When Ken Tufts found himself with a contract to teach Crystal Reports—a Web-based reporting system—at four client sites, it looked like a time-consuming job. But with a little innovation, he created a smaller, cost-saving, workable solution for his clients without dropping the quality level of the training. He also encouraged them to cross-train their counterparts, creating a situation that sparked teamwork among his client’s staff.
Consultants who provide report writing and training for any software package could use Tufts’ idea to save clients money and encourage collaboration among employees at multiple sites.
Crystal Reports is used for approximately 4,200 software applications including Visual Basic, PeopleSoft, and SAP. It can create reports by drawing information from multiple databases using different types of access. Tufts said that many businesses use the product to encourage a paperless office, because the reports are executed and can be customized online by the user.
Tufts had been involved in consulting and training for Crystal Reports for more than four years when a Canadian mining company contracted him to write some standard reports and train the staff to use the reports and other functions of Crystal Reports. The client wanted Tufts to mentor his staff and provide examples of complicated reports that could also be used in the client’s ERP system. To do this, Tufts would have to travel to Ontario, Quebec, the Dominican Republic, and Georgia in the U.S.
The client had originally requested that Tufts write 20 separate reports (five for each site). Creating these reports would require 100 days of consulting time at $170 per hour and four weeklong training sessions at a cost of $1,200 per day, bringing the total cost to the client to $160,000.
Through his correspondence with each site, Tufts found that the four sites used the same database reports. "Since their databases were identical, the database portion of the course could be streamlined and only the actual examples and specific report information needed to be changed," he said.
Tufts' first idea to save time and money for his client was to combine two or more of the sites for training. Language barriers—the company had English, French, and Spanish-speaking employees—and the client’s corporate culture eliminated that option. Instead, Tufts decided to concentrate on one report per site to be used in the actual training session. He created the following reports to present at the sites:
- Purchase order document: Used to order inventory from suppliers
- Machine preventative maintenance report: Used to schedule maintenance work on the equipment to ensure it was done during the allotted warranty timeframe
- Work order document: Lists the procedure for a maintenance function including the parts required, any necessary precautions or preparatory work, and an estimated time for completion
- Maintenance type percentage report: Used to compare the percentage of emergency vs. preventative maintenance work
During each training session, Tufts used one report as a real-world example and built it from scratch as an in-class exercise. In each case, Tufts illustrated how the report could be displayed in different languages by choosing a field that contained one or more choices of data such as E for English, F for French, G for German, and S for Spanish.
"During the training sessions, I emphasized the idea that that particular site would be able to swap training examples with each of the other sites, and that by doing so they would then have four solid examples of working Crystal Reports, cutting the number of critical reports that would need to be created," Tufts said.
Since Tufts had to create only four reports, as opposed to 20, the client's costs were significantly reduced. Because he was providing in-depth training on one report at each site, the employees gained a deeper knowledge of Crystal Reports, Tufts said. Perhaps the greatest benefit was the cost reduction: Tufts’ method (see Figure A) was $108,800 lower than the client’s original plan.
The outcome: Benefits and shortcomings
Tufts taught each of the groups the basic concepts of reporting, and then used the individual report examples to stress certain advanced features particular to that report, so that each group gained expertise the others didn't have. Each group could offer its specialty to other sites and get access to the expertise in the other groups. After the training and mentoring sessions were complete, Tufts contacted each of the sites and learned that they found it very easy for the different groups to use reports created by another site.
"The only drawback to this approach was a couple of extra days up front of my time to create the training materials—and that I got a much smaller fee in the end," Tufts said.
He said the benefits to the client were that:
- The client received an estimated cost savings of $108,800.
- The employees received in-depth training in the software with a useful example.
- The cross-training efforts promoted communication between the sites, especially among the Crystal Report writers.
- Due to small differences in creating the in-class reports, each site had an expertise in certain aspects of Crystal Reports.
He could have taken the time to create the reports individually for each site, making more money for himself, but Tufts said providing cost-effective solutions is good practice for consultants, especially if they want repeat business. The mining company is building three additional sites that may need his assistance and has already helped him gain work from other companies by singing his praises as a reference.
"There are consultants who will think I am nuts for passing on the cash outlay, but if they need my expertise in the future, I am the first name they look for," Tufts said.
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