ERP – do we need training and education?
To answer this question properly, we actually have to ask a series of questions that start with what, why, which, and who.
What is the difference between training and education? A short answer might be that training is showing people which buttons to press and education is both telling them why they are doing it and why it is important that they do it well. So training is very much system specific and hands-on whilst education is much more generic and devotes itself to explaining concepts such as what ERP can do, what it can't do and how all of the individual pieces of the overall system come together and interact.
Why do we need both? Training is essential because ERP systems are not intuitive. Some processes are complex and it is unrealistic to expect people to teach themselves, not least because learning from experience can be a costly option. Additionally, many systems offer multiple ways of doing things and, if training is not formal, the chances are that different people will choose different options, not all of which will be correct or optimal. Although many companies try to save money by minimizing training, experience tells us that users who have not had sufficient good training are not able to use the system as efficiently and effectively as those who have.
As for education; done correctly, this enables the selection and implementation team to make good, informed decisions at every stage of the project. Even if employing outside consultants or system integrators (SIs), the in-house core project team needs to be able to communicate effectively, and that absolutely requires that they understand as much about ERP as these external people. This is not a question of intelligence: it is a question of knowledge, and that can only be acquired via experience or education, and the latter is usually quicker and cheaper.
Which comes first? In order to fulfill their role of properly evaluating competing systems, the core team needs to truly understand ERP. Even when the bulk of the work is being done by external consultants and SI (perhaps especially when the bulk of the work is being done by external consultants and SIs), the team needs to know enough to understand and to challenge those people, their decisions and their recommendations.
After system selection, and again regardless of whether outside consultants and SIs are involved, it is essential that the core team has detailed system specific training. It is not enough that they only learn the way the system is intended to be used following go-live because times and businesses change and, when all of the external consultants are long gone, there will be times when change will be either advantageous or essential, and having the necessary skills in-house to facilitate that will be a great advantage: even knowing that something can be done (without knowing immediately how it can be done) can be game-changing.
Who should do the education and training? To answer this question properly, it has to be entered into a two-dimensional matrix, because education and training are two different things, and both are required very early on in the project and also immediately prior to go-live.
The core project team needs ERP education at the very beginning of the project, so that means that they can't get it from their system providers and SIs because these have not yet been chosen (and should not be at this stage). Professional bodies such as APICS can be a good source of education, as can independent ERP consultants, although it is essential that the people doing it are genuinely independent because, if they have links to any ERP provider, they will be tempted to slant their education towards that system; playing down the importance of anything it can't do well and playing up the importance of anything that might be seen as a differentiator when comparing against systems. Training, on the other hand, needs to be done by the system provider, although this can include the system integrators if they are deemed up to the job.
The second phase of education and training is for the actual end users. This should be done in the weeks leading up to their use of the system because doing it early (e.g. at the same time as the core team) would be a waste of time because they will have forgotten much of what they were taught when they finally go live. In considering who should do end-user education and training, we might remember that Confucius said, “To teach is to learn twice”, and that says that the in-house core team are the best people for the job even though, in large companies, it might be necessary to adopt a train-the-trainer approach, whereby 'super users' in each department receive training and then disseminate it. The advantages of using in-house people for the task also include their ability to talk to end users 'in their own language', translating concepts into real-life examples, and also that they will build up credibility with the users that will make them more approachable post-go-live when problems (inevitably) emerge.
Clearly, companies have important decisions to make and a good starting point is to make use of the articles on this website and then to discuss the issues with someone who can offer a genuinely independent viewpoint. Only then can companies know that they are getting the best possible advice, resulting in the best possible system.
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