In the broadest sense, user friendly software is something you might find appealing in terms of how a particular software for construction looks and the ease of navigating the menus, entering data and accessing information.
But behind this simple explanation lie many subtleties that escape most users when evaluating construction software, including construction accounting software and project management software, for its user friendly characteristics. Keep in mind that user friendly is something that can vary from person to person.
Here are 10 issues to look at in determining whether the construction software you are considering for your construction company is really designed to be user friendly. Once you have nailed down this aspect of the software you are considering, you have performed a very important component of the evaluation process.
You are a universe of one
No two people are going to rate everything they see the same. What one person may find an easy to understand a cost to complete report , another may find confusing or counterintuitive.
Does the screen seem to flow logically from step to step and focus on what’s important to you or is it cluttered with a lot of information not relevant to you?
Number of clicks
How many mouse clicks are needed to see all relevant data information screens for, say, inventory information? It’s nice to have lots of detail to look at but only if it can be accessed efficiently.
This aspect of the construction software is often overlooked by prospective buyers. Is there comprehensive, easy-to-find content that explains how the system works with easy- to-follow graphic examples? Does the documentation look like it was written by someone who understands a construction operation or by a programmer or technical person? When was the documentation last updated?
Are the menus organized methodically in a way that relates to the way you do things, e.g. from job transaction entry to posting to the job ledger and then the general ledger? Can you easily understand how to create, adjust or void a progress bill?
Ease of entry, void, correction of transactions
This is the meat and potatoes part of the system. How fast and fluid is data entry? How easy is it to correct a prior field if you entered something wrong? Is there a one-step void capability to reverse transactions or do you have to do a manual adjustment? When does the program validate data -- field by field or only after running a batch report?
Search, find functions for transactions
Can you do a simple table query to grab data from multiple files for special purpose lookups using a standard query language? Can you create, save and name these searches for subsequent use?
Search and find documents
Can you file documents, associate them with transactions (e.g. a subcontractor invoice with an inventory receipt) and do an indexed search by subject matter to find them or do you have to know exactly where you saved it?
No. of steps to post
How many steps are involved in posting a transaction from sub ledgers like accounts receivable or accounts payable to customer/ vendor files and then to the general ledger?
Is it easy to personalize user menus to just show functions they need? Can it be changed subsequent to initial setup?
User friendly is a loosely used term when talking about construction software and justifiably so. It tells you not only how easy or cumbersome the software might be to operate, but also makes a powerful statement about the vendor and the care in developing the product.
Proper training can make unfriendly software more friendly. Bear in mind that no one learns how to use a spreadsheet or complex word processing program in a day or two. Any construction accounting or construction project management software requires proper training and a ramp up period for staff to become completely comfortable using it.
The difference between friendly and unfriendly can also depend on the attitude of the user as well as the quality of the training and the environment used to deliver the training.