Unless IT moves quickly to implement service layers that will make these systems accessible the way users want, CIOs can expect declining use and more budget cuts.

Today’s winners are improving company performance by making enterprise applications accessible: mobile and easy to use. IT departments slow to make this happen will see their companies increasingly struggle to compete with more-agile competitors.

Adam Hartung is a consultant specializing in innovation and the author of the book Create Marketplace Disruption. Currently managing partner of Spark Partners, he is a former senior partner with Computer Sciences Corp. and a former executive at DuPont and PepsiCo. Contact him at AdamHartung.com.

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