Published on 2012/03/26

Demand For Learning Explodes With The Growth Of ERP

Demand For Learning Explodes With The Growth Of ERP
As technology advances, labor processes will be increasingly reduced while the potential for more effective and efficient activities increases. It is the job of training providers to make sure that activity converts into performance. Photo by the Highways Agency.

I remember the day I first heard someone utter, E-R-P, enterprise resource planning. I was working on a mission critical project at Denver International Airport for a Section 8a contractor who had won a bid award to develop an FAA ground control system that didn’t exist. In the same sentence I heard S-A-P.

At the time the evolution of computing resources from mainframe centered, to client server centric, to cloud (software as a service) based would have never registered as an evolution, let alone a revolution.

It would turn out to spawn many new industries, as we now know. But without the shift in low cost bandwidth availability to the Internet and the evolution of Internet browsers the explosion in ERP may not have happened—or at least not as quickly.

Right now you are likely thinking, “So what’s that got to do with a shift in learning”? Allow me to back up in time for a moment. Although technology (in terms of MIPS, millions of instructions per second), storage and data communications were all improving through the 70’s and 80’s, there was little focus on optimizing the effective utilization of those technology advances by allowing creativity of end users. The only ROI that was considered was reducing process cost with speed of processing and moving data more rapidly, despite the consequences of those huge investments.

I have vivid memories of ribbon cuttings for large data centers (50,000 to 150,000 square feet) designed and built to withstand hurricanes and tornados with state-of-the-art data communications technology in the 80’s. Their network operations centers (NOC) had the appearance of NASA’s launch command center at Cape Canaveral. Data communications technologies had become my area of interest and expertise.

Earlier in 1976, as a young executive marketing manager, I was part of the team that cut the opening ribbon for the new Memphis Publishing Company, The Commercial Appeal, building and printing plant in Memphis Tennessee. We went from “green eye shades and black arm bands to digital typesetting and CRT data entry” for almost everything. This was a “beam me up, Scottie” moment.

In both instances, labor processes were greatly reduced by technology. It was part of the cost justification and ROI. For those who remained, they either already had the basic skills to make the leap in the use of technology or held a critical role. However, no one examined the increased people capabilities that remained possible in using these technology improvements, other than tech certification processes, disguised as a great mystery of ones and zeros called binary code.

However, with no training offered or made available to help those who were soon to become known as knowledge workers, human capital was still viewed below some cut off point as a necessary expense to the balance sheet. Activity rather than performance was rewarded and built into the cost of operations.

Some months after moving into the new building in Memphis, I brought an Apple Lisa into my office to endearing snickers from my peer managers, especially in MIS. Within a day and night or two, I was able to format templates for data analysis of the advertising readership in the Metro Memphis market for use in competing for national advertising dollars.

So my point is . . . when we take initiative to learn on our own, or we bulldoze the learning curve to help those who want to participate and who, for whatever reason, aren’t offered the tools, technology, or training to provide engagement and excitement, we turn activity into performance.

The rapid acceptance of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) led mostly by Systems-Applications- Processes (SAP) and Oracle helped to change the playing field with a Client-Server based application, previously only available on mainframes. Suddenly there were not enough tech training classrooms globally to fill the demand for the Fortune 1000 enterprises deploying SAP or other ERP applications because every person in the organization would soon be accessing an ERP application from their desk. In Atlanta at Knowledge Development Centers, being the first outsourced classroom services with the technology to support SAP, students came from around the world to learn their particular module of SAP. At its peak in 2001, the two KDC Atlanta locations were hosting 35,000 ERP learners annually and supported those technologies. Across the KDC franchise system in 15 locations the ERP student learning number reached over 70,000 annually. However, this was not an investment in human capital. It was a necessary process to have enterprise workers do data entry.

During the 90’s the access to the Internet, used early on by scientists, academia and government, would soon scale into a revolution and a catastrophe. Next week we’ll see how the Internet impacted ERP and learning to see the shift in learning become clearer.

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Readers Comments

Phil Maurice 2012/03/26 at 9:33 pm

We really need employers to start understanding that there’s more than just “man-hours” and “perceivable effort” that can be used to measure performance, output and motivation.

If more employers would simply make training more accessible, and if, as you say, the increased human potential that’s delivered by technology is recognized (rather than just seeing technology as a way for people to do less), we’d be back in the black as a country and as an economy.

Wishful thinking in our world, though. Everyone’s looking to maximize output while minimizing costs.

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