How can Connectivism and Networked Global Learning (NGL) principles be used in ERP system implementations?
The aim of this design-based research (DBR) proposal is to present a theory-informed plan for using NGL to transform my approach to supporting ERP system implementations as a training manager. The structure of this proposal is based on the first two phases of a DBR project as described by Herrington et al (2007).
PHASE 1: Analysis of practical problems by researchers and practitioners in collaboration
1.1 Statement of the problem and context
When organisations introduce new technology, end users need to learn how to use it. However, they are often time limited, have competing priorities and different learning styles that are often difficult to address in time starved projects. According to Dockery (2014), underestimating the importance of employee training has become the downfall for some and ERP implementation success is ninety percent about people, process, culture and politics and only ten percent about IT.
Knowledge transfer is recognised as an important success factor in IT implementation projects of any type (Gallivan, Spilter and Koufaris, 2004; Hines and Goodhue, 2003; Karlsen and Gottschalk, 2004) and the success of any ERP deployment primarily comes down to three criteria one of which is system adoption and continued use by end users (Paradis, 2011). However, the problem is that knowledge is often lost during the transfer from consultants or experts to the final users of the ERP system during its implementation and this cause innumerable of problems (Lech, 2011). My aim is to address this problem through the use of NGL principles and Connectivism.
As a training manager for technology projects, my practice has been affected by the problems identified and described above. In a recent ERP system implementation there were knowledge transfer related issues that caused problems for end users who needed to learn how to use the system.
1.3 Research questions
The following research questions have emerged from the identified problem of knowledge transfer for ERP system implementations.
RQ1. Can Networked Global Learning (NGL) principles and Connectivism support end users learn how to use new software products?
RQ2. Can NGL principles reduce dependence upon IT support desks?
RQ3. Can NGL principles reduce retraining costs post implementation?
1.4 Literature Review
In a knowledge economy, the ability for organisations to manage knowledge is critical not only for survival but to maintain competitive advantage (Li & Zhao, 2006; Shariq, 1997). IT projects are knowledge-intensive activities (Tiwana, 2003) and the role of knowledge management (KM) in ERP system implementations is complex. Knowledge in ERP implementations is not the only important factor, other equally important factors include communication, change management and stakeholder involvement (Akkermans & Van Heldon, 2002; Leknes & Munkvold, Unknown).
There are many problems and challenges in implementing new IT support systems (Hanisch, Lindner, Mueller, & Wald, 2009) and whether the implementation involves an off-the-shelf software package or a newly developed system, the end goal is to create multiple sources of knowledge about technologies and business processes to create organisational value (Reich, Germino & Sauer, 2008). Effective knowledge management during ERP projects involves both application of principles and processes as well as the integration of knowledge (Lech, 2011). The key is to make relevant knowledge available to the project team at the right time.
Knowledge transfer during ERP system implementations has been highlighted as a critical element of project success (Enand, 1999; Mazzawi, 2014; Wachnick, 2013). As ERP implementation failures are so high and the impact to businesses so detrimental it is important to understand the factors causing such failures (Wong, Chau, Scarbrough, & Davison, 2005). However, many of the factors are hidden which result in costs which are often overlooked and underrated.
Knowledge management within an ERP
Knowledge is dynamic in ERP projects. It can be found in people, processes, technology and content as well as intangible assets and intellectual capital (Lech, 2011). McGinnis and Huang (2007) point out that knowledge within an ERP project needs to be managed strategically so that both the knowledge and the network of people that hold the knowledge need to be acknowledged as key assets and treated as such.
KM with an ERP environment involves the ability to identify the strengths and weakness of organisational and individual knowledge; where and how it is created, stored, embedded, applied, transferred and renewed (Wong, Chau, Scarbrough, & Davison, 2005). The success of ERP projects depends not just upon the ability to integrate and manage knowledge (Kasvi, Vartiainen, & Hailikari, 2003) but also on understanding knowledge risks and practices (Leseure & Brookes, 2004). Some organisations have the mindset that knowledge is to be confined to databases. However, organisations at the forefront of KM are focusing on knowledge networks created and used by people and this is where NGL plays an important role (Kop & Hill, 2008).
Extensive meta-knowledge is required in an ERP project to ensure it finds its way into the right format so that learning artefacts, which are developed are fit for purpose. Knowledge taxonomies focus upon enabling the efficient retrieval and sharing of knowledge across an organisation by building structure around workflows to ensure that knowledge is classified and fits an intuitive structure (Pellini & Jones, 2011). Knowledge taxonomies may include specific types of knowledge such as; business, technical, product, company-specific, project management, institutional and communication and coordination knowledge (Lech, 2011). Such taxonomies provide perspective on the ERP project, impact future projects and can provide users with valuable transferable knowledge which can support decision making when using the new software.
Knowledge taxonomies are also important because they can make explicit knowledge available just-in-time (Gertler, 2003). Similarly, they can assist in dealing with the difficulties of tacit knowledge which is locked in the staff experience. This is where networked global learning can be used to promote collaboration and sharing between units, departments and help organisations map and coordinate and knowledge (Lave & Wenger, 1991).
In order for an ERP to be successful not only are effective supporting processes required but competency development must be supported (Stephenson, 1994 & McAuliffe et al., 2008 as cited in Blaschke, 2012). Competencies may include problem solving, interpersonal communication, leadership, teamwork, analytical thinking, conceptual thinking, strategic orientation, time, quality and project management (Plan & Willcocks, 2007). The problem is that often these things are overlooked.
Communities of Practice (CoPs)
Communities of practice (CoP) are a useful tool to tap into an organisation’s knowledge and their existence is growing due to their organic nature, ability to share what works, steward knowledge and continuously nurture and tap into knowledge (Hasanali, Hubert, Lopez, Newhouse, O’Dell, & Vestal, 2002). CoPs recognise that immense deposits of latent knowledge lie within organisations and through collaboration and sharing, they can tap into that knowledge and encourage it to flow to the right people at the right time.
Many organisations now understand the value of CoPs to the point that they are now being incorporated into internal knowledge management plans (Kerno & Mace, 2010). The strengths of CoPs lie in the model of situated learning which means that learning occurs as a result of engagement in a CoP (Smith, 2009). Members share a joint history, interact frequently, share knowledge and experience similar concerns (Lave & Wenger, 1991). They also tend to develop similar ways of doing things, interpreting events and dealing with unexpected issues. CoPs can be effective tools for learning and working in and across organisations and are useful to support ERP implementations. Hislop (2003) found that CoPs influenced the innovation process through their knowledge sharing processes.
Social learning is of great importance for ERP implementations. The value of sharing knowledge means that organisations can innovate quickly based upon the knowledge exchange between users (Williams, Steward and Slack, 2005). In the ERP world, learning communities, even though they may be distributed, can support end users with knowledge transfer. They can support concrete learning needs for people who may not have opportunities to come face-to-face for training or meetings.
Knowledge does not need to remain internal. Social learning means that there is potential for connecting across and between organisations. For example, consider an organisation with a geographically dispersed workforce. Imagine people in isolated communities who need help in using new software which their organisation has implemented – they have no peers with whom to interact and whose local networks may lack the necessary diversity, knowledge and experience to provide assistance. Social learning, with the support of the right technology, offers the potential for trouble-shooting and problem solving together and learning from each other’s successes and mistakes (Fahy & Easterby-Smith, 2014).
Technology – linking Information and Communications Technology (ICT) with people
Technology is the key to linking people and experience. Web 2.0 and social media support a heutagogical approach which means learners can direct and determine their learning path – they become active rather than passive in their learning experience (Blaschke, 2012). As Hildreth & Kimble (2004) suggest, engagement in practice brings about resources that allow shared meanings to develop. So if end users are going to be supported in the use of new technology they must have access to tools that will support them to engage and share knowledge (Blaschke, 2012).
Constructivism suggests that learners create knowledge as they attempt to interact with experiences and makes sense of them (Driscoll, 2000). This is important because in the world of social learning through ICT, learning occurs through connections with networks (Siemens, 2014). Through connectivism knowledge is distributed between such networks and learning involves the ability to construct and traverse those networks (Downes, 2007).
For ERP implementations it is important to note that learners are at the centre of the learning experience – it isn’t the trainer or the organisation. In addition, the networks, which are created to support Connectivism, provide expertise and knowledge as well as guidance (Kop & Hill, 2008). Such networks are diverse and meet the needs of learners (Downs, 2007b) and such diversity means that opinions are varied and this is where knowledge and learning rests (Siemens, 2004).
One of the other attractions of Connectivism is its just-in-time approach. This means that users can access the right information when they need it through active networking within and between occupational groups and teams rather than having to scour the intranet for a solution. Knowledge that is generated through an ERP project is tacit and it can be made available to others through active Connectivism.
Innovation through NGL
Connectivism and NGL supports knowledge for innovation and the fluidity in which knowledge can travel through networks means that knowledge can be codified in ways that are useful to members (Swan & Robertson, 1999). For example, individual employee involvement in professional associations has been shown to facilitate the adoption and diffusion of new ideas. Through such networking users become aware of new technologies and acquire knowledge and information through boundary spanning activities.
In terms of change management activities, internal networking is important as a means to not only understanding innovation processes but also how these are conceived. Critical success factors as highlighted by Gannon-Leary & Fontainha (2007), include the use of technology, trust in and acceptance of, ICTs in communication, a sense of belonging among members, paying attention to cross-national and cross-cultural dimensions of the CoP; shared understandings, a common sense of purpose, use of netiquette and user-friendly language and longevity.
The transfer of knowledge in ERPs
It is important to recognise that the transfer of knowledge occurs at multiple stages throughout the entire ERP development. Knowledge management within an ERP project must acknowledge the different project stages. How this knowledge is managed and transformed will, ultimately impact not only the quality of learning artefacts but how the knowledge is transferred (Lech, 2011). Table 1.0, based upon Usman & Ahmad (2012) identifies the different project stages, knowledge types, the role of KM and the parties involved.
Project phases and knowledge development
||Role of KM
|Selecting ERP for implementation
|Identifying the right package
||project manager (PM)
change and communication manager
business process maps
|Creating integration between business and system
subject matter experts (SMEs)
|Go-live maintenance and support
transfer of product and company knowledge
|Using, transferring and storing data
IT support team training manager
Knowledge building post implementation
After a software product has been implemented, the need for ongoing end user support is important. The important thing to remember is that as end users interact and troubleshoot with the system, new tacit knowledge is developed (Kapp, 2001) which can be captured, codified and formalised so that the organisation and others can benefit (Lech, 2011). NGL offers the opportunity to make use of tacit knowledge through collaboration between people in a social and contextual community – it is integral and inseparable from learning through social practice (Lam, 2000; Lave & Wenger, 1991).
Successful online customer communities (OCC) provide examples of how ERP knowledge transfer can occur using NGL principles. OCCs are interactive, often gated websites that are setup for customers to collaborate on topics of mutual interest. It is a place where like-minded individuals come together to collaborate online and discuss brand or a set of products and services (Hinchcliffe, 2008).
Some of the successful OCCs include; Adobe Learning Communities, Caterpillar Caterpillar Community and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Business Community. The important thing to remember is that building end user communities is the key to creating value (Lee, 2013). What organisations need is old-fashioned positive word of mouth and they can achieve this by helping employees build social capital through support groups and communities (Lee, 2013).
Often customer communities emerge without the support of a company. Successful examples include IKEAFANS on IKEA products and HDTalking for Harley-Davidson. These communities are vibrant, active and not affiliated with the business that the communities are focused upon. The goal for organisations implementing an ERP is to create online communities using NGL principles. Such online interaction offers a way to support distributed communities by widening their depth and potentially enriching their learning. Organisations who wish to take advantage of such communities need to understand the power of online networks to ensure they are able to support and leverage groups and communities of all types. By doing this they can take advantage of the benefits of such communities, which include social media marketing, innovation, relationship building and potential sales.
Phase 2: Development of solutions informed by existing design principles and technological innovations
4. A description of the proposed intervention
The plan for the proposed implementation involves a new approach to learning that the organisation has not previously experienced. Based on what Downes (2007) says, it involves providing users access to knowledge that is distributed across a networked of connections where learning based on the ability to traverse those networks. The planned intervention relies upon interactions by self-directed learners (Anderson, 2009) and relies upon the power of social network in information connection, sharing and filtering to take advantage of collective knowledge (Wang, Chen & Anderson, 2014).
The focus of the proposed intervention will be enabling collaboration between end users. This will be done by implementing a platform that reflects NGL principles. The aim is to provide end users with the opportunity for connected learning through Connectivism and experience peer-supported and targeted, relevant learning.
The expected impacts include; both potential negative and positive impacts. Firstly, negative impacts may include complaints about the actual ERP system which could result in negative word of mouth. Another potential negative impact could include possible knee jerk reactions from business stakeholders who are afraid of losing control of the knowledge.
Potential positive impacts could include; knowledge building, the establishment of communities of practice and reduced business costs.
5. A plan for implementation
Stage 1 – creation and communication of online blog
The first stage will involve setting up a blog with a link from the current intranet site, which houses the existing learning artefacts. The blog will be promoted through a range of internal communication. The blog will be initially supported by several subject matter experts who will provide answers to end-users who raise issues around trouble shooting. The aim is to encourage people to collaborate and support people in a situated learning context by creating a dynamic environment which actively integrates a wide range of distributed content that is pulled by the network learner, not pushed towards them.
Stage 2 – removal of subject matter experts
The second stage will involve removing direct support by subject matter experts. The aim is to encourage end user collaboration and sharing of explanations, learning and troubleshooting without direct business support (Vygotsky, 1978). It is based upon the assumption that if end users see that they own the site then they maybe more likely to use it when it is peer supported.
Stage 3 – iterative cycle of testing and refinement of solutions in practice
The implementation design will allow for refinement through an iterative cycle which involves allowing for changes to the implementation. This may involve a range of different platforms to see which is more suitable for end users as well as a range of different communication strategies to market the platform.
The proposed intervention will focus upon what still needs to be learned about knowledge transfer within the context of ERP system implementations and the benefit of support using NGL principles. In particular the benefits of sharing, blogging and whether learning occurs to support ERP implementation through Connectivism. Furthermore, it will be interesting to refer back to the research questions and to see whether, as a result, of the implementation, new organisational mechanisms that reflect the benefits of NGL are a key priority for future project as well as new pedagogies that deliver a higher quality learning experience.
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