End-User Training: An Afterthought or the Key to ERP Success?

Implementing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is overwhelmingly seen as an IT project, but underestimating the importance of employee training has become the downfall for some.

Organizations invest in enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems as a way of making their operation more efficient. But any system—however complex and powerful—is simply a tool, points out Sarah Kirk, managing director at Optimum Technology Transfer, a specialist end-user training consultancy. It’s the way the system is used that brings the benefits, and that relies heavily on effective role-based employee training.

Implementing an ERP system is overwhelmingly seen as an IT project, but underestimating the importance of employee training has become the downfall for some. According to ERP Experts Online Forum in 2012, “ERP is 90 percent about people, process, culture, and politics, and 10 percent about IT. Misunderstand that and you are heading for failure.” And Training Journal warned in May 2012, “During business transformation projects (…) people are often an afterthought and allocated the fewest resources. This is a big mistake.”

Training Design

There are several routes you can take when deciding how best to train your employees. Some organizations opt for a “train-the-trainer and cascade” approach in which your system project team and “super users” train other users, either themselves or through in-house trainers if you have them. Others rely on the training provided by the software vendor. Handing over part or all of the project to a professional training consultancy is another option. Or you can use a combination of these approaches.

Whichever route you follow, early planning is crucial. The first step is to carry out a detailed training needs analysis—the who, what, when, and why—and then evaluate your available resources. The amount, type, content, and timing of the training are all key factors, as are the audience, delivery, and supporting documentation.

Software Context

IT training is most effective if it’s user focused and tailored to individuals’ roles. Most users need to understand how a new system works only in the context of how it affects them in their own job. If you make it too software specific and centered around the system’s functionality, there’s a “switch-off” factor. You lose the opportunity not just to get users’ early buy-in to the system itself but also to the new business processes and ways of working that are part of any ERP implementation.

In-House Approach

The train-the-trainer and cascade approach, in which super users and/or training departments play either a lead or supporting role, often is seen as an inexpensive way to train staff. But it can be a high-risk option if not planned correctly.

System super users are vital in sharing knowledge and can successfully train other users both before and after go-live. But feedback suggests that while super users are exactly that—extremely good at understanding and using the system—they may not have the communication skills to train others in a way they can relate to.

The super users’ involvement is also detailed and technical, so if they design and deliver the training without any professional input, it’s likely to become system driven rather than tailored to the employee’s role.

The same applies to the standard training offered by most software providers. And in both cases, when “techies” alone do the training, there can be a real risk of information overload!

Required Resources

Asking your super users or the system implementation team to handle the user training also adds to their workload just as they’re under mounting pressure to build, test, revise, and bring in a fully functioning system on time.

Designing and delivering successful user-focused, role-based training to a wide range of employees involves a serious amount of work. You need to make sure your training resources are robust enough to hold up because simply holding a few generic seminars won’t work.

A training plan must be developed, along with the content for all the courses. Reference guides, lesson plans, exercises, and e-learning all need developing. Scripts for the user acceptance testing have to be produced and data set up. Classroom training sessions need piloting, and all the documentation should be reviewed and quality checked. E-learning needs to be tested and hosted. Finally, all the classroom training has to be organized and then delivered no more than three weeks before go-live. Any earlier and much of the training is forgotten; any later and it can delay the go-live or end up being too hurried.

Professional Help

There’s mounting evidence that getting your end-user training wrong can come at a high price. Dr. Stephen Gourlay, Kingston Business School, wrote in his research paper, “Training for ERP Systems Implementation”: Poor or insufficient training has been identified as a cause of serious problems, if not failure, in some ERP projects, with additional post-implementation training required to rectify issues.”

It’s for this reason that more organizations are using professional training consultancies in a variety of ways, from managing the entire end-user training program to supplementing elements where they lack the expertise, resources, or just the time.

Training experts can provide support from the outset, giving vital planning guidance because they know where the pitfalls lie. Or they can come in as last-minute project “rescuers,” where their detailed knowledge of business systems allows them to design and develop training programs exceptionally quickly.

Optimum has been involved in every type of scenario. In one, 14 of our consultants worked alongside 27 trainers from the government’s Department for International Development to deliver 30 different role-based ERP systems training courses to some 2,000 staff in 40 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. At the other end of the spectrum, a single trainer was called in to write the system reference guides for a remote client who communicated entirely by e-mail.

There is also the issue of ongoing or “business as usual” training to consider. It doesn’t stop on the day of go-live. New joiners will need training, and the training courses and documentation all have to be updated as your ERP system evolves. Rollouts and system upgrades also mean additional end-user training.

Training’s Value

Today’s economic reality is that all budgets are being squeezed, but training is almost always under-valued and under-resourced. However, analyst Gartner Research identified in its study, “The Justification of IT Training,” that “companies spending less than 13 percent of their ERP project costs on training are three times more likely to fall short of their business and project goals than organizations spending 17 percent or more.”

Gartner also estimated in the same research that each hour of effective training is worth five hours to the employing organization. This is attributed to well-trained users reaching the required skill level in a quarter of the time, needing less support from peers and help desks, and spending less time correcting errors.

So investing in effective, end-user-focused training could prove to be the vital element both in your initial ERP implementation being a success and in realizing the longer-term business benefits that justified the project in the first place.

Hannah Dockery is the Marketing manager at Optimum Technology Transfer, a specialist end-user training consultancy. For more information, visit www.optimum.co.uk