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How Not to Screw Up Your Software Investment

Jul 18, 2008
Among the companies I've worked with one of the biggest money holes is poor software training. So many companies, from Fortune 100 down to 10-20 employee businesses believe that the training provided by the software manufacturer is sufficient. It never is because while the software company may understand the generalities of your industry, they never have a full understanding of the your company's particular way of doing business. That's a fact.

You can spend millions on the latest and greatest enterprise software to run your business. However, if the people who use that software daily don't fully understand how to get the most out of it, you've wasted your investment. The new software will end up adding little or no productivity to your workforce, and may end up making things worse. Your people will get frustrated and develop a bad attitude about the "system." This is especially true among less tech savvy employees.

How often have you heard a customer or supplier of yours complain over the phone that their "system" is slow, or it is hard to find information? If your experience is like mine, you hear it a lot. What message does that send about their company? Either their software is lousy, or their people are too dumb to use it. Sometimes, both are true, but more often the people just haven't been properly trained.

A great example of this is a small company I worked for that upgraded their enterprise software after 20 years of working with an outdated, slow, and just plain difficult to use custom software. The company upgraded to a canned software system designed for companies in their industry. It was a great package with lots of excellent features that were certainly going to be very beneficial to all the employees.

Because of poor training however, employees hated the new software. They longed for the old system because as difficult as it was, it was familiar. That's the key. They knew how the old system worked, and how it related to their daily tasks.

At first all was well. A team of employees was given the task of transferring data, and preparing the new software for the go live date. Each employee was given a series of CD ROM's that taught them all about the software, and quizzed them on the features. Six weeks prior to the go live date four-hour training sessions were scheduled for three nights in a row with all the employees and a trainer from the software company. Everyone learned a lot about the new software.

What the software trainer could not teach was how to apply the particular situations each employee faced on a daily basis to the software. The trainer knew the software inside and out, but had no idea about company procedures, methods, etc., and how they relate to the software. So, for all the training the employees got on the technical aspects of the new software, they really didn't know how to use it effectively.

So, along came the go live day, and all H-E double hockey sticks broke loose. The team originally charged with transferring data, and preparing for go live was overwhelmed with questions, complaints, and whining about the software. When it came time to use the software for real most employees were lost. This put a significant burden on management to deal with all the questions and complaints, and slowed productivity to a crawl.

Worse, the attitude of the employees began to sour toward the new software. Once a bad attitude sets in it is extremely difficult to turn around. Some employees began vocalizing their frustration while talking with customers. That's bad news because now they were telling their customers their company was screwed up. That does not exactly instill confidence among customers. Besides, bad word spreads like a virus.

The company's huge investment was essentially wasted because there were no improvements from the new software.

As time went on certain employees began to figure things out. They began to understand how to make the new software work with their needs, and how canned software can flex to fit a particular company. The problem was some people figured out some things, but not others. No one had solved all the problems. Even worse there was no forum to discuss these little nuggets of knowledge. So, no one was sharing their discoveries with others in the company. The result was some employees gaining productivity in some areas while others were gaining productivity in other areas, but the organization as a whole was not seeing any measurable gains.

Had management created a way for employees to share their ideas, discoveries, shortcuts, etc. the entire organization could adopt these techniques. A weekly meeting coupled with a message board or posting forum on their intranet would have sparked discussion among employees. Management could then take the best ideas, and implement them as written guidelines for all employees.

Instead their shiny new software system became a mess of disconnected and missing data entered with no consistent format. The company might as well have burned the money spent on the software and related hardware to support it.

The lesson is understanding that technical training is only half the battle. To fully utilize an enterprise software system, and squeeze all the productivity possible from it, you must exert significant effort over time to develop a best practices forum for your employees. You must encourage your employees to contribute to the forum, even if anonymously. You must then consistently cultivate the best ideas of your employees, and incorporate them into corporate guidelines for daily use.

Or, you could just throw money away. Your choice.
About the Author
Ted Hebert is a writer and Maverick Thinker who works with business of all sizes to grow their business. If want to grow your business in new ways contact Ted at ted@atunga.com or visit www.Atunga.com.
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