An assessment of investment in business systems training and why focusing on end users leads to long-term gain.
Possibly the simplest measure of whether an organisation has successfully implemented a new business system is whether its employees can still do their jobs on go live. Achieving this requires some level of user training and this is where the debate starts on what works best.
Organisations typically invest in new business systems as a way of improving the effectiveness of their operation in order to increase cost efficiency. However, it isn’t the system itself that will bring efficiency, but how it is used. So, logically, training should be focused on the users.
Getting the balance right
The amount, type, content, and timing are all critical factors in successful end-user IT training, as are the audience, the delivery, and the supporting documentation.
Research suggests that the old adage ‘you reap what you sow’ applies to end-user training. Put another way, you get out what you put in. Gartner, the global research and advisory firm, have shown that companies 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 .
In addition, Gartner estimates that each hour of effective training is worth five hours to the employer. This is attributed to well-trained users reaching the required skill level in a quarter of the time, thereby needing less support from peers and helpdesks, and spending less time correcting errors.
In the real world, the ideal solution has to be balanced against time and resource constraints. Training is consistently under-budgeted, which makes it even more imperative to identify the most effective programme for your system and organisation. A variety of elements come into play but broadly the choices are:
- Get your super users to do the training
- Rely on the training provided by your IT vendor
- Hand over the project to a professional training consultancy
- A combination of all three
Experience shows that users who don’t ‘buy-in’ to a new system at the beginning are unlikely to use it as it was intended, potentially diluting the business benefits that the system was supposed to deliver.
Feedback from users has shown that they find IT training is less effective if it is too software specific and is centred around the system’s functionality. The vast majority of users only need to understand how a system works in the context of how it affects them in their own role. The standard training offered by most software providers is, therefore, likely to be too wide-ranging.
Similarly, an organisation’s super users, who are at the heart of the implementation, can be too focused on the system itself rather than delivering appropriate training for individual users.
Where an organisation wants its super users and/or training departments to play either a lead or a supporting role, a professional, external view can bring an extra dimension to the training, and help to ensure the right balance is struck. Since super users are extremely proficient at understanding the system and its capabilities, information overload and considerable technicality can be a risk if they design and deliver the user training in isolation.
Kleinwort Hambros, the leading investment bank, wanted to retain ownership of the training for a core banking system introduced this year but called in a professional consultancy for support as its super users were under pressure. Chris Ollieuz, an implementation consultant on the project, acknowledged:
“The super users knew the system very well but they didn’t necessarily know the best way to communicate the role-based knowledge that the users needed.”
External support can also be invaluable in developing courses and materials and handling the complex logistics and administration involved with running multiple training courses at a time when in-house resources are likely to be under pressure.
IT training has been found to be most effective when it is tailored to the individual organisation’s specific requirements, is role-based, and is delivered in the most appropriate way for the users. Ian Sibbald, the financial controller at Cranfield University, observes: “It makes sense to tackle training from the point of view of exactly what knowledge it is that you need to impart.”
Providing timely, user-focused training is only part of the story. Success also depends on having a range of high quality, well-targeted supporting documentation, which is written in a way the user finds easy to navigate and understand. Designing and developing effective courses and materials, and then keeping them up to date to reflect feedback or organisational/business process changes, is both specialised and time-consuming.
Jeremy Nicholls, a business system implementation consultant, has stated:
“Continuously updating training documentation is very hard to do in-house. Using an external company means you can futureproof your documentation and protect the original investment in the system by making sure it’s always used as effectively as possible.”
The emotional aspect of change
An often-overlooked element of IT training is the emotional effect of implementing a major new business system. Maximising gains in potential efficiency almost always requires business processes to be rewritten. This inevitably means staff are faced with learning new ways of working as well as how to navigate the new system, plus dealing with the uncertainties brought about by change.
User-focused training can help address specific concerns and issues, particularly when it is delivered by people from outside the organisation. Andrea Williams, IT project manager and implementation consultant, says she found that: “Professional trainers added enormous value through the delivery of a structured training programme and clear, consistent change messages that set expectations correctly.”
Using professional trainers at some level has also been found to add credibility to IT training programmes. Tim Reardon, assistant director of finance at the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, notes:
“We trained our own staff to use the previous system internally but their feedback was that accountants aren’t trainers and that if we wanted to get the most out of the new system, users needed professional training on it.”
In addition, users have reported feeling more valued as individuals because their employer has invested in them. Training which is focused on meeting their specific needs is also likely to give them more confidence.
The argument that user-focused IT training is most effective applies just as much to system upgrades as it does to initial training. Keeping a core business system up to date gives organisations the functionality to meet their evolving needs, but users need to be trained on the new version of the system if they are to continue to use it as effectively as possible.
Ipswich Borough Council provided its own training at the original implementation of a new finance system but called in a professional consultancy when it upgraded. Adrian Powell, the council’s project manager, saw a significant difference. He said:
“The consultants added a lot of value. They gave us some excellent advice and guidance at the beginning and the users rated them very highly on the content and quality of the training.”
Steve Vasey, system and business development manager at Xentrall Shared Services, a partnership set up by Stockton and Darlington councils, found that using a professional consultancy:
“provided very good value for money and freed up resources within our finance system development team so that we could concentrate on improving it, safe in the knowledge that users are well trained.”
Whichever training route is followed, every pound must be spent as effectively as possible. Carrying out a detailed analysis of the precise project training needs, including evaluating the available resources, is the first step in determining the optimum programme for an organisation.
The key to the decision is bearing in mind that the new system, however complex and powerful, is simply a tool. It is the way that it is used that makes it valuable. Training that focuses on the user, both at the initial implementation and during subsequent upgrades, is the best way to realise the business benefits that justified the investment in the system in the first place.
Optimum can provide bespoke end-user training programmes for any business system, including ERP, CRM, Finance, HR and Bespoke. Get in touch to learn how we can help design, develop and/or deliver your training programme.