Key user’s roles in integrated systems implementation

Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at Harvard Business School, said that “Many companies spend large amounts of money on accumulating knowledge in various forms. Yet, these companies do not know how to change that knowledge into action. Knowing may not mean acting.”* The money is usually used to buy and to implement integrated economic systems. The success of such projects is determined—among others—by the level of commitment of people involved in them*.

The implementation of SAP R/3 integrated economic system requires a strong commitment from the project team and the company’s employees. Let us focus on the lowest level of team structure—the key users.   

Before we identify the roles of key users during and after implementation, we should consider the recent change in the perception of key users. The statement below shows the change in the approach to key user’s place and role in IT projects.*  

Firstly, the new attitude to IT implementation projects shows that similarly to the modern industry the most important are not ground or capital, but computerisation, knowledge, and people who know how to posses them and use them. Analogously, in the case of implementation projects one should perceive it mostly as  a process of building new competence and skills, not just installing new equipment and software.      

Secondly, the statement that an implementation project should be treated as a knowledge investment is more frequently accepted. In literature there is a growing number of entries defining integrated economic systems as systems that are “in fact teaching and transferring knowledge.”* Thus, implementation projects are treated as investments of and in knowledge.   

The key user’s roles, both in pre- and post-implementation stages, are listed below. The classification is clearly influenced by the change in key user’s perception. Now, the key user, being a member of implementation team, has become a “knowledge carrier.”  

The tasks carried out by key users can be grouped into roles as follows:

·        organizational role

·        substantive role

·        educational and training role

·        knowledge center  

Organizational role involves coordination of tasks in time (meeting deadlines set by control committee for the implementation team) and managing a team of a dozen or even several dozen people (end users during testing stage and after the implementation). Moreover, as certain parts of the project are commissioned, it involves clarity in defining orders. This role is inextricably linked with ensuring a proper communication within the implementation team as well as with other members of an organization. A right flow of information considerably improves atmosphere within a company in which the project is carried out and enables to fulfil further tasks of the key user.  

Substantive role is connected with knowledge and competence possessed by the key users. The essential aspect required for this role (from a member of implementation team) is a high level of competence in areas connected with company’s strategies and targets, knowledge of business processes and IT. The analysis of key user’s tasks during the implementation process allows to point to a way in which this role will be carried out in subsequent project stages. In the first stage (requirements defining) the key users actively participate in identification and analysis of the object’s IT system and preparation of preliminary requirements specifications and as-is business process descriptions. In that way they obtain and transfer knowledge about IT systems, management, production and their advantages and disadvantages.* In the stage of implementation modelling the key users task is an in-depth analysis and evaluation whether the proposed solutions are in accordance with the company’s business vision. The key users give also the final approval. That would not be possible of the key user was ignorant of the company’s mission, goals, and results of business processes. A subsequent stage of implementation is the prototype phase and system modification. Here the key users’ substantive knowledge is used to monitor modelling processes, formulate test strategy, preparation and carrying out the productive go-live.                 

Depending on the type of the implemented project, the key user’s substantive role may require intensification in various areas of his/her competence. At times the knowledge of company’s realized processes may be more important than the system implementation knowledge; however, at other times the situation may be reversed (e.g. as in the analysed roll-out) when the fluency in standards of SAP solutions is more valuable than the knowledge of the manner of company’s processes realization. In both cases though, a high level of knowledge and the ability to apply it is required. Also, the system’s adjustment to new circumstances after the completion of implementation (Change Management Structure) is a manifestation of the substantive role of the key user.        

Educational and training role includes a variety of tasks performed by the key user. In the implementation project the first element of role manifestation is explanation to the target end users the rules of integrated system functioning, as well as the ability to present the individual merits of the integrated system implementation.    

This is how most of the methodologies present this role. As an ex ample may serve the ASAP methodology where it is assumed that key users are members of the implementation teams responsible for the end users’ training and their basic support after the go-live of implemented solutions. This role should be perceived as much complex one. It includes also conveying the information concerning system functioning to the senior management not engaged directly in the implementation. The educational and training role of the end user includes also training and functional documentation tasks, end users trainings, practice, support related to difficulties with system usage, evaluation of users’ preparation.      

The last of the enumerated roles of the key user is the role of knowledge center. It is a complementation of an attempt to define the place and role of the key user in integrated economic system implementation projects. The most prominent feature of this member of the implementation team highlights not only his role as an instructor, coach, advisor or end users support organizer. Performing the role of knowledge center requires from the key users to be the most conscious participants of informatized business processes and to understand them fully in a company environment with a specific knowledge of optimal solutions employed in a given line of business. In that way the key users become change agents and they participate in requirement defining processes, implementation modelling, or reinterpretation of solutions proposed by the external consultants.* The knowledge stored throughout the implementation period and gained during trainings, implementation projects, cooperation in competence center and operations monitoring is transferred to the rest of organization’s employees.      

Bearing in mind the abovementioned tasks fulfilled by the key user during the implementation project a  significant matter is to determine the scope of knowledge expected from a candidate for such team members. One of the required elements of knowledge is the knowledge of company’s strategy and business processes. That knowledge is transferred to the exterior company. During the system implementation the key user is a kind of a buffer. On the one hand side, he receives questions and doubts from the end users, while on the other hand side knowledge transferred by the exterior consultants. The key user, as a competence center, has to posses the ability to translate questions, generate answers on his own, and on the basis of received competence independently search for solutions to existing problems. The key user receives also various Improvement schemes issued by both end users and exterior companies. As a knowledge center about company’s requirements he is able to competently evaluate needs of further system development.  

The functions of the key user during and after the implementation described in this article show that the selection of a suitable candidate for that post is one of the company’s guarantees of successful implementation and proper system usage. Control committees, company’s board of directors, and decisive employees connected with the system implementation believe that the application of a proper methodology (e.g. analysed in this ASAP article), keeping within budget, and successful project launching mean a full success of the entire implementation. However, on the journey to success with a received map depart people from an implementation team  and those people fill the project with content. Whether they will reach the journey’s end or not, depends on the selection of the team members and especially the key users.           


Anna Konieczna –Senior SAP logistics consultant in SI-Consulting S.A. (Inc.)

Anna Konieczna has 10 years of project experience in SAP logistics certified in the field of sales and distribution. Realized logistics projects include SD and MM modules as well as sales processes integration between ERP and CRM. Mrs. Konieczna is responsible for project coordination and cooperation with customers during implementations.        



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