GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY/Training employees to use ERP systems
While some technologies merely automate business processes, others redesign the processes to make them more efficient. When local governments decide to use technology that will change their business processes, they must prepare their employees with comprehensive training.
Many cities and counties have begun using enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to integrate several departments’ computer systems. Without ERP systems, city or county departments typically maintain legacy systems that are usually unable to “talk” to other departments or share information electronically.
ERP applications combine several functions previously supported by legacy systems — such as payroll, financial management, customer relationship management, supply chain management and human resources — into a single, integrated system that uses a shared database. ERP applications run on either client/server networks or the Internet and let departments share information, query data and run reports. They eliminate the need to store duplicate information in more than one place and reduce the amount of work necessary to gather and analyze information.
ERP systems increase efficiency by freeing employees from performing time-consuming, manual work. For example, legacy systems often require hours or days to run reports. With ERP, reports can be produced instantly. Those efficiencies allow employees to spend time on other tasks, reducing the cost of operating government and ultimately benefiting taxpayers. However, ERP systems will only produce results if all end users are adequately trained.
Contra Costa County, Calif., invested in thorough training as a part of its ERP upgrade. The county had been managing its human resources, payroll and benefits functions with an ERP system it purchased in the late 1990s. But, in 2000, it wanted to automate its retirement calculators and leave-accrual programs, which were managed with legacy systems. Moreover, to continue receiving technical support from its vendor, the county needed to upgrade to a more current version of the system.
County officials realized that employees needed to be prepared to use the new system prior to going live. The county contracted with an experienced ERP integration firm to offer more than 30 classes to approximately 120 Contra Costa employees.
The program was tailored to the county’s specific business processes, providing a half-day overview for first-time software users; one-day overviews of the human resource, benefits and payroll modules for occasional users; five-day, in-depth classes for regular payroll users; one-day benefits and one-day Cobra and benefit billing classes for benefits users; and two-day query/Crystal reporting classes.
Rather than training employees on the full range of the ERP system’s capabilities, the curriculum focused only on those modules the county would use. In addition, it addressed employees’ varied skill levels and provided an overview of the system prior to focusing on the specialized functions needed for their jobs. The comprehensive training sessions were conducted just prior to the ERP system’s go-live date in November 2000.
County employees have reported that the training classes helped them feel more comfortable using the system and have helped reduce mistakes. As a result, the county’s payroll processing has run much more smoothly since the upgrade.
Employee training helped Contra Costa County reap the benefits of its new ERP system almost immediately. By devoting time to technology training in the short term, the county helped ensure a return on its ERP investment in the long term.
The author is president for Acuent, Parsipanny, N.J.