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SAP managers don't spend enough on training

If you're an SAP manager with licensing and upgrade woes, there's another problem lurking in the shadows. SAP training and education is more important than ever.

With licensing and upgrades keeping the attention of many SAP managers, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that...

those issues will dominate as the calendar pages slip to 2005.

But a less salient issue, albeit a related one, should also be a priority for SAP decision makers. Training, and the transfer of skills once an Enterprise or mySAP upgrade is complete, is a growing area of concern.

Many SAP managers who attended last month's Conference in Chicago said upgrades from R/3 were imminent, and training costs have been eating up a growing portion of their project dollars.

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Tom Leffler, senior information management manager with Pioneer High Brand International, said SAP consultants helped him make a business case to upper management for a mySAP ERP upgrade. But he expected to spend almost as much on training as he would on licenses.

"The transfer of skill sets is a big issue going to mySAP ERP. We have what I call an 'eat 'em up and spit 'em out' strategy. We want to find someone who knows [mySAP ERP] and can transfer those skills. We're willing to pay top dollar," Leffler said.

Leffler said he would likely end up with two development groups, one that understood Java, SAP Portal and other SAP tools, and another group that worked on ABAP, SAP's proprietary programming language.

MySAP ERP is a smaller, less expensive version of the mySAP Business Suite that offers customers full NetWeaver capabilities. NetWeaver is SAP's integration and application development platform that brings SAP into competition with IBM's WebSphere and BEA Systems Inc.'s WebLogic platform.

"Licensing is not the majority of costs," Leffler said. "At least as much money is going to be spent on training as licensing," he said.

Jim Shepherd, vice president research at Boston-based AMR Research Inc., said enterprises don't spend enough on training and education.

"[Training and education] is important when you're talking about a sophisticated tool that manages your business processes and severely impacts the value you get out of it," Shepherd said. "Knowledge erodes quickly."

Shepherd said periodic training is crucial for an enterprise to obtain maximum value from a complex business tool like SAP.

"Using these information systems is functionally so important, you need formal certification," Shepherd said. "Part of the reason companies don't take advantage of new applications is that they don't get educated on them."

Doug Whittle, a partner with Diagonal Group LLC, a N.J. ERP and CRM consultancy, said SAP implementations are really never over. He said training is one of the key post-implementation tenets a company must maintain.

He cautions companies have to address four groups of users: New employees who are new to SAP, new employees with some SAP familiarity, current employees new to SAP and current employees with some SAP know-how. At the same time, training modules have to be maintained as SAP versions are upgraded and updated.

He also cautioned that companies must find the "learning modality" that works best for a particular workforce. Those modalities can include online lessons and training sessions via NetMeeting or some other collaboration application.

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