When you think about the concept of digital transformation, it is hard to ignore what Amazon has done for their customers. Amazon has created a fundamental shift in an entire industry. They also transformed the perception of consumers about what service is. Amazon gets 189 million unique visitors per month. Those visitors spent 136 billion (with a B) dollars on Amazon in 2016. It is a compelling story, so compelling that the entire model and the customer’s interaction with it has become known as the Amazon Experience, which in our vernacular, is now a synonym for great customer service. Once a customer gets a taste of what a transaction on Amazon is like, the bar is immediately raised for every other company.
Not Just for Customers
I see many companies thinking about how to replicate this customer experience for their own customers. Managers regularly say, “We want to be the easiest company in the world to do business with.” It is probably safe to say that the foundation of most modern e-commerce strategy has at least some influence from Amazon. I have even heard the statement, “We want to be the Amazon of [insert vertical name].” In the never ending pursuit of the perfect customer experience, it is easy to overlook an obvious application of the Amazon Experience, the internal customer.
While our e-commerce platforms keep getting easier to use for the customer, our employees are still working in the same, clunky ERP systems with the very typical “corporate” look and feel. These systems typically lack the ability to be intuitive. They also love to accept faulty input. Finally, the transaction speed is much slower than what your users are accustomed to when they shop at home.
The Workforce is Changing
It may even be worse. Today, you can still get away with this, but not for long. 63% of the U.S. workforce is made up of Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers. These folks as a group would tend to have a much lower expectation of how intuitive, fast, and easy a computer system should be. After all, Boomers (born 1946-1964) witnessed the inception of the computer age, marked by the punched card and the vacuum tube. Generation X (my generation, born 1965-1980) had more exposure to the computer. However, for the longest time we were working with green screen and green bar paper kicking off of our dot-matrix printers.
The other 34 percent of the workforce are different. They were born after 1980, and grew up in the age of the Internet. I am of course referring to Millennials. I would also include the post-Millennial generation, who are already graduating high school and beginning to get into the workforce. The youngest Millennials are about to graduate from college, and their expectations of technology and how it should work are dramatically different. Technology is not a novelty for them, it is a staple, a way of life. The tolerance for clunky, slow, traditional user interfaces is dropping like a stone.
Appealing to the Internal Customer
This is not a call to action for replacement of your ERP system. Rather, this is a recognition that in our quest to provide utopia for our external customers, we need to spend some time on our internal customers too. There are 2 major drivers of this in my view:
- The Millennial Generation has a different view of how their experience and interaction with technology should work. They are a very intelligent generation, easily the most educated to ever enter the workforce. Given the proper resources, they likely will work faster and more efficiently than their predecessors ever could. Having the right tools available, and making sure those tools are simple and intuitive is an important part of employee retention. This generation will be less tolerant of substandard technology. They are much more likely to seek a work experience that feels like shopping on Amazon. They are far less likely stay in an inefficient, clunky technology situation. Embrace it, it’s not a fad; it is a new normal.
- The reality of real wage inflation is upon us. Slowly but surely, the wage inflation rate is creeping up toward the band where we have real wage growth. For the last several years, we have seen very flat wages. The annual growth rates stayed the 1-2% per year range. That trend is beginning to move up; we are now in the 2.5% per year range. At this pace, we could expect to climb into the 3.5-4% per year range within 12-18 months. To counteract this inflationary effect, companies will have to become more productive on a per-employee basis. This means that the same number of people will need to be able to handle a higher transaction load. This additionally means we need more automation in our systems. Our ERP software must have lower requirements for human interaction with the system. It must be fully rooted in management by exception.
What, Where, When and How I Want it…
Now is the time to assess your systems and look for ways to simplify and automate. Eliminate the keypunch and replace it with OCR, EDI, and data imports. Use any means to reduce the need of having your people doing menial tasks. As you extend the functionality of your systems, spend time making sure that the internal user has an intuitive and efficient experience. Don’t require 4 fields of data when 2 will suffice. Anticipate the user’s actions whenever you can. Make it very easy for your users to do the right thing. In the long run, this will pay huge dividends. As you see your top line growing, your overall wages could remain constant. At the very least, the should be increasing at a significantly slower rate.
If you don’t believe me, think about your website. 5 years ago, people were not really talking about the concept of responsive web design. Now, if you are not on a responsive design, your ranking on Google will take a hit. What is the basic idea of responsive design? “I want to view this website when I want to, where I want to, and on the device I want to. Further, the site should be just as easy to navigate whether I am on my laptop or my cell phone.” Like the Amazon Experience, this attitude toward technology and its ease of use are going to rule the day.
Wrapping it up
If you are considering a change to your ERP system, then you definitely want to be thinking about these issues when making your choice. For the rest (and probably the vast majority), and ERP changeover for the purpose of streamlining the user experience is probably not the way you want to go, and it may not be the way you should go, given the cost and resources involved in such an endeavor. That said, if you are sticking with your current system, take a hard look at stripping out complexity. Automate some processes. Improve reports with some intuitive data visualization techniques. Finally, pay attention to ease of use for any projects you do that extend the use of your ERP system. There are always opportunities to improve just a little bit and make life for your users’ better.