The buzzword these days in the ERP software industry is “Role Based”. If you open a brochure from any major ERP software vendor they all mention role based this and that and there are actually many advantages to role based user interfaces and hardly any drawbacks.
First let’s first find out what Role Based User Interface (RBUI) is.
In any organization all employees are each assigned a particular role. If you are working as an A/P clerk your role may be to pay vendors that have been approved for payment. If you are working in A/R your role may be to call clients that have past due balances. Or maybe you are a sales person and you work with the CRM system and sales quoting. As you can see all these different roles require access to different parts of the ERP system. The A/P clerk will not need to see sales quotes and the sales person doesn’t need to work on payments for vendors.
In the more traditional ERP software systems users may get access to a lot of areas they really don’t need but more important the user must actively go and look for information. See image below.
If I want to see customer invoices that are past due I would click Financial Management, Receivables, Reports and run the report Aged Accounts Receivable. After getting the report off the printer I will go through it and maybe even look up each past due invoice to see what it contains. Then I can start my collection efforts.
So I have to click and work quite a lot but what’s even worse I also have to know how to get there. That requires that I am trained and that I also remember how to do it.
This is how a lot of ERP software packages work today. I call this the traditional ERP user interface. Once you get used to it, you will probably say this works pretty great.
So now let’s see how the role based user interface handles the same scenario. Look at the image below.
In this user interface we are presented with the information right on the screen. We don’t have to go and look for it. I can click the pile of Overdue Sales Invoices (called a cue) and get to the invoices right away. I can get to all the needed area relevant to my role from the main screen. The user interface is presenting the information to me instead of me getting the information. So I get to the same information in the role based interface by clicking one time. Also, if the cue is empty I don’t have to do anything! You must agree that this is much simpler.
We also have access to our emails in Outlook, we can see all our most used customer and vendors and we even have notifications about things we need to do.
So this all sound pretty great, right? When we are working with a RBUI we can work much faster and more efficient? Well, in many cases we would be correct. If you are doing the same 4-5 things every day the RBUI can definitely help speed up your daily work. It is also much easier to work with and new employees can be trained much more quickly with the RBUI than the traditional user interface.
The issue comes up when you have to do something that is not something you normally do. If what you need to do is not on the front page, you have to go and look for it, just like in the traditional user interface. Another issue could be that you are wearing many hats within the company. You may have to do a little bit of everything or you may be a super user that really needs comprehensive access to all areas of the application. In that case you are really not able to build a decent RBUI without overcrowding it that will defeat the purpose of using RBUI in the first place.
So by simplifying the user interface we also lose some flexibility. If we need to do tasks outside of our normal role we have to approach this using the methods of the traditional user interface. We have to click our way to the right place. See image.
So the role based user interface is much easier to use than the traditional interface because we are presented with all relevant information and only if we have to do something outside of our normal role do we have to go look for information.