On the road to success

Worldwide manufacturer of brake and drive systems Continental Group has brought its global operations together with training

It’s a fact of modern business that organisations are hugely reliant on computer systems these days. And those who decide to implement enterprise-wide systems capable of facilitating business processes across a range of departments really are putting all of their eggs in one basket.

In this era of information management and sharing, though, the advantages are clear: it enables you to standardise processes across several sites and data can be easily generated and distributed throughout the company for the purposes of management reporting and decision-making. It also helps you to streamline and rationalise your hardware infrastructure and restricts the number of systems suppliers and integrators that you have to work with.

Of course, switching from disparate systems to a single solution is a big job and central to a successful transformation is training. Continental Group, a worldwide manufacturer of brake and drive systems, vehicle electronics, tyres and elastomers, is currently switching its processes to the SAP R/3 system at 15 tyre factories and 17 business units across 19 countries in Europe, North America and Mexico (it previously used a mix of older SAP systems).

The international roll-out involves six different modules for sales and distribution, material management, inventory management, project systems and financial accounting and control.

“We have four days to transition from the old system to the new one,” says Jean Jacques Sauvaget, manager of training and transition business at Continental. “And we can’t have any loss of business during this time.”

To deliver the required training in the new system, Continental, which has 64,500 employees worldwide, appointed DA Consulting Group (DACG), which specialises in providing corporate education to Global Fortune 2000 companies. DACG is itself a global company, which is vital when supporting an international roll-out – especially as Continental required courses to be delivered in the national language in 19 countries.

DACG had to train around 5,700 SAP users worldwide in eight weeks. It decided to take a two-stage training concept, training key-users and power-users first who would carry out business acceptance and integration testing. The second phase involved training day-to-day users in North America and Mexico between October-December 2003 and those in 15 European countries between February and May 2004.

“Our challenges were geographic and mental – because of our various locations and because it is a new system with new processes,” says Sauvaget. “We also wanted something the end-user could repeat so that future training didn’t have to start from scratch.”

Continental had no real experience of e-learning (apart from a small-scale Lotus Notes project), but Angela Werner, manager of training and transition IT for Continental, felt it could play a part in the SAP training alongside classroom sessions.

“We also thought introducing some form of e-learning would help us culturally prepare for the future and give people the experience of helping themselves,” she says. “But we didn’t feel it would be enough on its own, so the combination of online and classroom training was needed.”

DACG is used to working on large-scale projects with global clients that include engineering firm Bosch, communications specialists Ericcson and HP, the Nabisco foods group and international children’s charity Unicef, and although SAP implementations are one of its specialities, all the training had to be created specifically for Continental.

“Every SAP implementation is different and the processes used will be different,” says Angelika Baumer, DACG’s regional manager, Central Europe. “Continental needed very specific task-driven training so the programme had to be customised.”

DACG’s programme featured three main strands: a classroom session of between half a day and five days, an online help facility called ‘Online-Help’, and simulation training, designed to be undertaken as and when staff needed it.

The approach in each component of the training was to simulate how the learner would be using the SAP system in their daily work. The classroom session involves a set of exercises based on the new processes and although a tutor (local to the country) is on hand, learners are encouraged to use the Online-Help facility if they get stuck, just as they would when working on the system for real. The simulation exercises, where users can see an entire transaction demonstrated online, can be accessed in the office or as part of a workshop.

“Through the exercise-based training, the employees not only become acquainted with the functions of the new software, but at the same time familiarise themselves with the changed business processes,” says Baumer.

The Online-Help facility has been kept to a simple template and it is available in two languages, English and German (with local offices carrying out their own translation if they need to). It can be accessed in two ways: through the intranet-based Learning Centre set up by DACG or through the SAP system. “They can access directly from a transaction they are involved in,” says Baumer.

The Online-Help facility provides Continental with the continuity of training it requires for such a major transition. As Sauvaget says, “It has involved a big change management programme, the chief executive is sponsor of the project.”

As well as being a valuable learning resource, the Learning Centre is a vital communications tool in this change management programme. Users log on and under the heading ‘change communication’ can find out news about the programme or what training is currently available. As new simulation training goes live, the centre notifies them of this and they can access it through the Learning Centre.

Running parallel with the training is an evaluation pilot programme so Continental can assess the level of user know-how. Feedback from users about the programme itself has scored an average of four out of five, says Baumer. One of Sauvaget’s aims was to reduce the length of time to train and move to a new system from six months to five weeks. So far, so good, just days away from the transition. Sauvaget left us in doubt about how its success will ultimately be judged: “By not having any loss of business on 1 June,” he says.

Continental’s top tips for global training projects

  • Ensure trainers have the necessary corporate knowledge of your company
  • Maintain good communication with the end-users/learners at all times
  • Use local organisations to help produce and implement the training

In summary
A seamless blend

What it did: Used a blended solution to train 5,700 employees in the SAP R/3 enterprise-wide system to prepare for international roll-out of six different modules of the software, including sales and distribution and financial accounting

Why: Continental was making the transition to the new system in four days and couldn’t afford any loss of business. It felt a blended solution of classroom, online help and simulation training would provide the most effective mix

Is it delivering?: User feedback has scored four out of five and the pilot to evaluate the effectiveness of the training is running parallel with the programme, which will roll-out in other countries, including Brazil, Russia and South Africa, later this year.

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