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Education & Training

Midrange ERP, May 2000

"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten." - B.F. Skinner

Continuing education and training have always been the keys to continued success. For example, in primary school, multiplication tables were drilled into our subconscious. In secondary school, those same tables became the building blocks for a more complex education. In college and beyond, we were trained and retrained on the proper applications of those mathematical laws and equations in hopes of becoming competitive in the market place.

In business, the importance of education and training becomes a constant, revolving event that has taken on an even greater necessity, from the boardroom to the last employee hired. In a roundtable discussion, an ERP software company executive, an implementation manager, two software resellers and a customer discuss the critical factors in ERP education and training - the challenges, the values, the issues and the benefits.

Midrange ERP: The training process can have an endless set of variables. Today in the software industry, business-critical training is designed and implemented by software vendors and resellers. What are some of the underlying elements of an effective training program?

Greg Hunt, PMP, implementation manager, Navision Software US: First of all, the customer must be involved, not just a bystander. There has to be a two-way flow of communication.

Rick Burtt, CFO, Navision Software US: Absolutely. In addition to communication, there also has to be trusted. The customer must trust that the vendor is knowledgeable and understands its business.

Wendy Gold, vice president, Business Management International, ERP reseller is key: really knowing the business process and what a client needs.

Bret Schwartz, CTO, Universal Atlantic Systems: I think, from a customer standpoint, relationships are important. You need to like the vendor understands your company and what your issues are. In our case, we had grown our accounting department from two people to eight. So, having a training that could train our people quickly and effectively was really a priority. Having a solid relationship with the vendor was the only way to do that.

Larry Schiff, president, Business Management International, ERP reseller: I think a key element of any training pa that it accommodates the needs of the customer, and those needs vary because no two projects are ever the same. My job insure that our customers have a smooth and efficient software installation, so I have to be aware enough of my client's particular sensitivities to judge what those needs are and meet them through the education and training processes.

Midrange ERP: With an ERP system implementation, how in-depth should the 5 process be?

Burtt: You would never trust someone to fly a space shuttle if he didn't have a deep and intimate knowledge of what he was doing. The same applies here. For instance, my company is intent on training our software resellers in how the product works and how to implement our solutions. We have to make sure that there is a sufficient depth of knowledge to make the solution function properly.

Schiff: Yes, but it is also a confide issue. Knowing that the person install ERP system has undergone stringent and has jumped through several hoops already, I think, adds to customers' confidence in the abilities of their implementer.

Gold: When you make as big a financial and emotional investment as you do with an ERP system, you want to know the company you are working with understands your business and is thoroughly knowledgeable about its product.

Midrange ERP: Today, providing ERP functionality to the middle market is hot. A number of software vendors and resellers are moving up market and down market to serve the attractive IT budget found in the middle market. Are there any unique training or educational needs specific for middle-market ERP customers?

Burtt: I wouldn't say that there really are any unique needs in the middle market. To run a business, you do the same stuff as for a Fortune 500 company. Middle-market companies need customization for their business processes as well but it has to be done in a much shorter timeframe.

Schiff: That's right, time is a big differentiator. You don't have customers with the money to keep an army of people on-site for months at a time.

Gold: Especially working in the mid-market, we really have to do everything that happens in the large implementations, just on a smaller scale.

Bret Schwartz: There are differences in approach, too. In a small company you have one person who wears all the hats. In the middle market, the training is designed more for people in roles. It isn't like you sit this one guy down and, once he knows it, the job is done. There are many nuances with each department, and the trainer needs to address them and show how the software benefits the group and really build a synergy.

Gold: We try to make sure that we train people together who do similar work. Like Brett said, each group has its nuances. We don't have an army of people to address it, and we have a shorter timeframe to work in, which presents its own challenges.

Midrange ERP: It would seem that getting across-the-board support for the new solution and the subsequent training is key when an ERP system is purchased. Is this true, or are there other challenges that come into play?

Gold: The biggest challenge is getting past the limitations of earlier products and seeing the extent of what the new product can do. Once you understand the capabilities of the new software, you see other ways of doing things.

Bret Schwartz: One of the more difficult things that I had to do was actually find the time to get people trained. People are so busy in their jobs. They fight change.

Schiff: Yes, but all the training in the world can't change the fact that the right players have to be on board on both ends in order for it to be a success. I think that's an important part of this discussion. You have to make the right people comfortable first and get their endorsement, then move on to everyone else.

Schwartz: Okav. I'll agree with that, too. We have some 20-year employees who are very respected, and getting them to change the way they look at something or learn a different system was difficult. Ultimately, you do have to get everyone's buy-in. When people were uncertain about it, it was easy to bad-mouth the process. Once they knew it was coming and knew they'd have an opportunity to have their questions answered, the negativity wasn't such a problem. I mean, we have a few stubborn employees, and I am sure my employee base is very similar to what is out there.

Gold: Brett used an important term - buy-in. If you are looking for a challenge, that's it. You need to get the commitment of the staff. It is all about how the people relate. Nobody wants change. They are afraid someone will find out that they don't have the skills that are needed. They worry about their jobs and their place in the company. And all this is going to reflect in how they feel about the system.

Burtt: Absolutely. This is really true of any big change that goes on in a company. You have early adopters and you have hangers-on.

Bret Schwartz: And, Rick, our company was no exception. After we dealt with internal politics, we moved on to the challenge of switching over our system. Once we made the commitment to implement Navision Software [the midrange ERP package that Universal Atlantic Systems installed], we wanted to get it into our accounting department and then into the rest of the company. We first started with receivables, because, let's face it, payables is not as important as receivables. Larry and Wendy would argue that point.

Schiff: Not really.

Midrange ERP: It sounds like support for the solution as early as the selection process really plays a key part in the overall training process. How do you make this happen?

Bret Schwartz: We had a monthly executive meeting. We researched a long time before we made a commitment, so that everyone was comfortable that this was a solid decision. Ours was a very long and arduous process, as Larry and Wendy know. There were so many personality factors at work. It was a good few months before I got a buy-in from everybody on the management team. From there, we started to leak the fact that we were getting a new system and how it would make everyone's lives easier. This was critical because we needed to stress the benefits of the new system in a way that would excite people about training on the new software.

Midrange ERP: Now that you have everyone's support and acceptance, it is on to training. Do the trainers have latitude in how they handle the training, or is there typically a strict standard for how it is performed?

Schiff: As trainers, we have a good deal of latitude in how to conduct the training, because we are also the resellers and thus have the relation- ship and are the best judge of needs. Of course, there is standard information on the product, too.

Gold: We take the training material that we get from our software publisher and customize it to fit BMI standards. We further customize it to fit each individual client. Certain parts will be the same, but we tailor it to how our client does business.

Bret Schwartz: I had never gone through an implementation of this magnitude, and I really knew no other way. It was automatic for me that I would be involved. I appreciated that the implementer had the flexibility to let me do that.

Schiff: Absolutely, Brett. We did need analysis, probably five or six months before the project, and your needs analysis took half the time it normally takes. That's a testimony to your preparation and understanding of what your needs were.

Burtt: As Larry alluded, Navision Software is a big believer in certification, and everyone has the level of competency and knowledge to train their customers. We let the resellers determine the most effective training for their customers, since they have developed the relationship with their customers.

Hunt: We spend a lot of time trying to teach implementers how to be sensitive to business risk when they are working with their clients. They go through their needs assessment and they look at what we customize and what we don't. It all goes back to that key element of a good training program we mentioned earlier - understanding the business.

Midrange ERP: Most middle-market ERP vendors choose to run their training in-house, as opposed to out- sourcing it to their reseller partner. Why take this approach?

Burtt: It is critical to us that the resellers be the ones to do the training. The people performing an implementation should also be the ones transferring the knowledge. They're the ones who understand the site-specific information.

Hunt: One of the things we really encourage is training the key users in the business early on and having those trained people be the ones who accept the deliverables. So, the person that they communicate with on the training needs to be the person who produces the deliverables.

Burtt: There is a certain amount of interaction that takes place between an implementer and an end user. The implementer sometimes learns, during training, something she did not realize earlier, and needs to go back and make changes in the system. When someone else is doing the training, it creates a disconnect. The end users are wishing they did this and that, while the implementers think they have a perfect solution.

Midrange ERP: What about goals? What should the customers' goals be for themselves or their businesses in regards to training and education expectations?

Bret Schwartz: As a customer, a reasonable expectation from the training I receive is to feel comfortable with the product. You should also feel confident in your relationship with your IT consultant. I think continuing education, from a new product standpoint, should be mandatory. I don't want to have to wonder if I have the most current version or if there is a feature that will perform a function or not. As a customer, I should know, because the consultant has facilitated my education.

Schiff: I agree 100 percent. Continuing education should be standard, not a value-add Training is only a small part of the education process.

Burtt: The bottom line is that education and training are a continuous cycle, building layer upon layer, as opposed to a one-shot deal. Microsoft, Windows, Windows 2000, Windows NT, SQL Server and BackOffice are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) in the United States and/or other countries.