Is enterprise resource planning (ERP) a part of your company’s future? If e-commerce is part of the business strategy, your answer is probably, “Yes.”

It’s likely, then, that you’ll be assigned the task of training employees to use these new ERP applications. But don’t let the task overwhelm you. Learn the facts that will make ERP training simple and effective at your organization.

Make quality training a priority
When conducting an ERP implementation, many companies focus on re-engineering their business processes to adapt to the new software. They often fail to devote adequate attention to training employees.

“A quality implementation can be derailed by poorly trained employees who do not know how to properly operate the new technology,” said John T. Whiting, managing director of E-Business Management Consulting, a New Jersey-based firm. “The knowledge transfer to the employees…is arguably more important than the quality of the implementation. Too many companies are not paying attention to this issue, and systems integrators frequently focus most of their attention on the IT process re-engineering and relatively little time on re-engineering the human resource.”

For that reason, the training department will definitely want to put ERP users through formal training. Regardless of whether you train users in-house with vendor-sponsored courses, send them to training conducted by the vendor, or hire a consultant to train users on-site, the key take-away for users should be to understand what ERP does. Experts recommend cross-training users in e-commerce and ERP applications so they’ll understand where data is coming from and where it’s going.

“The training should address the key aspects like how the end user has to prepare data, which should be in congruence with the back-end database tables,” said M. Shankar Narayana, now a freelance consultant who previously oversaw the factory side of an ERP implementation for a pharmaceutical company in Hyderabad, India. “They should be trained on Standardization of Item codes and naming conventions that are going to be followed. These naming conventions should be familiar to those end users so that roll-over time can be minimized.”

Go beyond the basics
Experts also report that many firms cut corners in training end users on ERP systems. When calculating the total cost of an ERP implementation, training can often become one of the largest line items—not because of the initial expense, but because of decreased revenues due to lost productivity.

“You take 10 to 20,000 people and you have to put them through a couple of days training; that’s a huge investment, but it’s a wise thing to do,” said Andrew Clark, chief operations officer of Agresso, a Vancouver, B.C.-based provider of business information management systems. “Informal training works in an office environment where everyone is in close proximity. But if you’re a supervisor and you have a geographically spread out area like a warehouse or a plant floor, you might have people 200-300 yards apart. So you can only fix one problem at a time. That’s why there’s value in formal training.

“Too often the focus of the training is, ‘Here’s an order, enter it, and take it through.’ But what if you enter an order and the item is out of stock?” Clark added. “In a lot of training scenarios, they teach people how to do the basics, but they run into problems that might come up.”

Starting points for ERP training
The major ERP packages—such as those available from SAP, Baan, or J.D. Edwards—have many design and function differences. So, if users know all the ins and outs of a J.D. Edwards ERP package, you’ll still have to teach them to use an SAP system.

Most of the ERP vendors offer courses, which run six to eight weeks, at a cost of a few thousand dollars per person. Some offer volume discounts. Participants will be certified in a module of a vendor’s package such as finance or human resources, manufacturing and logistics, supply chain management, or data analysis. Here are a few to check out:

  • ·        SAP offers live, online training, standard classroom training, and self-study. Certification is also available to trainers and consultants.
  • ·        Baan offers training for key users, technical users, and end users via computer-based and end-user training, product demos, and certification.
  • ·        J.D. Edwards offers classroom, on-site, and end-user training, as well as special workshops, Web conferencing, and certification.
  • ·        PeopleSoft has developed kits for conducting on-site training, CD-ROMs and computer-based training materials, as well as a knowledge center, which delivers a self-paced online learning environment over the Internet. Classroom training, interactive distance learning, and an end-user online training library are also available.
  • ·        Oracle’s Training Plan Builder allows users to customize training plans online. You provide information about your job role and the system helps to select training courses. The Complete Course, an enhanced offering, consists of intensive instructor-led training and the corresponding technology-based training CD-ROM titles.

Did you have a particularly hairy experience with ERP training at your organization? Tell us about it by posting a response below or by sending us a note.