Is Enterprise Business Losing Patience with Technology Requiring User Adoption?

In mid December, 2013, Avon Corporation formally decided to abandon a substantial technology project — to build a new order management system, with SAP software, for its field representatives — despite an investment, to date, of approximately $125M USDs. In an article titled Avon’s Failed SAP Implementation Reflects Rise of Usability, Steve Rosenbush, Deputy Editor of NewsCorps’ CIO Journal notes “People who are accustomed to using simple, well-designed applications in their personal lives have no patience for disappointing technology at work.”

Mr. Rosenbush’s use of the term “disappointing” is worth some review. SAP, the contractor responsible for building this system, claims the system performs to plan, so what does Mr. Rosenbush mean by “disappointing”? I think Mr. Rosenbush is trying to convey a summary of the impression of the Avon user community in Canada, which provided the first test case for this new system. In this context I’m confident “disappointing” is synonymous with “counter intuitive” or “difficult to use.”

If I’m correct, then what we have in this example is a well publicized example of a substantial enterprise customer pulling back from the type of investment of time, resources and money required to convince personnel to use a new piece of software, or even a complete system. This work is usually called “user adoption” and almost always accompanies big systems after they are implemented. Since “user adoption” can take years to work, the price tag is often high.

In Avon’s case, according to published reports, the costs even amounted to staff replacement expenses, since personnel opted to leave the business, altogether, rather than comply with requirements to use the new system. So this news should be an important indicator for SAP’s competitors: Microsoft, Oracle, IBM of a clear limit on what enterprise customers will be willing to do, going forward, to motivate personnel to use systems — regardless of the theoretical value they can deliver to an organization.

With Mr. Rosenbush’s use of the term “disappointing” clarified, I’ll go on to say his point about usability, which takes up the remainder of his article, makes a lot of sense. “Usability” is actually at the core of many of the arguments for cloud computing and the BYOD phenomenon, AKA consumerization of IT.

Software Developers need to digest this news and build demonstrations of “usability” into their sales process if they hope to retain competitive position with enterprise customers like Avon.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved

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