New research into training for enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems implementation found that a different approach is needed to the way employees are trained to avoid potentially costly mistakes.
With this in mind Joanne Harrison, Optimum Technology Transfer, reports on research conducted by Kingston Business School, which points to the fact that ERP systems are demanding a shake up of traditional IT training methods.
The Kingston University study points out that employee training is one of the most critical aspects in successfully implementing an ERP system. But it warns that the traditional reliance on last minute, task-based keyboard training, focused just on ensuring staff can do their jobs after go-live, can be counter-productive.
The report, by Dr Stephen Gourlay, Reader in the Leadership, HRM and Organisation department of Kingston Business School, argues that training has a much wider role to play in positively influencing employees to adopt a complex new ERP system from the outset.
Conversely, the study notes that there are consequences to inadequate training. 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.
Gourlay reasons that implementing a new ERP system has a huge impact on all areas of an organisation. It entails considerable change in roles, jobs and tasks, so most, if not all, employees, from the boardroom to the back office, will need some training on the system at some stage.
Gourlay’s research recommends that user training is customised as different groups of employees require different types of training at different times. The study has also found that training is more effective if it goes beyond a focus on how to use the system’s functionality to include an understanding of how it has changed business and work processes and what effect an individual’s actions have on others’ work. Research shows this wider approach can help to break old habits and develop employees in new directions.
The report highlights the importance of factoring training in throughout the process, from the early project planning stages, to pre-, during and post-implementation delivery, followed by refresher training as the system use beds down. As more functionality and modules are added, training needs to evolve to ensure continuous improvement in how the system is used to maximise efficiencies for the organisation.
The Kingston research concludes that training is concerned not just with influencing individuals but how whole groups of people approach their work. It suggests that taking a broader, not just task-based, approach also helps both with knowledge transfer between employees and retaining expertise within the organisation.
The report has been sponsored by the IT skills consultancy Optimum. Sales Director Joanne Harrison, said: “Our experience has always been that where organisations regard user training as part of their investment in an ERP system, rather than a cost associated with it, they are far more likely to see real business benefits. But we wanted to know if independent research backed that up.”
As a follow up to the initial research project, the university has also undertaken various interviews with organisations to review their ERP implementations and identify the main challenges in delivering training to all involved. The findings support a previous report by the university that identified a need for organisations to take a comprehensive strategic approach to training when planning to implement an ERP system.
The two most common challenges cited by the organisations interviewed were: ‘Inadequate communication (of the ERP system), creating resistance and fear amongst end users’ and ‘inadequate and ill timed delivery of training (courses).’
Of these, inadequate communication of the ERP system is probably the easiest to rectify, whereas inadequate and ill timed delivery of training courses requires slightly more resources in terms of time and money.
A comprehensive, all inclusive training strategy that incorporates clear communication channels to all roles and levels of the organisation is crucial.
When developed as an IT and HR initiative and in advance of the actual ERP system integration, it is one of the keys to unlocking the ‘fear’ of end users and changing perceptions of how the new technology will benefit them.
Instructor led training has been historically used as a sticking plaster to bridge the gap between ‘end-users’ and the new system. Yet it does little to distil the ‘fear’ and resistance from end-users.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the common perception of an ‘end-user’ by organisations is a faceless, lone employee working at a screen. At best, they are viewed by their employers as someone who is not comfortable with IT, but is likely to proactively wrestle with new technologies to comfortably integrate it into their role and day-to-day working practices.
At worst, they are viewed as IT illiterate, keen to find short cuts or ways to override using the system. These perceptions do not combine well for the resultant training on the new system, particularly when instructor led training courses are typically delivered post-implementation.
Hence the concept of the ‘end-user’ would be more useful if conceived more broadly than is currently the case, and the university will be working with Optimum to find appropriate approaches to identify the end user perceptions and attitudes.
End-users are critical to the success of ERP implementation. Whilst traditionally we have thought of clerical and other staff being end-users of systems, ERP systems make everyone an end-user as they change everyone’s jobs.
Anticipating user fears and needs, and building training in to all phases of ERP system implementation is the key to ensuring a smoother overall process, and better results.
Joanne Harrison concludes: “The report and interview research does support our view that the best results come from a sustained ERP training programme that wins employees’ early buy-in and then continues to build their skills as the system evolves.”
Optimum can provide bespoke ERP end-user training programmes for any ERP system, to any business, in any location.
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