Fruit suppliers need reliable systems that help forecast demand and fruit availability and ensure correct stock levels. When Poupart introduced a new centralised system to do just that, 80 staff members needed to be trained on it. Helen Wilcox looks at how the training programme was rolled out.

Based in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, Poupart is one of the UK's largest suppliers of soft-fruit, top-fruit, stone-fruit, citrus, cherries, grapes and a host of other products to multiple retailers and independents.

Dealing with the seasonal variations and limited shelf life of fresh produce presents Poupart with ongoing challenges. Forecasting accurately is inherently difficult, yet ensuring the right levels of stock are in the right place at the right time is vital, as is adhering to customers' standards in terms of quality, food safety and value.

Poupart's buyers need to understand what fruit will be available from each of their growers by season, by week and then by day, as the season progresses.

'We are the interface between hundreds of fruit growers worldwide and some of the UK's biggest supermarkets,' says Robin Dawson, finance director at Poupart. 'Without timely and accurate information, we can't promise them what produce they will receive and when.'

Rapid advances in supply chain management technology had put Poupart's systems under increasing strain. Operating disparate and siloed systems for finance and sales order processing, forecasting, stock planning, promotion planning, and market share analysis compounded problems caused by forecasts arriving by email, fax or telephone.

'Forecasts often arrived late - if at all - and with a number of people re-keying information, both time and accuracy became a concern,' admits Dawson.

Poupart therefore researched solutions that could deliver reliable and accurate information for effective sales, stock control and promotional planning. It picked Microsoft Dynamics NAV as the solution, and chose Tectura, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, to implement and customise both the system and the training. In addition to Microsoft Dynamics NAV, Poupart also uses Microsoft BizTalk Server and Microsoft SQL Server, which standardise business processes across the group.

The company-wide project involved 80 users in finance, sales and marketing, category management, technical, operations and purchasing. They all needed to be brought up to speed on the system.

Training took place at various stages throughout the implementation. Key users - 15 business managers from across departments such as finance and procurement - were trained first by Tectura. In the final training stage, key users then trained the rest of the users, in a train-the-trainer approach.

Renee Horton-Coker, global programme director at Tectura, explains: 'We adopted the "train the trainer" approach because Poupart is in a better positition to train the end users on how to do a function specific to their business whereas Tectura provided the detailed knowledge of the functionality of new systems.

An ERP project encompasses the unique processes of the company, for instance knowing customer codes etc. Tectura can't be experts on these, although we are experts in their ERP product and we understood a lot of their business after spending many months working with them.'

Training for the key users began in the analysis phase of the project when they received standard application training for the Microsoft products.

'All training was conducted face-to-face because ERP software implementations are so specific to the organisation in question, and the industry they operate in, that e-learning would not be re-usable and therefore not cost-effective,' says Horton-Coker.

'The main objective at the first stage was for them to get the look and feel of the product and learn the terminology. We used language at this stage which is not technical, but business centric.'

The key users were trained in groups of five for five to seven days. It took several days as training covers things such as setting up customer data, which could take half a day. Details include not just the name and address of customers, but also payment terms, reminders, credit limits and so on. Then there are lists of products and price lists to set up.

'The whole purpose of the training was to help the company learn how to drive business decisions - to work out who are the top customers, what are the best selling product lines and so on,' says Horton-Coker.

'This phase used standard dummy data. The key users had to learn almost a new way of thinking. It's like if you drive a Vauxhall Cavalier and then you have to learn to drive a Volkswagen van. You know how to do the basics, but you have to find where the light switches are, how to adjust the seats, and so on. It's like taking the system for a test drive.

'It's also a chance to find out that the car only does 80 per cent of what you want. This then helps in the next phase - the joint application phase because you can understand what to customise. For instance there may be certain screens that you may not want certain departments to see.

'By this next phase of training, the system had been customised to Poupart's needs, so it had a slightly different look and feel to the out-of-the box solution that the users first learnt on. We ran two-hour sessions because the users only needed to learn which specific modifications had been made to the standard solution with which they were familiar.

'At this stage, we could use more technical language because users were familiar with the system.'

In phase three of the training, during the deploy phase and prior to product testing, more intense focal point sessions were conducted with three to six key users, focussing on key areas of using the system, for example purchasing, sales order processing and so on. These were developed by Tectura specific to Poupart's business processes and all the material was bespoke. Tectura also ran workshops for key users on how to put together material to train the end users.

The key users then led the end user sessions supervised by Tectura. They were taught in groups of up to ten.

To evaluate the training's effectiveness, questionnaires were used to gather feedback on modules, content, materials and so on which was then fed into an official performance review process.

The overall system implementation took 12 months. The first phase of training was delivered at the end of the analysis phase in month 4. The second batch was delivered in months 9 and 10 and the third batch in the 12th month, along with end user training.

The new systems have allowed Poupart to see the exact stock situation at each pack house using Microsoft BizTalk Server. Once the stock has been assessed, a shipment order is instantly available to the pack house. 100 per cent of shipment order confirmations are now returned to Poupart and received into Microsoft Dynamics NAV automatically.

'Microsoft Dynamics NAV has allowed us to provide category management and promotion planning much more effectively, and in a much more joined up manner, than we were ever able to do before,' says Laurence Olins, executive chairman of Poupart. This is borne out by financial results.

'In the year after implementing Microsoft Dynamics NAV our sales increased by 35 per cent, with no additional headcount.'