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Thread: ERP's - Complexity comes with the territory?

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    ERP's - Complexity comes with the territory?

    Electronic Resource Planners seem to be both a blessing and a curse.

    They seem critical wherever you need to have multiple people co-ordinating the allocation of resources. How the heck was this achieved back in the days when all we had was pen and paper for the task?

    However, they seem incredibly complex to set up and clunky to operate. Even if we ignore the setup learning curve, my guess is it must typically take many days, perhaps weeks, to train a newbie to operate one without doing more harm than good.

    Does this complexity just come with the territory?
    Or is there going to be a breakthrough one day that will make ERP's far more intuitive?
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Gold Member irneb's Avatar
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    The trouble is most ERP's are designed as general purpose stuff. Thus their UI is complicated since they need to cater for every eventuality. I've previously made one specific for a company I used to work for: directly programmed in PHP on a local Apache server (intra-web) which basically gave everyone in the company access per their user login. The employees would use it as time-sheet entry, while the managers would input the estimated project requirements. But obviously this was specific to a service based ERP in that particular sector (Architectural Presentations, i.e. only one type of resource) - thus wouldn't work as simply for situations where goods needed to be accounted for or where several different work-types needed to be incorporated. It didn't even need any project planning per say - so no gantt chart.

    And what I've found throughout ... data is the major reason for ERP's failure / success. If the gantt chart isn't designed properly, or if the resources aren't accounted for correctly - the ERP is actually less than useless.
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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by irneb View Post
    I've previously made one specific for a company I used to work for: directly programmed in PHP on a local Apache server (intra-web) which basically gave everyone in the company access per their user login.
    That's essentially what we're doing. It works, but it has been a ton of work to get it to the point we're at, and we're still steadily adding and tweaking stuff. It feels like a mission that will never end.

    What bugs me most at the moment is the learning curve for any new user is uncomfortably steep. Kinda feel like I'm missing the elegant solution to that. But looking around at what's out there, it seems like all of them need some significant training before you can really let a user loose on them.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Gold Member irneb's Avatar
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    That's true. Especially when the original ERP has grown to incorporate more functionality. The UI suffers.

    The problem is that everyone thinks in terms of modular design when making these things - sounds like a good idea, but is actually quite detrimental. It means the user doesn't have a non-modal interface: "Where can I do this? There's no option for that here." ... "You need to open the other page over there." ... "But then I need to re-enter the data I've already done here." ... "Uhm ... yes ... well ..."

    The trick here is to design for the user ... NOT for the data structure. The user shouldn't even have a clue that the project is a separate entity related to his time entry. Thus it should be as simple as possible for them to enter their data - even just one switch from one page to the next should be avoided at ALL COSTS (else efficiency & accuracy is out the window, which negates the very reason for the ERP). This is the most difficult part of designing an ERP, and every single one I've tested before making that other one seemed to have copped out on this design principle.

    As an example: My current company's already got an on-line time-sheet system. This thing starts with a page, then requiring to click on Time entry opening a listing of all previous week's time entries. On this there's an "Add Time". Then on that there's an "add item". On that page there's an "add project", then back to add the hours per day. Then finally "submit". So effectively the user needs training in 5 different pages just to type in the time they worked on a particular project.

    When designing this system, keep in mind that each page is in effect a NEW program you need to teach each new user. So instead of teaching an ERP system, you're teaching them 10's (or even 100's) of little programs.

    Alternative is to try for automation as much as possible. But that's very specific to the tasks at hand. E.g. previously all the architectural work was done through AutoCAD, thus an AutoLisp addon would read the project folder to get the project number and time the work done in each file by each drafter. This could then be automatically entered into the time sheet database. At worst the user would open a program to check that all has been entered and add stuff like times in meetings / on site. Of course these days there are so many different programs in use that such would become impossible: I'd have to make such addons for AutoCAD, Revit, PhotoShop, 3dStudio, Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, SketchUp, etc. An yet I'd still not have covered all - e.g. what about the online document management stuff?
    Gold is the money of kings; silver is the money of gentlemen; barter is the money of peasants; but debt is the money of slaves. - Norm Franz
    And central banks are the slave clearing houses

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