The Challenge of Evergreen ERP Software: Why the Knowledge Gap is Killing You Softly

I had reason to be in my car for an hour with my Mother-In-Law recently.  For the record, my mother-in-law is wonderful and witty. She’s also less than comfortable when technology crosses her path.  She dropped a hint that my car was cold, so I put the seat heater on for her.  “Oh”, she said, “I found out last week that my car has seat heaters too”.  “Haven’t you had that car for 2 years mum?” I challenged.  “Oh yes, but we only found the button last week.  Well, we didn’t really find it, we were looking for the window de-mist button and pressed the seat heater by mistake.  I didn’t realise until my bum got toastie!”

I’m going to stick up for my mum here. I wondered if the button was part of the dealer handover?  I wondered which part of the 267 page ‘Owner Manual’ mentions it?

The parallels with our tech world are scary.  We make assumptions.  We point and say “there is the button” but don’t let people have time to press it nor do we allow them time to explore the consequences (your bum will get hot).  It’s not good enough.

As we’ve moved through the learning pain of cloud transformation, the catalogue of ‘reasons-why-we-didn’t-quite-smash-it-out-of-the-park’ has morphed.  It has changed its clothes and taken on a new guise.  And it’s now not a quick death either.  It is the death by a thousand cuts version.  It is the erosion of something that started out so well, with all good support, sponsorship and intention, only to be lost to another tale of missed opportunity, or unmet expectation.

When ERP went to the cloud, we relearned 90% of our methodology, played with agile and scrums.  We tipped environment management upside down.  Developers relaunched their careers as integration architects and 12 weeks of Dell blade server procurement lead time dropped out of project plans.  It was a period of great advancement driven by some amazing shifts in the technology and tools available to us.  There was learning pain, but ultimately huge gain.

But something else happened, almost by stealth, and it has taken time for me to realise the full impact.  Cloud platforms and evergreen software has created a physical paradigm shift in how technology is brought to bear to solve business challenges.  Unfortunately, the people that use the technology, together with the processes that glue the whole thing together, are falling behind.  What is worse is that the gap is growing.

Let’s look at the happy path story.  You’ve invested your budget, the project has run well and today is the big switch on.  You’ve taken great care to train your users.  Those processes and training notes are nicely documented and stored away in your central project site of choice.  All good. Celebrate the moment because as far as your users’ skills and knowledge are concerned, that is as good as it gets.  We often talk about People, Processes and Technology.  For one day and one day only, those three stars are aligned.  And this is happy path.

From this point forward, several factors now come into play to undermine all your hard work.  Key project team members will start to spend less time in and around your users.  Hypercare will end.  A little knowledge escapes.  Your users find those lovely de-snagging issues of real operations and creative solutions are found.  Did you document that revision, or keep your training notes up to date? Well done if you did, no criticism if you didn’t.

A key user goes on leave and much deserved too.  Can colleagues cover? Can they identify the routines and daily tasks and get these done on the new system? Do new recruits get the same 16 hours of quality training as those around at go-live, or do they get a 20 minute overview at their desk from a well-meaning super-user and a supportive, “Give me a shout if you get stuck.”  If I get this about right, you have the person trained by the trainer, who was trained by the trainer, during the train the trainer deployment, now doing the training. It’s not good enough.

Maybe I exaggerate to make the point, but the erosion happens, and it can happen fast.  And then comes the evergreen rub.  You are barely out of your ERP nappies when along comes a software update with 8 new key features, 27 UI updates, 42 bug fixes, 3 new reports, and 2 new role centre dashboards to explore.  If you’re able to manage that lot, I take my hat off, but most of it will slide by.  And every couple of months, there’s another, and another.

What raises this up for me is a true belief that it is not a ‘fix required’ type of problem.  Preventing the gap between the technology on one side and the people and processes on the other, requires a cultural shift in our attitudes and approach to learning, knowledge management and process documentation.  What does a cultural shift look like? Well, tools and techniques can certainly improve, yes. But what I really seek, and what I feel is the only thing to really shift the needle, is raising the profile that these topics have within a project and post-project life.  As an example, how many steering committees have representation from the HR Director? Is HR not responsible for employee learning, skills, certification, and compliance? Don’t they have the long term task of ensuring users are armed with the rights skills, tools and techniques to ace their jobs now, and their career aspirations down-stream?

Contrary to popular belief, and I’m going to stick my neck out a bit here, the ongoing long-term success of a project is not determined by the stakeholders or the budget or the technology – important though they are.  It is determined by the people that use it, that embrace it, that adopt it to the very heart of the organisation.  It is well trained and engaged users that identify opportunities for improvement and greater adoption.  They are the sponsors and drivers of change.  Putting a new toy in front of “every person…on the planet” does not empower them.  Investing in their continuous learning and improvement does.

I asked my mother-in-law how she felt about her heated seat revelation, and what happened next? “First, I turned off the seat heater and turned on the de-mist! Then I spend the next half hour investigating every button on the consol.  Then the next half hour investigating every menu option in the digital display. I discovered we had DAB radio, which is way better than Radio 2 on FM”.  Hallelujah.

It turns out that my mother-in-law is not a technophobe, or a luddite. She just needed the motivation, the environment, and the tools to learn. And look at the step change when the catalyst came.

Stop talking about cool new tech and let us instead look at how we can create an environment and a learning culture that helps our users at the coal face deal with the technology that is already in front of them. Imagine how far we could shift the ROI needle, the productivity needle, the user satisfaction needle, the retention needle. Imagine how many closet technology evangelists you have hiding in your ranks? The change would be off the scale.

Unfortunately, without this culture shift, the conversation is not happening. ‘Next-wave’ technology stole the show, and the budget, again. (AI anyone?)

Similar Posts