Changing the way employees work when installing a new ERP system can be the biggest obstacle IT managers face in projects, according to attendees at the IFS software conference in Berlin this week.
IT managers who successfully deployed ERP systems advised others managing similar projects to allow plenty of time in project plans for selling the benefits of the system to users and for training.
Torbjorn Nibelius is a logistics and supplier manager responsible for training 4,500 users in ERP skills at aerospace manufacturer Saab Aerostructures. He said getting buy-in from line managers is the essential first step.
"Provide line managers with information well in advance, because if you cannot convince them first, you will not be able to convince the end-users they manage to buy in and this will stall the implementation," said Nibelius.
Saab Aerostructures kept end-users informed on the progress of ERP project on its corporate intranet site from procurement through to implementation, to raise employee's confidence in the system. The group ran more than 150 training sessions and introduced web-based training for those employees that could not attend classes.
David Redpath, Group head of IT at construction firm Hertel, said that his challenge was to convice employees of the merits of the ERP system up front.
"We took a road show of our new system to users and gave them the opportunity to ask questions one on one. We also introduced a phased roll out of our ERP system, so that once one group of employees saw the benefits, their word of mouth would help promote it to other departments," he said.
John Logie, a manager at First Engineering which designs railways, said that communication between IT and employees is vital, if projects are to be successful.
"If end users are not made aware of the decisions IT are taking on systems that will impact on the way they work they will have had no reason to buy into it and will increase the time it takes for the system to actually start delivering benefits," he said.
Logie was in charge of training 1,000 users with a team of 18 four weeks before a new ERP system went live. He said that challenge was to coordinate training with the deployment, rather than run it two or three weeks in advance, when there was a danger that staff would forget their new skills.
"In the two months leading up to the four weeks of training, we ran a poster campaign in all five of its regional offices and at its 70 regional depots, so that the scale and importance of the project was understood by workers," he said
The company also used web-based training. It monitored the process so managers knew who was turning up for training, how long they stayed for and whether or not they were just clicking through tutorials. Logie also received management backing in handling employees who had been avoiding training.
Derek Prior, a research director at AMR, said management support is also vital when it comes to chosing the right ERP system.
"ERP is not just an IT project. IT and the business have to work together to find where the pain points for end users are operationally how they do their jobs, and functionally what features they need to get the job done. By doing this, they can select the right package."
Prior cited a study by the London School of Economics and McKinsey. It found that companies which installed sophisticated IT systems with weak management and organisational support only achieved a 2% return on their investment, compared against those with strong management support and sophisticated IT systems, which achieved a 20% return on investment.
Garter analyst Chris Pang said that ERP deployments can usually take a year for an organisation to prepare, given breadth of change required. "Businesses also need to plan support users post-implementation - at least two to three months into a system going live. Training expert users to help others is one way of doing this for lean IT departments."