The challenges of implementing SAP successfully are well documented and Daryn Edgar, VP Digital Advisory at SAP, has this advice: “User training is the lynchpin. It’s the difference between achieving your business objectives and not achieving them.”
There’s a growing body of research that confirms end users play a critical role in the success of any ERP implementation, SAP S/4HANA included. The most common drivers for ERP are to increase an organisation’s efficiency, performance and profitability. But approaching these projects as being all about technology, rather than the people who will use the system, risks jeopardising the outcome.
‘ERP is 90% about people, process, culture and politics and 10% about IT. Misunderstand that and you are heading for failure,’ reported ERP Experts Online Forum in 2012.
According to Huang et al. (2004)¹ ‘insufficient user training’ ranks second in a list of the top ten risks to a successful ERP implementation.
Panorama Consulting Solutions in its guide ‘Ten Tips for a Successful SAP Implementation’ (2012)² lists ‘training issues’ as one of the five key reasons given for SAP implementations over-running.
And Akca et al (2013)³ found that ‘ERP system performance is in direct relation with users’ performance’.
Counteracting these risks means factoring in users and their training needs at the very outset, when the business case for the implementation is being put together.
Some of the most successful SAP S/4HANA implementations reported have been where organisations have included key end user or project team training before the design phase of the project, building employee trust and knowledge upfront.
This allowed them to build a system that truly meets the organisation’s objectives. They then go on to use an external training provider strategically, to create a bespoke training programme for users that are already engaged.
The role of user feedback here is paramount. Edgar notes: “End user adoption feedback, when obtained early, is the earliest and most successful form of feedback because it’s qualitative, detailed and from the front line. It’s also one of the least appreciated and if ignored your return on investment isn’t likely to be achieved.”
Conversely, including user training late in the project – typically in the middle of user acceptance testing – is a frequent factor in poor or even failed implementations. UAT is a critical phase and it is a challenging and expensive time to add another variable to be planned into an already pressured mix.
“Engaging with a training provider as early as possible gives you more options,” Edgar advises. “You can actually spend less and evaluate a plan that is based on current techniques and the models that will work best for you.”
Ignoring this can be costly and not just in terms of budget. Panorama Consulting Solutions’ research (2012)² shows most SAP projects have a payback period greater than three years whilst nearly half SAP user companies realise 50% or less of the anticipated benefits from their system. A lack of focus on organisational change management elements such as training and communication is given as a key factor behind these figures.
Failing to train users effectively is also likely to end with them resisting change, reverting to type and inventing work-arounds for the part of the system they interact with.
There are several routes to consider when planning, developing and delivering an SAP S/4HANA user training programme. The main options are to rely on vendor supplied courses and materials; use internal super-users and trainers; engage with a specialist ERP training provider; or take a hybrid approach.
In Edgar’s experience a mix of internal and external expertise is usually the best model because it combines skills: “In-house alone often won’t have the knowledge, resources and available capacity; a specialist training provider alone doesn’t have the connection to the business or the authority of the project’s sponsor.”
Having chosen the model, the content of the training programme needs to be defined. The most effective user training is bespoke, job-specific and hands-on, backed up by fast access to easy-to-use, relevant reference materials.
Research by Vayyavur (2015)⁴ states: ‘The success of the training program depends on its ability to deliver training and knowledge at the individuals’ level.”
A detailed training analysis will scope out who needs to be trained in what, how and by when. Designing and developing the lesson plans, creating the training materials and scheduling delivery requires a flexible approach to reflect changes that inevitably happen during the system build.
It’s important to marry the methods of delivery – classroom based, eLearning, self-service – with the individual circumstances of the implementing organisation. Do staff work remotely or on a shift pattern? Whatever the mix, training the trainers to deliver the content consistently is key.
Whilst the immediate focus for any SAP S/4HANA user training programme will be on achieving a successful go-live, the training materials need to be available for new joiners and refresher training. They should also be updated as the system evolves.
In 1885 Hermann Ebbinghaus plotted a ‘forgetting curve’ that is still relevant today. The research showed how memory fails over time, falling from 100% at the point of learning to less than 50% one year on and only 25% after two years.
After go-live, well trained end users will provide valuable feedback on how the new processes and the system can be adjusted for a better fit going forward.
There has been much debate on how much an organisation implementing ERP should invest in end user training. According to Gartner Research (2000)⁵: “Businesses spending less than 13% of their ERP project costs on training are three times more likely to fall short of their business and project goals than organisations spending 17% or more.”
ERP Focus quotes research by Dr Yan-Goh Ng (2007)⁶: “95% of companies where ERP fails dedicate less than 10% of their total budget to education, training and change management.”
But quantifying the overall cost of the project is problematic in the sense of precisely which elements do you include?
Rather than look at percentages Edgar is clear: “Budget isn’t the driver but it does become the excuse. If you start late and base your training plan on what’s left in the budget, you will get a sub-par proposal and result.”
To summarise: user training is critical to a successful SAP S/4HANA implementation. The advice is to start early and include it at the very beginning of the project. Use it strategically and it will add value; do it late or under-resource it and you’ll pay a price. As Daryn Edgar says: “User training is the lynchpin… it’s the last mile.” ⁷
Optimum can provide bespoke SAP S/4HANA ERP training programmes to any business, in any location.
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¹ Huang, S. M., Chang, I. C., Li, S. H., & Lin, M. T. (2004). Assessing risk in ERP projects: identify and prioritize the factors. Industrial management & data systems, 104(8), 681-688. Availablefrom: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/
² © Copyright 2012 Panorama Consulting Solutions. 3773 Cherry Creek North Drive – Suite 720 – Denver CO 80209 720.515.1377 Panorama-Consulting.com
³ Yaşar Akça, Şaban Esen & Gökhan Ozer The Effects of Education on Enterprise Resource Planning Implementation Success and Perceived Organizational Performance, International Business Research; Vol. 6, No. 5; (2013) ISSN 1913-9004 E-ISSN 1913-9012 Published by Canadian Center of Science and Education
⁴ Vayyavur, Rajeshwar. (2015). ERP Implementation Challenges & Critical Organizational Success Factors. International Journal of Current Engineering and Technology. 55. 2759-2766. 10.14741/2277-4106. Available from https://researchgate.net
⁵ Gartner Research, Aldrich C. (2000) The Justification of IT Training, Note DF-11-3614
⁶ ERP Focus, Carlton R. (23/08/2017) Statistics provided by Ziff Davis, as excerpted from 2007 report compiled by Yan-Goh Ng, Ph.D.
⁷ The opinions stated are those of the whitepaper author and quoted individuals, and are not attributed to any system vendor