What do workers turn to when enterprise software disappoints? According to a forthcoming IFS survey, Excel spreadsheets PHOTO: Doug Geisler

How do you react when your company's software is too clunky to use? 

If you are one of the people IFS North America surveyed for a forthcoming report, you turn to Microsoft Excel. 

The report, whose working title is "Enterprise Software Usability and Digital Transformation," found a sizable majority of respondents — 88 percent — would abandon the software and create a workaround with alternative software. And the alternative software for 84 percent of that group was Microsoft Excel.

That data point is surely happy news for Microsoft, but is also telling for any company pushing itself and its people to a digital environment.

Too Much Excel

Basically, says Charles Rathmann, senior marketing communications analyst for IFS North America, if your employees are using an inordinate amount of spreadsheets to get their jobs done that is bad news for your digital transformation.

As a provider of enterprise resource planning software, IFS clearly has a stake in these results, but employee workarounds (a.k.a. Shadow IT) are a concern for every organization. 

"The problem is, you implement software in the first place to have a consistent way of doing business so using spreadsheets defeats that purpose,” he told CMSWire. “It changes the stream of value and it becomes impossible to replicate when transitioning to a digital environment."

To be sure, Excel is a staple for most business users, particularly popular among the 18 to 35-year-old set. They learned to use Excel in high school and in many cases automatically turn to it. Indeed some workers will tell you that the only way they will stop using Excel is when their managers pry it out of their cold, lifeless hands.

Unfortunately for them, no matter what the reason is for an overuse of spreadsheets, if substantial work activities are taking place outside of an enterprise system, that becomes counterproductive. The same could be said for the ad hoc use of email. As for Excel in particular, IFS found that when Excel is used too much in a company’s workflow, it experiences a higher risk profile than those with agile, effective enterprise systems.

"Changes in business process flows and value streams in enterprise software may not carry over into actual practice in the business," it said in its report.

As it happens spreadsheets are just one sign of an enterprise system that is poorly suited for a digital environment transition.

Signs Your Enterprise System Isn't Up to Snuff

Your People Are Leaving

Another sign your enterprise system is a has-been — or at least isn't ready for the digital environment — is your churn.

IFS found when software usability is poor, respondents would take a number of corrective steps, up to and including changing jobs. 

“The youngest cohort of 18 to 35-year-olds are on the one hand digital natives with high expectations of software usability,” according to the report. On the other hand, it continued, many are not secure enough in their careers to leave a job over software — although a surprising 26 percent told IFS they were definitely or somewhat likely to change jobs over poor software usability. 

The bad news is 45 percent of the 36 to 45-year-olds said they were definitely or somewhat likely to change jobs over poor software usability.

Finally, amongst the 46 to 55-year-old and over 56-year-old cohorts, 33 percent of the respondents said they were definitely or somewhat likely to change jobs over poor software usability.

This latter group, Rathmann said, is most likely to realize the software cannot further their career or help them make their numbers — and they know they have options. "So they go."

Execs Hesitate to Try Something New

Company execs intuitively know when undertaking a new business model or idea is more trouble than it is worth because the system is too inflexible to properly support it. So they forgo it. 

This, indeed, is the most glaring sign that something is amiss and the system will make a poor platform for a digital environment, Rathmann said.