How to serve up better systems training

Annar Ramji

The social side of business systems

Information technology systems are the most expensive investments made by companies and governments. That means that training on these systems is also a big cost factor which is often ignored. Organisations roll out new software and upgrades without giving consideration to training, and when new implementations run into problems or do not meet expectations, it is the end-user who is held responsible.

On the other hand, a good training programme can count as a competitive edge and a requisite to a value added system. Taking a proactive approach, by training before the software hits the end-user’s desktop, is the most effective way to ensure that a return on investment is achieved.

The general rule-of-thumb is that a training programme should account for about 10-15% of the total IT budget, a figure which most organisations underestimate. This need for cost efficiencies has also driven a rise in the use of elearning which is sometimes of a very low quality. Often it is supplied by a vendor with little expertise in the area.

But within a collaborative environment, effective online learning for systems training really can be the best use of your budget. This article looks at how we can build better systems training: focusing on the key questions of engagement, time-to-competence and performance support.

How to structure it

‘Awareness’ modules and scenario-based learning play a vital and often under-used role in winning the emotional investment necessary for learners to accept changes in the organisation. The introduction of new systems or upgrades can mean major upheaval to the way end users work. Basic training in the new technology can help users embrace those changes before any major rollouts. This makes an evaluation of organisational readiness a critical prerequisite to developing an effective elearning course on a new system.

To be successful in winning emotional engagement, start with the basics. Focus on the new look and feel, navigation and location of familiar and new functions, including the ‘help’ button. Familiarise the learner by using real life scenarios to build confidence in the new system.

Saffron Interactive’s approach of “Show me, Guide me, Let me try, Assess me” has been the winning solution with the systems training in its courses. It prepares the learner for what to expect, explains the specifics of what business processes are affected, runs through the transaction and shows what it will look and feel like with a “Let me try” phase where learners can test drive using a system simulation. The “Assess me” phase measures competence formally.

Often after the initial training, users advance to more sophisticated functions. It’s important that a modular approach is taken: the advanced modules should be specific to role or job function. Too often, systems training tries to explain everything to everyone in the same way. Don’t expect it to work, in this case.

The social side of systems

For any training to be effective, an instructor with mastery of the material in not enough. Learners need multiple reference points and collaborative learning is one of the most effective ways to discover, share, learn and apply skills. Systems, like anything else, have a social dimension which can’t be ignored. It’s well known that, in the classroom, collaborative learning speeds time-to-competence by building an emotional framework around the skills being taught.

But when we deliver this training online or as a blend, the social side of the classroom is often forgotten. We should build forums and social networking into the design. Online collaborative learning speeds productivity by helping learners to stay connected with the system upgrades. This allows learners to structure collective knowledge as a resource for further discussion and future learning to identify inefficiencies for organisations to act on.

There’s rarely just one way to do something, and often it’s not suitable to show learners all the tips and advanced shortcuts during formal training. But through collaboration, users can discover and explore new ways to perform specific business functions and tasks. Collaborative features like feedback surveys and comments also help to identify common trouble spots and create a sharing environment on how to address those concerns and solve problems. In turn, this helps to realise the desired productivity gains.

Finally, it’s important to use learning analytics as part of the training. Effective systems training offers the most tangible return on investment of all programmes, yet often, it is considered an overhead rather than an investment. Analytics can provide measurable metrics on the effectiveness and performance of end users, an important piece of data for IT managers to report on and justify return on technology investment.

eLearning also allows for the analysis of ‘in-course’ performance data to  identify common issues and help instructional designers to focus on specifics by creating customised training in simulated environments. Companies that study returns on training investments end up improving their education programs and “see the connection between learning and development and how it drives the bottom-line,” says Jack J. Phillips, Chairman of ROI, Institute.

It’s very likely that a new system roll-out will take up a lot of your time and your budget this year. Don’t be left blaming end-users for your mistakes!



Case study

In November 2013 Saffron was engaged to produce a series of elearning courses (with accompanying training materials) to prepare employees for a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system roll out at a recycling specialist. As a large company with multiple sites across Europe, the client needed the training to be translated and deployed across every one of its 70 European sites. In addition to the training, there was a requirement for a learning management system that would provide the backbone for the learner experience.

Saffron built a bespoke multilingual LMS solution that enabled managers to track course uptake and completion levels. The systems training, LMS, and training materials were developed and translated in just four weeks using Rapid Application Development (RAD) methodologies to meet the commercial challenges posed by the tight timescales.

Challenge

Implementing an ERP system is no small challenge to a business. Over 50 % of ERP deployments experience cost overruns and over 60 % of respondents receive under half of their expected benefit from their ERP implementation. In short, implementing an ERP system is a huge undertaking.

This was the challenge that faced the recycling and sustainability company when they decided to unify their various databases under one ERP system. With a network of over 70 sites across Europe and 15 reporting departments, the spectre of upheaval and disruption was looming.

To mitigate this risk, effective staff training was key. However, the wide dispersal of sites, as well as the remote location of the Head Office, posed significant difficulties. That’s why when the client engaged us, we made communication a priority. True to our mantra ‘Straight Talking, Clear Thinking’, we dispatched the project lead to the head office for two weeks to thoroughly scope the project. During the rapid development process, daily communications were scheduled with the client Project Lead, alongside regular progress checks to ensure that the message remained accurate and targeted.

Our approach

Key questions the client had for Saffron were: how fast can we develop the training, and can we scale up? Leveraging our experience, we were able to act quickly and smartly. The first action was to get a complete understanding of the ERP system and how its functions related to each department. This required spending time onsite with the client, learning how the system worked and the company’s internal processes.

As a result of this, Saffron was able to accurately scope the project, capture the learning outcomes and analyse the client’s specific training needs. We then developed a suite of elearning modules, covering everything from the system itself to detailed training for each individual department.

Our objective was that employees would be comfortable with using the system and understand its full functionality. This was especially vital to the success of the ERP roll-out, as users would be working within a ‘live’ environment where the data they input is saved and visible to all in real-time. With users accountable for the accuracy of their input, the training was integral to the success of the ERP system, allowing users to practice and test their knowledge in a no-risk environment. Through thorough preparation, we were able to adapt to changing circumstances such as shortened timescales managing translation and changes to the ERP system itself.

During the development process, Saffron also worked on the classroom training materials and built a custom LMS in time to dovetail with the roll-out of the modules. We worked hard to ensure flexibility for the client and adapt to their abbreviated timescale, without compromising the quality of the end product. The LMS used a dashboard which included gamified progress dials and real-time reports on user activity for line managers, as well as set of ‘one-click’ management reports.

Results

The client was delighted with the flexibility shown by Saffron in meeting the shifting demands of the project timescales. They have since followed-up and requested a series of further modules and training materials to be developed in the next quarter. To embed the learning, the LMS is being used to manage feedback survey and a dedicated Q&A forum for each role, so that a shared knowledge base can be created.

Annar Ramji

Annar is Saffron’s chief technology officer. She has over 30 years of experience in information technology and project management in the North American, European and Asian markets as well being an Accredited Adult Instructor. Annar has managed large scale technical projects to implement financial applications using Oracle Financials and SAP in complex ERP environments. Having a data architecture background, Annar has designed complex data models for clients such as Gulf Canada, Nova, and WestJet.

She’s a Certified Project Manager and has also developed curriculum information systems for the Universities of Calgary and Manitoba, incorporating the Elluminate and Blackboard Virtual Learning Environments.

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