Buyers aren't always users

At The Company we've just been introduced to a new expenses system. This system for raising personal and business expenses has been deployed to replace the ageing paper-orientated process that existed before it. The old system necessitated the completion of an Excel sheet which was then printed, receipts attached and sent to Accounts Payable. The problem was that these were invariably untraceable. However, as an end user-experience it was pretty straightforward: use the most up-to-date template, complete, print, sign and send.

The new version is horrendous. This clunky piece of enterprise software (HRMS) sits on a preexisting bit of Oracle kit which manages a host of HR operations. Everything from logging an absence to checking your payslip and updating emergency contacts. For reasons of confidentiality I can't show you screens sadly but suffice to say it is a complete dog's dinner with some of the worst usability I have ever encountered. What's more, the launch of the new expenses system was preceded by a compulsory Flash-based training program. What's that old adage "if it needs instructions, it doesn't work" ?

I'm not denying that the old system needed reform to ensure service levels, audit and security were improved but at the expense of the end user?

What this exposed was the general piss-poor quality of enterprise solutions. Jason at 37signals' blog, Signal vs. Noise, posted a timely article today based on Khoi Vinh's Subtraction piece which highlights and tries to explain some of the failures of the expensive solutions. Essentially the suggestion is that it's not the end-users that are specifying, buying or deploying this junk, it's aspirational senior management who have been persuaded by a round of golf, a night at Spearmint Rhino and a good price to buy what's on offer.

I really wish you, and the people that buy this stuff, could actually see the end result. In a tight, cost and efficiency environment where every member of staff needs to behave as if the business was their own it would do these buyers good to understand the value of their purchase; As Jason so succinctly puts it: "There’s no camouflaging value when the buyer is the user".

(Oh, and we're forced to use Lotus Notes too, but don't get me started on that.)

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