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Targeted SAP upgrades changing SAP training, experts say

SAP's more frequent, smaller upgrades are pressuring companies to change how they view training, according to experts. One company is choosing to go a different route.

Smaller, more targeted SAP upgrades are changing the way companies manage enhancements as well as the way SAP training will be performed, according to experts.

“[SAP] projects are largely getting smaller and smaller in scope,” said independent SAP analyst Jon Reed.  “There are some exceptions. There are some big, what we think of as waterfall projects, but part of the whole idea of getting onto [SAP] ERP 6.0, is to do more minor enhancements and upgrades. So you end up with more targeted training that meets the needs of specific kinds of go-lives.”

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This past fall, SAP announced that it would release enhancements to its Business Suite software on a quarterly basis as a way to both deliver new technologies faster and minimize technological disruptions for its customers, many of whom have been asking for the new format for years, according to the software maker.

Thomas Michael, head of the Michael Management Corporation, an IT consulting firm which offers e-learning programs for SAP software, said although his firm also provides training to new SAP customers involved in large, first-time SAP ERP deployments, demand is steadily moving towards providing targeted SAP training for smaller go-lives. Most companies already have SAP ERP systems in place, according to Michael.

“[Big deployments] are not as frequent as they use to be,” he said.

That’s leading to a diminished need for documentation that was once required and prolonged classroom training sessions, according to Reed.  “You might not need two weeks of classroom training, but it’s a one-day intensive and you’re done. That’s sort of the vision of where these smaller projects are going.”

The changing nature of SAP software deployments is putting pressure on companies to become “learning organizations” in which people are trained more on the fly and in a variety of means that are contextual and easy to learn. That could require more access to online and e-learning options, he said, such as closer contact with super users, an online forum, someone that’s on-call via chat – or all of the above.

 “It’s that notion of just-in-time learning,” Reed said. “Get what you need to know, when you need to know it.”

Still sticking with a “big bang” approach to SAP upgrades, training

At least one company isn’t on board.

Harman, a maker of consumer and professional grade electronics and audio equipment based in Stamford, Conn., has three separate ERP instances for each of its three divisions. The company is deferring SAP’s quarterly functional upgrades and instead sticking with the more traditional model of taking care of SAP upgrades in large batches every two years or so, unless there’s a compelling business demand to update things sooner, according to Arun Kumar, Harman’s director of enterprise architecture and compliance.

Kumar said that even though the upgrades may be limited in scope, you still have to test everything that particular application integrates with, which can be time consuming. “Packages are segmented or focused, but in reality, you just don’t test only [that application] because you don’t really know the impact.”

In the end, more periodic SAP upgrades are going to require near-constant testing and become a drag on the company’s IT resources. “If there’s a choice, do you want to take smaller, focused upgrades several times, or do things once every two years or so?  I’ll take the [latter],” Kumar said.  

As a result, Harman’s training schedule will continue to run on the same schedule as the upgrades. Right now, the company uses the ‘train the trainers’ method in which consultants train various super users, who in turn help train other employees. Videos of those training sessions are posted on the company’s Intranet for anyone to review at any time.

It’s not that Harman wouldn’t be open to e-learning and other types of ‘just in time’ training, he said, but that it just hasn’t given it much thought yet, as it likely feels like the current methods meet the company's needs.

Do smaller deployments mean less SAP training?

Unfortunately, SAP training is still sometimes an afterthought even with smaller projects, according to Reed. “It doesn’t mean that because it’s smaller that it happens the right way.  It just means that it’s not as intensive, company-wide, in many cases.”

In the Michael Management report, a survey of over 1000 users and consultants, IDC analyst Cushing Anderson writes that information is lost when people move on to other positions, including promotions, layoffs, or departures, but that information can also get lost as a result of upgrades and changes to existing processes.

“Failing to train impacted users (and administrators) on the new processes and even the intended benefits of the new approach severely undermines the potential benefits,” Anderson writes.

Anderson cited one survey respondent who wrote that despite his company’s upgrade to higher versions, they was still training staff on the old functionality, because they were not aware of what was in the new software.

Most SAP users say they don’t get enough training, period

Close to half of all SAP users said in the same Michael Management survey that they aren’t getting enough SAP training and education where they work. More than 60% of respondents said they get 10 hours or less of SAP training during the year.  

The numbers suggest that many companies fail to see the value of ongoing training and education, he said.  “A lot of executives, leadership, see training as a one-time event,” Michael said.

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