Energy firm BP’s financial control and accounting function deals with issues like cost management, fiscal analysis, world markets and taxes across the company’s global operations. Within this unit is the group financial infrastructure (GFI), which is tasked with the standardization and streamlining of all the enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. This includes the development of a single financial system framework to bring about simplification and standardization in the enterprise’s balance sheet policies. Debra Shaner, learning director of BP’s group financial infrastructure, is responsible for ensuring that the accountants not only understand those policies, but also know how to use the organization’s financial management tools.
“We were established to facilitate learning in a consistent and sustainable manner across the GFI organization and provide it and its global initiatives a cost-effective, user-friendly, consistent and comprehensive framework for learning,” she said. “We approach learning as a little business. It’s business-critical learning, because it affects BP’s bottom line.”
Central components of the group financial infrastructure’s educational mission include management information and SAP, as that company’s products manage BP’s capital. Whenever a new project is launched to add or modify the SAP-based financial system, Shaner and her team step up and forge learning programs around it. “Because most of the implementation of SAP and management information (MI) is exclusively our niche, the projects that are global depend upon whoever is maintaining the accounting functions throughout the organization,” she said. “A project can have anywhere from 200 to 800 depending on the geographic location and the user base in the countries. It runs the gamut. My team develops all the tools, templates and processes for large implementations of SAP and MI learning, and we have our staff broken out in accordance with the way we operate. I have a project coordinator who goes out and engages with all the projects from the get-go in what’s called the ‘appraise stage.’ We use the CVP (cost-volume-profit) methodology here at BP: appraise, select, define, execute and operate.”
These projects keep both the learning population and the subject-matter experts in a perpetual state of change, she added. “BP is a huge global oil company. There are 110,000 employees globally. However, some of the accounting (professionals) and outsourced providers that do the accounting functions fluctuate depending upon the geographical piece, and the user base can be outside consultants that are working on behalf of BP or BP consultants. Projects or the user base are constantly in flux depending on a project roll-out.”
The initiatives require the company to bring in SAP authorities—not necessarily SAP employees—to help out with development and execution, and the learning group works with them to produce content, Shaner said. “Project teams are brought in and they create or repurpose what we already have. It’s not off-the-shelf. It can’t be. It has to be more customized for BP users and the way SAP is set up for BP. My team basically are stewards, coaches and counsel, and develop all the tools and templates. The actual developers are brought in and then develop. It’s getting process expertise and knowledge translated into good course materials and keeping it interesting enough—but comprehensive enough—for a user.”
The group financial infrastructure uses a blended learning approach that includes simulations and virtual classrooms. Many of these learning experiences are captured for later use and are organized based on the processes and the transactions in relation to SAP or MI. “At the end of the day when a project shuts the lights off, we sustain that material and it becomes part of BP’s learning assets,” she said.
Processes frequently change, though, and these materials must be updated frequently to adjust to various modifications in the system. Shaner actually has a sustainability coordinator on staff to make sure that those documents remain current. “At any given time, refreshed, repeatable learning is available,” she said. “It’s about ensuring that asset is current, relevant, useful, easy to access and easy to use. Does a document require some change or no change? Should it be replaced, removed or archived? There are always going to be new SAP users coming into the company. The material has to stay relevant as time marches on.”
Content isn’t the only thing Shaner has to worry about during times of transition. “One of the things I find in delivery and even prior to delivery is preparing people culturally for the change that’s going to happen: how it will affect their jobs and the ways they do business,” she said. “People are resistant to change, so I think that’s a big variable. You have to have a very robust learning delivery program. You have to have point people who are there to assist during this transition.”
–Brian Summerfield, firstname.lastname@example.org
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