How to set up a Key User model

It is about the people. “Many companies spend a lot of money accumulating knowledge in various ways. But these companies do not know how to transform knowledge into action. The money is often used to buy and implement integrated economic systems. The success of such projects is determined, among others, by the level of responsibility of the people involved”- Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor at Harvard Business School.

It does matter how much you automate, but ultimately it is about the people. Key Users are vital to implement your ERP system, but even more important to keep your system alive and improving over time.

What is actually a Key User? A Key user is a designated role to those people within a company who are decisive in the choice and implementation of new business software. Key users often act as representatives of certain departments, so that everyone can contribute to the overall improvement of the company. They have a high level of knowledge and experience in business processes. Therefore, they are highly influential and have high decision-making power before, during, and after the optimization of business processes. They form a key group led by the project manager, as they will have to set the requirements and make decisions together, as well as assess possible changes and improvements in workflows.

And why do we need Key Users? The key user provides support for the most important phases in a software implementation, be it an ERP system, Document Management System, Human Resources System, or CRM. Key users put knowledge, requirements, and concerns of the day-to-day business on the table. Furthermore, key users often have the responsibility to test different deployment scenarios and to direct or participate in pilot projects. And last but not least, they will train the End-Users and be their first line support during the live situation of the system. Without Key Users, companies cannot implement, maintain, and improve business software.

What are the Qualifications that a Key User must have? Fundamentally the Key User must have a good understanding of the designated business process(es) and have sufficient conceptual thinking on how the processes are mapped in the system. And once mapped in the system, the Key User must be able to understand how it can be improved over time. He/she must be able to establish change requests and advise on functional specifications as well as possible changes to the rules. Having a bit of a cross-functional view of how the own processes co-relate or interchange with the other processes. Key users must be open to changes and innovations. Definitively, constant improvement, and the intention of achieving an increasingly efficient job must be in the DNA of the Key User.

Furthermore, a key user should be energetic and motivating to transmit positivity and enthusiasm to other users with the aim of involving them in the onboarding process of a new system and/or during an improvement project. This starts by listening to the employees, which will create a closer relationship so that you can know their situation to know how much to expect from them and, above all, how much to demand. This can be a good example of how you can change colleagues’ attitudes towards the new system, fostering enthusiasm to make work easier and more bearable. It is important to maintain this attitude before, during, and after implementation.

What is the role of Management? Their role is to actively support, advocate, and practice Business Process Leadership and Ownership. Business Processes need a clear Owner who takes care that implementation, innovation, and continuous improvement are clearly on the agenda. Resources are allocated to let that happen such as Key Users, Subject Matter Experts, and/or Process Champions. And these resources meet regularly with the Owner to discuss the progress on the plan or the project. The Process Owner also ensures that the business process is aligned with the Business Strategy so that long term company objectives can indeed be achieved. Business Process Ownership is not delegated to the IT department or to lower-level management. Successful companies usually out-stand in Business Process Governance. Being a Key User should be something to aspire for, is rewarded extra, and/or is an essential step in the career development of employees.

What is then the ideal Key User Model? There is no standard recipe or one size fits all. Depending on the size of the company, the type of industry, and the positioning of business systems, the appropriate model should be configured. Take into consideration the following elements of the model:

  • Business Process Governance. Governance is set up and implemented. Hence Management knows the importance of Business Process Ownership and the linking pin to the business strategy.
  • Champions. If the company is of a certain size, the Process Owner might delegate some day-to-day tasks to a champion who acts directly on behalf of the Owner. The champion usually maintains the change agenda so that the underlying strategy is being executed.
  • Subject Matter Experts (SME’s). Specialists on the process and the system are clustered in a team and ensure that projects, small projects, and changes can be executed and implemented. The team of SME’s is either organized in the IT department or in the Business department.
  • Key Users. Key Users form the core of the Governance Model. They feed the Subject Matter Experts, Champions, and Owners with valuable information on daily running business. The Key Users are ultimately also the messengers to the End-Users in case of changes.

If you really want to create leverage by proper functioning Key Users, you can stimulate the knowledge exchange across units in the company (if multiple units are applicable) and/or encourage them to bring forward new ideas for improvement. Good ideas should be implemented and rewarded. And don’t forget to train regularly your Key Users on new developments.