Factoring Human Ergonomics into Procurement Software
The origin of the word ‘ergonomics’ can be traced back to the Greek words for “work” and “natural law.” Centuries before the advent of procurement software, studies of ergonomics explored the advantage of objects and equipment designed to work in concert with the body’s natural contours. By combining the defined purpose of an object with an understanding of how users will physically and cognitively interact with it, both utility and user experience are improved. Ergonomic design also emphasizes the value of visual appeal – even when it requires that we expand traditional notions of what characterizes ‘beauty.’
One of the critical lessons of ergonomics is that simple, functional designs can be just as beautiful as objects designed for their appearance alone.
This is in contrast to utilitarian designs, which focus only on an object’s practicality and usefulness. Despite the apparent disparity between ergonomic and utilitarian design, they are not opposites. In fact, there is often a progression from one to the other over time – even within the same design. This sort of evolution has been evidenced in procurement software through improvements in graphic display, more intuitive operation, and the inclusion of consumer electronics inspired user interaction.
Truly ergonomic design can only be achieved through a balance of form and function, and although we do not often think of ergonomics in this context, leaders in procurement software design recognize that visual appeal is as important as functionality – particularly when it comes to user satisfaction and adoption.
Striking that balance may require the development of procurement software that adjusts the functionality available to the user according to the task being carried out or the role they are in. The concept of ‘gradual disclosure,’ where the fields and data visible to a user change according to their actions and inputs, effectively eliminating ‘noise’ and distracting clutter, is one example of how companies like GEP are designing procurement software that is genuinely both powerful and easy to use.
Part of the increased ergonomics of procurement software design comes from increasingly graphical user interfaces. Users are no longer forced to suffer utilitarian, text dominated control screens. Strategically placed buttons, visual cues, and a preservation of sufficient ‘white space’ all combine to create a work environment that is as visually accessible as it is functionally effective.
The method of interaction that the user is required to employ to make sense of procurement software is equally important. Even the major competitors in the smartphone and tablet markets have sufficient similarities such that a dedicated user of one brand can pretty quickly learn how to use another without training. A swipe, a tap, or a hold-and-drag should all fundamentally achieve the same results and, more pertinent to the procurement practitioner, the omission of a mandatory data field should result in a gentle, guided reminder, not the complete reset of the process and loss of all the work completed so far. Such things seem obvious but much B2B software has still some way to go to match our present B2C expectations.
Whether with enterprise solutions or consumer electronics, most users assume solutions with more features and controls are ‘better’ than ones that enable only the most frequently used functionality. In a similar fashion, technology that is difficult to use is assumed to be ‘technically superior’ to more intuitive alternatives. These impressions and assumptions are often based on past experience with technology that was confusing and non-intuitive, emphasizing functionality over the user experience.
Despite what we have tolerated in the past, technology benefits from the same balance of form and function as other useful objects and equipment in our environment.
Painful enterprise-wide ERP implementations are no longer the only way to achieve large-scale automation and connectivity. With the right investment in ergonomics, powerful technology can still be simple to use and even beautiful.
Since this emphasis on visual appeal is relatively new in technology – especially enterprise technology – organizations must be aware that investing in design has both direct and indirect effects on their users. The direct effects are intended to make solutions easier to use with less direction and instruction. Indirectly speaking, visual design may also shape user perceptions of their own capabilities. Does the relative simplicity or complexity make them feel empowered or under-served? Challenged to rethink their choices or constrained to the point of diminished impact?
Despite the fact that achieving the desired balance of form and function is possible, it is no easy task. Technology must be simultaneously powerful and simple enough to foster a productive user experience. It needs sufficient functionality to demonstrate range and flexibility but not so much that its overall complexity subtracts from the user experience. At the same time, solutions that appear too simple or easy may not be taken seriously. Their appearance will not establish the credibility required to foster the belief that their use will lead to meaningful results.
Procurement organizations play a powerful role in the enterprise. We bring order to internal complexity and facilitate multi-step processes and changes in dynamic markets with transparency and stability. We need that balance between control and elegance, never allowing either visual appeal or total capability to win out over the other.
Making procurement software genuinely intuitive requires it to have both visual appeal and utility. Ergonomic solutions connect with users – demonstrating innate compatibility with how they work and think. Incorporating the right feature set to meet all regular functionality needs as well as the ability to expand into more strategic areas marks solutions as ‘design first.’
The success of any technology depends on how easy it is to implement and use. A software with powerful, comprehensive functionality but complex and difficult to use can rarely drive the expected efficiency and business results. Smart by GEP is pioneering example of what the user experience in the latest generation of procurement software can be.
SMART by GEP is as powerful and capability rich as it is easy to use. Powerful, complex, fully functional procurement software that is as any consumer product, with an intuitive, attractive interface and a rewarding user experience.