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Which factors would you say influence the number and frequency of support requests your organisation deals with? If you ask senior managers, a common theme is that organisational skill levels have a significant impact on support requirements, and consequently on support costs.  However, when you scratch the surface, it is not uncommon to find that many companies don’t take any real steps to pursue this agenda. With increasing pressures on organisations to improve performance whilst simultaneously reducing costs, the clear link between organisational skill, organisational performance and support costs is often overlooked. In this blog I want to explore how substantial improvements to organisational performance are possible with minimal effort, which in turn reduces support costs.

Articulating the Problem

In trying to address these concerns the challenge is often in articulating the impact of training, or more importantly the costs associated with not training. Training is often seen as an unnecessary cost, and an easy target for cost cutting measures. Many times my colleagues and I have seen the unintended consequences of this when dealing with our customers: organisational skills decline as an inevitable result of staff movement and the simple passage of time, and as a result costs for support soar. These costs don’t just relate to the cost of the help desk itself, but also to the costs of users making mistakes which need correcting, and to costs associated with reduced productivity.

IDC has written extensively on the subject, writing that “the talent of the IT team is often overlooked as the critical element of IT organizational performance”. In their report entitled Impact of Training on ERP Project Success, 2012** they come to the following conclusion:

“Training represents one concrete step IT managers can take to ensure enterprise application project teams possess the skills necessary to reduce failure risk, decrease costs, and increase project effectiveness.”

So how can you address these issues?

There is no “one size fits all” model, and it is very likely that the best solution for your organisation is a mix of approaches. Also, this is not a one-time activity: time and that inevitable constant “change” caused the problem, and will continue to do so. When addressing organisational skills, you need to adopt a specific business-as-usual approach, utilising a varying set of approaches to ensure maximum impact for minimum cost.

This might sound like an unachievable aim, but SAP Education has been very successful at helping our customers achieve self-sufficiency in this regard. Remember the objective here is to create a highly effective workforce, who is able to confidently access self-help as required, who makes far fewer costly mistakes in the system, and has a vastly reduced reliance on the help desk, thus driving down your support costs.

With that in mind, there are a number of options available: the best choices for you will depend on a number of key factors, including:

  • Organisational culture
  • Geographic spread of users
  • Existing knowledge management and change management practices
  • Identified knowledge gaps

Once you have a view of these core attributes, the key is matching them to the best methods of delivery of the required knowledge. For many people, discussions around learning lead immediately to classroom training. While this is often a very effective technique, when dealing with a small number of new starters in an organisation, it can be a very expensive and resource intensive option.

The most obvious alternative to classroom training is e-learning. There are many benefits to using this, and with the right tools, it can actually be a very fast development process. Learning is most effective when delivered in context, and so one of the key benefits with e-learning is that it can be delivered right before the knowledge is required; just-in-time training (JITT). In addition to e-learning, we also now commonly refer to e-reference. This is very similar to e-learning, but tends to have a lot of the multimedia content removed, allowing for fast access to specific knowledge and enabling the user to very quickly address a key problem at the time the problem arises - using learning as the answer to a problem (rather than a call to the helpdesk).

Of course, it is not just about deploying the right approaches and tools to support the users. There also needs to be broad organisational support (particularly from senior management to ensure continued success), an appropriate strategy for your organisation, and relevant processes to support the new approach. One very simple example is to have your help desk team regularly reporting the top reported issues to the training team to include in future training.

There are many more options: cue cards, work instructions, coaching, floor walking, super users, to name a few, for which this blog is too short. Within SAP Education we have a number of Learning Architects who are experts at helping customers with these sorts of questions. Our Learning Architects held a webinar on “Reducing Support Costs” on 13 March 2013. If you are interested in learning more, and hearing about some specific examples, why not check out the recording of that webinar here.

How can I learn more?

I will be hosting a webinar on this topic on 19 November, at 13:00 Singapore time (GMT +8). If you would like to register for this free of charge webinar, please click here.

Do you recognise these issues as relevant in your own organisation? Have you tried to address this already? How? Did it work? I’m always looking for more examples of how customers have handled this very important issue, so your feedback is very welcome.

*IDC Report: Impact of Training on ERP Project Success, 2012, doc #234545, May 2012, Cushing Anderson