ERP Training Stinks

As ERP implementations falter and fail, many people think the answer is more training. They're wrong.

Thu, June 01, 2000
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The provision of all that training, points out Cushing Anderson, a senior research analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC (a CIO sister company), has become a giant business in its own right. Revenues for web-based ERP training in the United States alone were $915 million in 1998, projected to grow to $2.8 billion in 2003. The logic is inexorable, he says: "The better the training, the faster you'll see the business metrics move in the direction you're looking for."

But the consensus that's emerging is that the training that matters isn't techy, "this field shows this; this button does that" training. In fact, what we normally call training is increasingly being shown to be relatively worthless. What's called for, it seems, is an ability to figure out the underlying flow of information through the business itself. The traditional view of training may blind the unwary to its significance and to the tightly woven links that exist between training, change management and staff adequacy.

The Why Versus the How
The first problem is that word: training. It conjures up images of dogs jumping through hoops. This is not helpful. "I separate training into two parts—education and training," says John Conklin, vice president and CIO of World Kitchen (formerly Corning Consumer Products Co., manufacturer of Pyrex and Corningware) of Elmira, N.Y. "Education is all the why, who and where issues," Conklin says. "Training is the how part of the equation." And of the two, he says, "education is the bigger piece of the puzzle. If people don't go through this education, you won't have their hearts and you won't have their minds."

There's a tendency for companies to fall into the trap of putting employees through training programs that are too software-specific—an easy mistake to make, but one that ignores the fact that ERP systems are designed to operate by (literally) codifying a set of business processes. "No matter what application an organization is implementing, they are usually better at the keystroke and transaction training than they are at the business-and-people processes education," says IDC's Anderson.

And providing that education can be tricky. When St. Louis-based Purina Mills implemented SAP R/3 in its 55 plants, the commercial animal-feed producer outsourced the training task to a third party, says Operations Control Director Steve Hunt. In-house resource constraints were a factor, says Hunt—the company wanted its best people implementing, not training. But also, he says, "We assumed that a third party training partner would add valuable insight into training techniques that had already been proven in their previous implementations."

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