Most ERP software packages are designed around industry accepted business practices, operating philosophies and techniques that have evolved over many years. Today the issue is not whether there is a body of knowledge with supporting software tools, the question is… are clients educated enough to see the value or understand the proper use of the tools. The short answer is no.
Education versus ERP software training
First, many have lost site of the fact there is a difference between education and software training. End user software training is very important but it is mainly about how to do transactions in the software and how these transactions related to your business processes. However, this can be very different from understanding the original design intent and industry application of the tools.
For example, the issue of education vs. software training is analogous to training someone to fly a 767 but not educating them on the concepts of jet propulsion or flight; or how to start-up a chainsaw but not the best way to cut down the big tree. Both of these are scary propositions, but in terms of ERP projects it is about failure to achieve the business benefits. At the root of the problem is senior managers and end-users never changed their behaviors to take advantage of the tools; and a big part of this is lack of education.
Independent Sources of ERP education
Keep in mind, education is more than just a seminar of “best practices” put on by a software vendor (with a hidden agenda) in room full of 300 other clients. It is about getting some real independent education, not focused on any specific package. In addition to understanding key concepts, one must also delve into the mechanics in order to implement.
Baked into the ERP implementation methodology
There once was a time when management and user education were part of the standard implementation methodologies. Interesting enough the project success rates was much higher.
For example, it is worth noting the great Joseph Orlicky wrote the first groundbreaking book on the topic of MRP (forerunner to ERP) back in 1975 (updated and still a good read). It focused on concepts and techniques on how to plan and control materials in a manufacturing plant. However, the most interesting thing is Mr. Orlicky (an employee of IBM) never glorified the role of the computer. He believed if one did not understand the underlying principles of MRP, the computer was not much help anyway.
However, the late Ollie Wight (the godfather of MRPII) said it best “MRPII is not a computer system, it is a people system made possible by the computer”. Orlickly and Wight went on to build and grow the “religion” called APICS (The American Production and Inventory Control Society). The best thing that ever happened to manufacturing practitioners.
Back to ERP Basics
Today there is a disconnect between industry best practices and what clients attempt to do with their systems. It might be time to get back to the basics of blocking and tackling or at least try to understand the intent of the package you just purchased.
Instead, we focus on the gee-whiz aspects of software, technology, implementation tools, and turnkey solutions (which usually exist only in the marketing literature). Cheaper, faster and the slam-dunk mentality is the name of the game, even when we do not accomplish anything worth the effort. We naively assume the mere existence of better tools automatically results in a change in employee behavior (if we build it, they will come). We fail to educate senior management and then wonder why they are not committed to the project. We set higher expectations of our employees, yet as leaders, we fail to provide them with the knowledge they need to succeed. When our projects go down the tube, we blame software vendors, consultants, the entire senior management staff, all employees, our spouse, and everyone else except ourselves.
No, education is not glamorous so proposing it will not make you a hero. Nevertheless, it is the stuff successful IT projects are made of. If Ollie knew what was going on today he would roll over in his grave.
Contributed by Steve Phillips of the Street Smart ERP Blog – Visit his site for more great project insight.
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