by Todd R. Weiss

Summer Camp for Enterprise IT: Bolster Your Team’s Skills

Jul 07, 20117 mins
ERP SystemsIT LeadershipIT Skills

IT skills constantly need to be honed and grown to be ready for anything that happens inside a business. Are you making sure that your IT staff is staying up to speed? How about an ERP Boot Camp?

Running your company’s enterprise IT systems can be a tough, challenging and stress-inducing task. There are always new things to learn and new technologies to investigate.

Dealing with the constant cycles of maintenance, upgrades and deployments leaves little time to fit in training opportunities for your staff.

At least that’s what I’ve been hearing from harried enterprise IT leaders for years. I think that’s something that really needs to change. Somehow, organizations have to put more value on the importance of training so that their IT teams can continue to truly meet the needs of the businesses they serve.

Take ERP, for example. ERP is big, complicated and can be messy, but it’s the technology glue that holds much of your business together.

So if it’s so important, how much time do you spend making sure that your staff gets the latest training and information to be sure that your ERP systems are the best that they can be? Probably not much, I’d bet.

Well, maybe it’s time to look for some new ideas and approaches to make it happen. And maybe summer is the opportune time, as business tends to be less hectic.

Here’s an idea: How about sending someone on your ERP staff to an ERP Boot Camp, where they can broaden their knowledge and come back with fresh new ideas for your company?

That’s the concept behind a series of ERP Boot Camps being offered four times a year by Panorama Consulting Group LLC. The boot camps began early last year and squeeze a lot about ERP into three days of detailed lectures, stories from the IT trenches, analyst insights and vendor information.

So far, IT people, from CIOs to COOs to IT Directors and other staff members, have come away from the gatherings with experiences and information that help bolster their confidence as they headed back to their own IT departments, says Eric Kimberling, the founder and president of Panorama Consulting. About 100 IT leaders have participated in the sessions so far.

“It’s very hard to get this kind of training, especially if you are going to embark on a new implementation,” Kimberling says. “You need to know how to start it, how to keep it on budget, how ERP can deliver benefits and how to manage the project. It’s a more strategic and operational view, rather than hands-on and technical training on the software itself. When we started the boot camps, there wasn’t a training course out there that focused on these topics.”

That need led to the birth of the boot camps, sort of like a “Missing Manual” for all the things you need to know about ERP but were afraid to ask.

The next ERP Boot Camp will be held by Panorama this Sept. 21-23 in Denver, Colo. The fee is $2,450 per attendee for clients or $3,250 per person for non-clients. If you register before July 15, there’s a discounted rate. Transportation and hotel accommodations are not included.

Some of the key topics raised by attendees at the boot camps so far are the same kinds of things Kimberling says he’s been hearing from consulting clients for the past 15 years.

“The biggest one, hands-down, is that IT leaders worry about what they don’t know” as they look deeply into their corporate ERP systems, he says. “It’s just the uncertainty of, ‘what are we getting ourselves into?'”

Attendees want to know much more about how they can manage the organizational components of the changes, as well as the people who will have to live with the changes, he says. They also ask about how they can optimize the business benefits that they will get out of the system once they implement it.

Kimberling says that attendees arrive with questions on just about every possible ERP project, from rip-and-replace strategies to new installs or upgrades. Some attendees want to build their ERP systems using the best-of-breed components for each task, while others are using their own home-built systems.

“We hear all the scenarios,” Kimberling says. “We have a lot of people interested in ERP SaaS options and we cover those, too,” he says.

Attendees learn from a broad group of lecturers from inside and outside of Panorama, which provides broad new thinking in the world of ERP. “The other value we hear people talk about is that they get to network with other attendees to talk and bounce ideas off each other,” he says. “It’s all about bringing together what I’ve learned in 15 years and boiling it down into three days. It’s not the same as having 15 or 20 years of IT battle wounds, but it certainly helps quite a bit.”

Susan Nylen, director of finance for SparkFun Electronics, an e-commerce company that sells electronics equipment and components to hobbyists around the globe, attended the March ERP Boot Camp with five fellow SparkFun IT staffers to explore how her company might bring in a commercial ERP system in the future. So far, SparkFun, a company with 130 employees and about $19 million in revenue in 2010, uses an internally-built, open source system that handles its inventory and other functions. For financials, they use QuickBooks.

“I joined the company a year ago and told company leaders that I knew that they may not be ready for it yet, but that at some point in the future we should be thinking about bringing in a commercial ERP system,” Nylen says. Because that kind of change could come one day, she and five IT team members attended the March boot camp to get a healthy head start on such a strategy. “If we do go to an ERP system — and we haven’t made that decision yet — it will be a paradigm shift for us. We have to think differently about it.”

Some of the IT attendees from SparkFun didn’t have any previous experiences talking about formal ERP systems and “went in very green,” so the sessions were eye-opening, she says.

“Going to the boot camp was a good thing,” Nylen says. “We got the benefit of Panorama’s experience. They warned us about where the land mines are and shared the stories of companies who have been incorporating ERP, as well as some of the horror stories you hear in the news” about failed deployments. “They come at you with a really big breadth of knowledge that you can’t find anywhere else in one central location. To have this all crammed into three days was really helpful.”

At the same time, she says, all of that information can be daunting, too. “You can walk away a bit scared of it,” Nylen says. “But you’ve got to be brave too. You can’t let it overwhelm you. So you take it all in and say, ‘yeah, I hear you, but we’re still going after it.'”

Several IT leaders at the boot camp told her they’d have to be making decisions on this huge part of the businesses very soon because their ERP deployments needed help today, she says. “We’re lucky that we have the luxury to take the time to do it.”

This kind of IT learning and training is refreshing. IT get-togethers from LinuxFests and HackerFests and more have been held on all kinds of IT topics for years so that people can get together to learn, teach and grow.

Other companies and organizations are putting these kinds of events together all the time, some from consulting companies, others from vendors and professional groups. There’s no lack of events out there if you take a look.

I know it’s hard to make time for IT training and skill-building inside your company.

But I say, find that time anyway. Business is growing again, slowly but surely, after the recession of 2007 to 2009, and you need to make sure your company and your IT team are ready for the pressures that come with the growth.

Whatever, you do, whether you send some people to a boot camp or bring in some lecturers or send your people out for more traditional IT training, it’s time to get it going. Think about all the amazing improvements they can bring back to your ERP and other critical enterprise IT systems.

That alone should be your motivation. So get out there, make something happen and let me know how it goes. I’d love to tell the stories of your training and ERP successes right here. Stay tuned.