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ERP Training Technology: Evolve or Perish

I recently found out that Sarah Hurst is involved with the upcoming Houston area technology conference sponsored by American Society for Training Development (ASTD) Houston Chapter.

Sarah is ASTD Houston’s President Elect this year and we had a good conversation about the impact that technology is having on training at her employer, Stewart and Stevenson LLC —a longtime JD Edwards client.  Before you email me and tell me that this forum is for SAP related blogs, let me jump in and say that this interview has information useful for SAP, JDE, and clients of other ERP solutions. 

First, Sarah clarified that the Houston ASTD chapter’s next event is June 25th, and is a one day technology conference. Although the agenda hasn’t been finalized, these topics are being considered:

.Using mobile devices such as the cell phone, IPAD
. Distance learning, using tools and techniques such as: Elluminate, webinars, Skype, etc.
. Audience response systems
. eLearning, blended learning
. Rapid development of eLearning
. Second Life/3D
. Simulations, electronic and/or physical, levels of fidelity
. Social media for learning
. Technology on a shoestring, such as moodle, UDUTU
. Applications available to support learning development and delivery

Sarah mentioned that the deadline for submitting presentation proposals is coming up, but there is still time to submit proposals. Information on the conference is located at:

Sarah’s title is Training Manager and she has been with the company for almost 25 years. Sarah worked as Training Manager in Administration, HR, IT and now the Stewart and Stevenson Training Center. Sarah’s responsibilities include researching and developing classroom and WebEx training as well as needs assessment and training consultation. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from The University of Texas at Austin and Learning & Development Certificate from The University of Houston as well as various other vendor certifications.

Stewart and Stevenson LLC is a leading designer, manufacturer and marketer of specialized equipment and a leading provider of aftermarket parts and service to the oil and gas and other industries served for over 100 years. Stewart & Stevenson has over 2,852 employees worldwide, and annual revenues of approximately $1,217 million (that’s $1.2 B).

Andy: Sarah, how do you feel about the title I gave this blog – ERP Training Technology: Evolve or Perish?

Sarah: I am determined to evolve or change as necessary. One of my favorite quotes is from Sarah Nolan and says, “The world will change, whether you want it to or not.” Technology is not longer my enemy but my ally, and I will accept its evolution as a requirement for training.

Sarah and I discussed several topics worth noting for SAP clients.

Sarah: Implementing our ERP solution was a real challenge for those of us whose jobs did not entail daily computer usage. As a manufacturer, our employees’ skills weren’t computer centric. It took patience and time to establish a comfort zone as well as understand the software and its benefits. At first we had a training group specific to teaching JD Edwards. Now that it has been successfully implemented, we offer a limited amount of formal training and offer on the job training with a SME (subject matter expert) from the new employee’s own department. This has been a great cost and time saver for the company.

Andy: Sarah, what are some of the newer technologies for IT (and ERP) training that you are either using or exploring these days?

Sarah: We’re starting to research creating eLearning modules, we recently acquired a sophisticated LMS (Learning Management System), and I’m interested in learning more about creating podcasts. We’ve also started using “clickers” (an audience response system) in classrooms which allow students to respond to informal questions during class. The instructor and the students can see all the responses instantly on the screen.

Both the instructors and students enjoy using the “clickers” and I feel that it increases the level of participation and student engagement.

Andy: Very cool, I’ve actually seen the same system in use in a middle school classroom. We considered acquiring this technology in the past from Turning Technology —

What other technologies are in place today for ERP training at SSSS?

Sarah: We’ve been using recorded WebEx presentations frequently. These are especially helpful for learning subjects such as: Foundation, customizing reports, and creating and running reports. Having the information taped and online gives the employee opportunity to review the information whenever they need it. We also use WebEx for new applications of JD Edwards. A WebEx allows the employee to be at their desk in another state and see the application in process. It requires an audio feed as well, but the cost savings over travel costs are tremendous.

Andy: Sarah, any comments about the importance of business process training vs. learning what keystrokes to use when an end user touches the ERP system?

Sarah: If you don’t understand how and why your part of the business process impacts another, then it’s easy to get sloppy or not work in a timely fashion. The Accounts Receivable process, for example, depends on invoices getting closed correctly, proper customer billing information, timely closings and invoicing printed. The business process is like traffic on a very heavily travelled freeway. If one car stops suddenly it causes a wreck for everyone else. One pileup in the business system will stop the entire process from being completed in the right way, costing time and money for the company and potentially the customer.

Andy: Tell me more about the LMS software you recently acquired.

Sarah: We purchased SumTotal as our Learning Management System. With two full time administrators we had been manually tracking all internal training registrations and other data, The SumTotal registration process is excellent. Unfortunately the reports that come with the system don’t meet our specific needs. We have had to customize many of them.

Andy: Sarah, what’s the next big thing in learning technology?

Sarah: Looking ahead, mLearning (learning using mobile phones) is getting more popular. One application of this technology could be sales training. All our salespeople have cell phones, and they can complete mobile learning modules between sales appointments. Mobile phone vendors have software to distribute the mLearning. mLearning will be good for our locations that have only a few employees. They can turn on the training whenever and wherever they are and the information will be consistent with those in a larger branch. And mLearning would be great for new employees because they could select a training module developed to answer specific questions. Image viewing equipment schematics while doing a maintenance repair, rather than stopping to find a blueprint. Safety could be reinforced immediately after an accident The opportunites seem endless .

Andy: Sarah, you haven’t said a lot about creating eLearning in-house for your ERP solution or other IT training. Is that something you see on the horizon?

Sarah: Presently we aren’t creating eLearning modules. We’ll be evaluating available package solutions soon, and I hope that by 2011 we’ll be taking advantage of that technology. I can tell you that our vendors are creating eLearning modules that we use to train our employees and customers on the products that we distribute. The nature of the products we service and sell, oil and gas equipment, engines and equipment, requires extensive training. In fact, our training programs are featured on our website at:

Andy: Are there any bandwidth considerations when it comes to deploying eLearning?

Sarah: Bandwidth is an issue because we have locations all over Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, and worldwide. Smaller branch locations have smaller bandwidth and this creates a lot of wait time when bringing up the program. Wait time is unproductive and irritating. We might have to start eLearning without Flash, Video and interactive Q&A. Unfortunately, that means eLearning with only read-only capabilities. Upgrading our network capabilities will be a priority, so that we can eventually incorporate more eLearning functionality.

Andy: Sarah, will you let our readers know what interesting technologies and ideas are presented at the ASTD conference on June 25th?

Sarah: I’d be delighted to do that. I also encourage anyone who can attend to be there in person to experience it themselves. ASTD Houston members and guests can register now at

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