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SAP Training, the Homegrown Way - (problem solved)

As a longtime customer of SAP, Rob Ludwig knows how critical employee training can be for new implementations or upgrades of this complex ERP software. But this CIO of Heads & Threads International LLC, a $160 million importer and distributor of industrial fasteners based in Bloomingdale, Ill., can't afford to bring in consultants to train the 150+ employees (half the company's workforce) who handle sales over the telephone. It's clearly important to "make sure they know how to use the system to perform transactions and provide customer service," says Ludwig, who runs an eight-person IT department.

So what's a smaller enterprise to do? Ludwig fine-tuned his own in-house version of "train-the-trainer," a three-stage procedure that transfers knowledge from individuals to branches to the entire company. "We create a separate team, make them into experts, develop the materials and send them out to the field," he explains.

Once everyone is trained, the CIO ensures a smooth "go live" date by conducting a mammoth simulation on a Saturday. Just about everyone comes in, and some, including the CEO, role-play as customers calling in orders.

In one case, a top sales executive who was sure she could handle the new system cracked under the pressure and went home in tears. "Better to cry on a Saturday than a Monday," Ludwig quipped, which became a running joke. And the saleswoman, of course, got the additional training she needed. Problem solved.

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