The history of enterprise resource planning (ERP) roll-outs is far from flawless and business has been quick to blame failures on the technology.
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Financial executives surveyed by Gartner rated 5% of ERP projects as complete failures and said a third of ERP projects were not a success. Only 23% of companies reported highly successful ERP projects.
But business equipment and document services company Xerox has proved that end-user training, though often overlooked, can be the difference between success and failure.
Xerox's roll-out of the latest version of SAP to more than 70,000 staff and partners in 16 countries and 13 languages across Europe has been the most successful upgrade by far, says Sue Farrow, business systems training manger at Xerox.
Preparation pays off
The key difference with this roll-out, she says, is that Xerox accepted user training as a prerequisite for going live and made sure that end-users had enough time to complete their courses. "This meant 80% of end-users had to complete the basic training programme before going live," says Farrow.
Xerox used 1,400 training simulations taken from the company's final SAP implementation, rather than interim versions of the software. This meant there were no surprises and relatively few problems when it went live. "Well-trained people will always be able to do their job more efficiently," she says.
In the past, Xerox has squeezed training budgets and timelines in favour of system development and design. This is because unlike the technical aspects of system roll-outs, the benefits of training are difficult to quantify, says Farrow. "Training always got the short end of the stick and we had to fight to get it on the critical path of the project."
Both the technical and business efficiency aspects of software roll-outs were previously handled by a single Xerox project manager. But the focus was always on the technical side. "This changed in 2007 when the responsibility for these two aspects of change management were split, enabling training to be pushed up the agenda," says Farrow.
Once Xerox confirmed training as a key part of the SAP roll-out, invested resources in training, and agreed a partnership with a third party training firm, Assima, project managers were not able to push back, she says.
The business has seen the value of being prepared and is less likely to compromise on training in future software roll-outs, says Farrow.
Other SAP end-user organisations that have not prioritised training as part of the core change management programme have admitted difficulties in getting the system bedded in. Some have found it necessary to set up user forums and hold clinics to enforce new process disciplines and to make sure end-users understand the new system.
Xerox planned to offer extra user support after the system went live and provided extensive online reference materials.
But when UK wholesaler Wilts Electrical's system went live, its user support team was overwhelmed by 500 calls a day. The company pulled in its "SAP champions" from each of its 73 branches to help troubleshoot end-user problems to meet demand.
"If I were to do it again, I would definitely plan for a better end-user support infrastructure after going live," says Nigel Hirst, ICT manager at Wilts Electrical.
UK-based global consumer healthcare firm SSL opted for separate support hubs in Europe and Asia to ensure it offered adequate support for end-users in different time zones.
"Continual refresher courses are also essential, as many end-users cannot take in all the changes during initial training," says Peter Whitehurst, chief information officer at SSL.
Good change management
Many organisations at the 2009 SAP UK and Ireland User Group conference said roll-outs were straightforward from a technical point of view, but in presentation after presentation they said that good change management is vital.
Xerox has proved over successive implementations that thorough advanced and continued training and support for end-users is a critical element of that process, with increased efficiency delivering a real return on investment.