Employee Training for Software Upgrades Overlooked by Many Electrical Distributors

Dec. 20, 2002
The most critical aspect of the conversion to a new or upgraded software platform is employee training, and it's the area where most distributors cut

The most critical aspect of the conversion to a new or upgraded software platform is employee training, and it's the area where most distributors cut corners, say vendors of business software.

“If there are unforeseen problems in the go-live, they'll almost always be in the areas where distributors didn't spend enough time training and practicing,” said Doug Levin, executive vice president, Prophet 21 Inc., Yardley, Pa.

An article on upgrading distribution software packages in Electrical Wholesaling's January issue reports that distributors don't always take software vendors' training recommendations seriously. Several companies that have been through the experience say proper training is integral to the success of the upgrade. Many different types of training exist, and each has its proponents.

Classroom training by the vendor costs more than train-the-trainer programs or computer-based training, but it's far more effective, in one vendor's view.

“You see some distributors get chintzy on training and opt for train-the-trainer programs, but the in-house trainer doesn't have the experience with the system to answer many of the questions that come up, and they may not have the resources to get the questions answered at all,” said Don Webb, president of Prelude Systems Inc., Addison, Texas.

The best and most cost-effective approach is for distributors to get everyone trained on the core system first, then space out implementations of more advanced, peripheral features so employees don't have to digest the whole thing at once. Some features can be turned off for the initial installation, so distributors don't have to train for it at the time of installation. Then, as they are ready to use each additional feature, they can have it switched on and train their people on it at that point.

“It's like a big dinner buffet,” said Jay Walther, senior manager of marketing, Intuit Eclipse, Shelton, Conn. “You know just looking at it that you can't eat it all, so you have to come up with some sort of plan. You could try to train people in the whole system and all its features at once, but they can't digest it. It's important the management team identify what they need to replace first, and then add the companion functions they need most over time.”

The timing of the training with respect to the go-live date is critical. If distributors train their people too early, they may not retain much of what they learned when the system goes live, said David Adkinson, president, John A. Becker Co., Dayton, Ohio. This is one of the problems his company ran into in its conversion to a new computer system last January.

“Our original go-live date was Dec. 1, 2001, and we began training people in early September. Then our go-live date got pushed back to Jan. 2. By then it had been four months, so people didn't retain as much. That's one thing I'd do differently. I'd train them closer to the go-live date,” Adkinson said.

The best time for training also varies by department, say vendors. Accounting people can be trained as much as six to eight months out and still be expected to retain most of it, because the standardized accounting methods don't change that much from one system to another. Warehouse, order-entry and counter people should be trained in the last four weeks before the planned go-live date so all the changes in order-entry screens and processes stay fresh.

Vendors also warn against using a one-size-fits-all approach to computer training. Salespeople — who will be expected to use the software's customer-relationship management features to produce better information for their sales calls but have seldom used the company's computer — may struggle to learn how to capture the data that supports targeted marketing efforts.

And if truck drivers who have never been tied to the company computer are to be capturing signature images that link into invoicing and accounts payable, they will need more training just to get up to a basic comfort level.