(Procurement) Apps: Simple vs. Simplistic.

by Bertrand Maltaverne

Simple is beautiful.

Simple opens possibilities.

Simplistic is frustrating.

Simplistic is limiting.

A tentative of definition for simplicity

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de Saint Exupéry

The quote above is, by far, the best definition of simplicity I have found.

It is true, inspiring… and simple.

Icons of simplicity

Simplicity is a design feature. Some brands are icons of simplicity:

  • Google
  • Apple
  • B&O

The products they sell are great examples of simplicity from the design and usage point of view. They hide the complexity to the user so that the use of the product is intuitive and natural. Which in itself is quite a complex thing!

The infamous gap between professional and personal apps

If enterprise software is characterized as “more,” consumer software is characterized as “less.” — Harvard Business Review in “Make Enterprise Software People Actually Love.

But the thing is that the brands I mentioned above are mostly related to products we use in our personal life (B2C). When you look at the applications we use at work… This is another story! They are very often crowded with icons, buttons, and features.

Pro apps… Sounds familiar?

This can easily overwhelm a user.

The question is why is that so?

There are several explanations among which:

  • Professional use is done in a context that is more complex than what we are doing in our personal lives; therefore apps reflect that.
  • The “selling-buying” process related to professional apps is done between experts, meaning without the app users. Therefore, “buying” experts look for the app with the most bells and whistles while the “selling” experts want to demonstrate how complete / rich their app is versus the competition.
  • There is a false feeling that “more options / more features = more freedom” but is that really true?
TED talk from B. Schwartz
  • The selection of an app with the most features and capabilities is also often a way for companies to cope with the lack of standardization of their processes. Therefore, they look for a “Swiss army knife” that will be adaptable / customizable to the various use cases.
  • Or, believe it or not, this is something I have heard more than once from fellow Procurement practitioners, the solution / process is complex (=broken) on purpose! The more complex the less people will use the app which can be translated into fewer expenses. Call that “cost avoidance”…
Dilbert on broken processes; broken by design.

What can be done to foster simplicity?

  • Demonstrate empathy! Put yourself in the shoes of the end-user and determine what HE truly needs. New features, new modules can be added after a certain time once the basics are secured (think “learning curve”). This is difficult when you only talk to experts of the domain; invite “normal” end-users to some workshops to see how they react and to understand what they really need!
  • Hide complexity when you can not kill it! In business processes, there are many many steps or datas that are required (purchasing taxonomy, GL accounts, cost centers, SIOs…). Avoid, as much as possible to put the burden of entry and determination on the end-user shoulder! It will slow him down, or he will enter whatever works; maybe not the correct data! Tools can help to assign taxonomy codes behind the scene, without any (or limited) actions from the end-user.

There is value in being simple

Simplicity is not solely a design tenet linked to building aesthetically pleasing apps. The value of simplicity relates to maximizing adoption and usage.

In a period where digital transformation is a must for many functions, and Procurement is at the top of the list, then both app/solution makers and the people in charge of selecting and implementing such tools should really put simplicity at the forefront of their approach.

“The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”

— John Maeda in The laws of simplicity.

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