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Why Change, Communications, and Learning Sustainment are the Keys to Long Term Success with SAP

An interview with Donna Pearce, (Sr. Director, Merck Strategy Office) and former Global Change, Communications, and Training Lead for Merck’s SAP & Global End to End Process Program.


Sustaining the knowledge gained at “go-live” or Change, Communications, and Learning Sustainment, is a hot topic among SAP clients today. A successful go-live is just the first step in the ERP life cycle; and full benefits realization from an SAP implementation requires that the entire environment, especially learning, be sustained (and continuously improved) for many years past the go-live.


Andy: Donna, can you tell me about your background in Organizational Change Management?

Donna: My early career was in the area of Sales and Marketing. I became very interested in helping organizations achieve their business goals and I have been working in Organizational Development for about 15 years, including the last five with Merck. All of my experience at Merck has been in supporting strategic change. So it isn’t a surprise that I was drawn to managing the change, communications, and training aspects of the implementation of our SAP solution at Merck. Our SAP project is not only about implementing a new technology; it also supports our work in reframing Merck operations globally around end-to-end business processes. The project incorporates specific business processes including order to cash, procure to pay, financial business management, supply chain, and HR. We’ve been implementing SAP for four years, and we just went live in the US in April, 2010. We now have about 37,000 users. We’re also merging with Schering-Plough, and SAP will become the business solution for the new, merged company.

Andy: Is this one of the largest SAP implementations in the world?

Donna: Yes, we believe it is. Our Global Change, Communication, and Training Team (CCT) has the responsibility to support and maintain our live user community. The program has a vested interest in having a strong strategy to achieve these goals, as we have a small central team, and a large user base. We identified the need for CCT Sustainment last year.

Andy: What do you feel would happen if you didn’t have the Sustainment program in place? Without a clear focus and strategy, there won’t be a plan for how to transition the work being done during the implementation to an ongoing business model post go-live. Clarity must exist about who assigns and approves roles, how to leverage the organization’s existing learning infrastructure, and how to support learning logistics and learning technology. In addition, there needs to be a clear process for how system changes and new functionality get communicated to those who are live on the system, and in the right timeframe so they can be prepared when the change happens.

Donna: I’ve been on this project for two years, and we have smaller markets that were live on SAP when I came on board. Those previous go-lives gave us an idea of what the risks and issues were likely to be when we had a much larger user base live. In 2009 I came to SAPPHIRE/ASUG to find out what other, more mature SAP implementations were doing with respect to a sustainment model. Through our networking and other conversations we pieced together lessons learned—what other clients wished they had done during their implementation and what they were trying to do now that they were live. That, and our approach to change execution, informed our recommendations to the business on our CCT Sustainment model. We consider roles and training as intertwined — our training curriculum is role based, so you can’t separate roles from training and any sustainment strategy needs to include both. Without a CCT Sustainment model, the key business areas across the enterprise would not have a clear approach on how to maintain what was installed at go live. Once a region is live, the program is focused on moving on to the next release, and the business areas must manage ongoing people movement and access requests as well as future changes coming from the program. First, we can imagine the scenario where there is no process in place to manage the roles that people are mapped to, and since roles define access, users wouldn’t have the right access to the system. They wouldn’t be able to do the job that was intended using the new solution. You can imagine that a lot of frustration and workarounds would emerge, and we’d see end user effectiveness dragged down.. Second, without the CCT Sustainment model, training for new staff or those changing positions would not be accessible and kept current. Users must receive the learning they need on how to use the system and the processes it supports. The business (and the technical solution) are both dynamic—enhancements, changes, adjustments, and fixes are being made post go-live—so we need to actively manage the role design and training content to be sure they are always up to date. We’ve made a huge investment in role design and training content, and we need to manage that investment effectively. We heard many stories in our benchmarking conversations where the business was so focused on going live, (and rightfully so,) that it was difficult to shift the conversation to CCT Sustainment of the benefits about to be realized by going live with SAP.

Andy: Do you have an SAP Center of Excellence, and how does that relate to training?

Donna: We do have a COE that has primarily been focused on hypercare and technical issues. The work of the CCT team complements that. We have a small subgroup of our team that focuses on the network of live users; acting as liaisons to the business area staff members who support those live users.

Andy: What technical areas does the COE focus on?

Donna: The Center of Excellence focuses on system performance and maintenance, managing cutovers for new releases, managing hypercare, establishing baseline metrics and tracking when we’re ready to be out of hypercare, etc. It also makes decisions on system upgrades and manages help desk support.

Andy: Do you have a graphic from your presentation at SAPPHIRE/ ASUG that you think is a good one to include in this write-up?

Donna: Yes, we have a graphic that defines the scope of CCT Sustainment. (See below.)  We use this diagram to illustrate the scope of work of CCT Sustainment, indicating what is in and what is out of scope. Underneath each bubble in the diagram are detailed processes that enable these elements to be delivered.

Learning Sustainment Diagram


Andy: On the surface, the concepts illustrated in the diagram seem obvious.

Donna: Right, it isn’t rocket science. It’s just challenging to execute.

Andy: Why do you think some clients know that they should be doing more in this area, but they aren’t? Do you have any advice for clients who are thinking of starting a CCT sustainment program? How can they actually get moving?

Donna: I suggest focusing on the business case for this work. It’s a lot more than a nice to have. The investment in technology and organizational change to get a new ERP solution up and running and maintainable is very significant. This work is really in support of that investment. The best way to get leadership to understand the risk to this investment is to focus on end-user effectiveness. You can do a great job on technology, but if the users aren’t using it optimally, you aren’t going to get the business value. It’s really about operational performance. CCT Sustainment doesn’t need to be a huge investment, but it does need to be an area of focus. It’s users having appropriate access and getting the training they need. As system changes are made, they understand and are prepared for the change. The net result is reduced risk by protecting the investment made during go live and reducing disruption as changes are made post go-live.

Andy: How are you currently set up to measure end-user effectiveness?

Donna: We talk about user assessments as we approach go-live. Level 1 is “did the user attend the training and how effective was it?” Level 2 is “did they actually learn what we intended them to learn—can they pass a test on the material presented?” Level 3 is “are people applying what they’ve learned on the job?” We haven’t been doing Level 3 assessments yet, but both the CCT team and the business units are interested in Level 3 assessments.

Andy: Have you thought about having an automated tool that would track the number of times users call the internal help desk about specific issues? This might help you identify areas of the software and business processes that would indicate a training requirement, or help identify individual users that need more training?

Donna: Yes, the COE tracks help desk calls and identify themes. We’ve invested in the Knoa user performance measurement tool ( We’ve piloted the tool, and we’ve set up a team that will implement it.

Andy: Knoa doesn’t substitute for observing users interacting with SAP while doing their daily jobs, but how practical is it to do observations targeting end-user effectiveness when you have 37,000 users?

Donna: There are many things we can do to find trends, issues, and needs for improvement to the training materials. We need to listen to our users, listen to the learning professionals in the business units, and we need to look at the learning assessments that are coming from trainees. We’re also going to be looking at the cycle time involved in getting people trained so they can become effective in their jobs as quickly as possible. We’re looking at how quickly new employees or employees with new jobs get provisioned with the knowledge and system access they need to do their work. The Knoa tool will be useful in analyzing the data. We’ll then be able to dig down deeper and identify areas for root cause analysis, which will allow us to do more effective, targeted interventions.

Andy: Is there anything else you’d like to mention, Donna?

Donna: Most of the emphasis I’ve seen made by others in this field is on learning. But we see learning as only part of what we call “role management.” There is the need to also focus on managing the assignment of SAP roles to people that will enable them to do transactions in the system in a way that is focused on how end to end processes work. Without this holistic view, there will be a lot of challenges. I’ve talked with a lot of companies about this and the assumption is that you will map roles to positions, then positions to people. But not all companies have standard positions worldwide — it isn’t common to see that, and it’s a very difficult thing to do. So we decided to map roles to people. That helped a lot and eventually we’ll be able to get to standard positions worldwide. If you are attempting to manage training without managing roles, to me, it just won’t work. In our experience, taking the time to educate the business areas on roles is really critical. They need to be mapping roles to people consistent with their future state organization, not mapping to the current state organization. Without this focus, they will have to redo the mapping later, and people will be mapped to more roles than they need. The curriculum is usually role-based; the roles assigned drive the training needed. Getting roles right ensures that people spend time taking training that provides the learning they need. The CCT Sustainment program’s role is to help the business to understand how processes will work in the future. Consider how the current organization is structured today, and how it should be structured in the future, and how SAP roles need to be assigned to people.

Andy: Donna, thanks very much for taking the time to share your experiences developing (and sustaining), the CCT Sustainment program at Merck.

Donna: You’re welcome, Andy – we’ve learned a lot from those who graciously shared their experiences with us, and I’m glad to share what we learned and how we’ve applied it to create a solution that will work for us.

ERPtips offers SAP training that’s targeted to your business requirements. ERPtips instructors will train your power users, business analysts, and developers who require deep knowledge in configuring SAP to meet your business goals.  Click to learn more about our SAP training offering. To contact either Donna Pearce or Andy Klee, please email

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