Recruiting and retaining super users: Q&A with Helen Frericks on building a successful super user program

November 06, 2013

What happens when your super users have disappeared? How do you rejuvenate a stalled super user program? Helen Frericks of Entegris shared her thoughts about super users – how to recruit, reward, and retain them - based on her experience with successfully rebuilding an SAP super user program at her own organization. She joined us for a live chat with readers here on SAPinsider Online. 

Kristine Erickson, SAPinsider Online: Thanks to everyone for joining us today for this chat with Entegris’ Helen Frericks. Helen is Senior Manager of Business Applications and she has spoken on this topic at ASUG’s 2013 annual conference.  We’ll kick off with a few questions for Helen about her experiences in rebuilding a super user program and also with maintaining that program for the longer-term.

Thanks, Helen, for joining us today and sharing your experiences and advice!

Helen Frericks: Thank you, Kristine, for inviting me and for the opportunity to share our achievements and struggles with the group.

Helen, we have a few questions from our audience already on super user challenges. But before we get to those, we’re hoping you can give us some background on the super user program you are working on…

But first, could you introduce yourself and give a little before and after picture of your organization's super user program?

Helen Frericks: I have the pleasure of having been involved with SAP projects for over 20 years now, and with my current company Entegris for the past 6 years.

When I first came to Entegris, they had been live on SAP for over 10 years, and during that time, the original project team and super users had disappeared into the business and into IT.

When we had a major upgrade to prepare for and knew that we could not impact the business processes, we knew that we needed a super user program to help us test and understand the implications.          

So at that point was when I started to push with senior management that we needed a program in place and they finally agreed ... So here we are today with a full team - we have 3,000 users in 29 countries and have 85 global SAP super users and 46 global BW super users.

And this is my ECC team:

Helen Frericks Super User Team

Kristine Erickson: Thanks for sharing that photo. It may give some hope to some of the folks who are struggling with super user recruiting right now! It looks like there are a number of questions for you now... I'll let you get started responding.

Comment From Guest: Do you select SUs based on overall SAP knowledge or do you select based on functionality knowledge. Or do you have "specialized" SUs or general by location?

Helen Frericks: This is a great question - we take anybody that shows interest in being a part - but also we look for aptitude, experience, and willingness to learn. We do specialize by function and some functions are more engaged than other.

Comment From Guest: What are your expectations of a SU?

Helen Frericks: I expect them to have a curiosity about business and the ways that the SAP systems can help them - but, also, we expect them to be the first line of defense to the end users - these are the people who interact with the users the most.

Comment From Guest: What are some successful methods of engaging Line Managers in the promotion & support of their Super Users?

Helen Frericks: Over time I have learned that the more that we talk to the line managers about the program and the more success stories that we show them, the better they respond - there are skeptics out there, but we are winning them over one at a time. The company has now embraced the value of super users and what they can mean.

Comment From Guest: Do you have SUs that cover many sites or locations? Same SUs for many geographical locations?

Helen Frericks: We make it a point to try and cover all of our physical locations - but will make do with a region if we do not have enough people. For some functions, we have less participation than others, so then we go regionally - the value is still there.

Comment From Guest: Hi Helen, we are planning to ensure that we have a 1:20 ratio of Super Users to end users. Do you find that your ratio is what you need? Or do you have gaps?

Helen Frericks: I have read the recommended ratios, and if you are a big enough company, that does make sense - in our case we are a smaller company and we are still building our team, so I take as many as I can get - we do have gaps in manufacturing operations that we are working hard on filling.

Comment From Guest: How did you convince Senior Management to start the program - did you provide stories or statistics?

Helen Frericks: I started with talking to anybody who would listen - I used some statistics based on how we used IT's time to support end users and the implications of the time zones as examples of when we could respond since our IT is US based - stories and individualized approaches helped the most.

Kristine Erickson: I want to pipe in here to ask about soft skills - for the super users, but also for the manager of the program. What skills will a successful super user program need that aren't technical?

Helen Frericks: We do spend some time on soft skills for the super users - we talk about problem solving, training, dealing with difficult questions, etc. It is not just about being a technical wizard at SAP. In addition, to manage the program, you really do need to be thick skinned and need to be able to take rejection at all levels and yet keep bouncing back. I find that I have to be able to converse at all levels of the organization, understand what motivates people and how they learn the best. Good people management is key.

Comment From Guest: Does IT provide recognition or reward?

Helen Frericks: Good question - people are, of course, motivated by many things and we noticed that it varies culturally by location as to what that recognition should be. We do not offer financial recognition, but we do a lot of recognition within the company and celebrate successes - plus we have an annual conference with all the super users that they look forward to.

Kristine Erickson: Could you talk about what's involved in that annual conference? Your session at ASUG showed the agenda - it looked incredibly well thought out. Do super users attend in person? And how do you set the agenda?

Helen Frericks: Our annual conference is an evolving event, but we set an agenda similar to conferences where you have tracks of functionality, but where we also have shared sessions on understanding business processes end to end, sharing soft skills, and even outside speakers. The agenda is set to give maximum exposure and to encourage networking within the team, as they are so geographically diverse.


Comment From Guest: Does your Super User Network manager have additional responsibilities or are they dedicated to the effort?

Helen Frericks: I manage the program and I also manage the SAP Business Applications area of SAP development for ECC and BI - so no, it is not a full-time job, although it seems like one.

Comment From Guest: With the BW landscape continuously evolving, how do you manage continuous education of the SU?

Helen Frericks: We concentrate on the things that we want them to learn and make sure that we train - super users train local teams from there. We meet regularly to make this happen.

.Comment From Anders Hansen: How do you ensure that the line organization dedicates time for the super users to act as super users?

Helen Frericks: We encourage them to write this into the Job descriptions, as well as their annual objectives - and for the super user to encourage their managers to do the same thing. We anticipate about 10% usage during regular support, but that goes way up with projects - and since we try and partner on projects, they have an understanding of where the super users will be needed.

Comment From Seshadri: The super user program is always a challenge to IT rather than business. The business buy-in is missing, mostly stating it is IT's responsibility, along with training as required for business users.

Helen Frericks: We have to continue to convince the business that SAP belongs to them; it is a business system, and IT should not be defining direction - with that ownership comes better understanding of what super users are.

Comment From Dawn Wallschlaeger: We are currently upgrading to EHP5 from SAP ECC 6.0. Our business scenario encompasses Italy, USA, Brazil, and China. In our parent company, in Italy, our Key Users (or super users) were always stable, and all of a sudden, they have all "disappeared."
We find ourselves with a new scenario that makes our upgrade not only difficult to manage for the project, but also with no strong SAP base to even move forward for the ever rapidly changing business processes that we encounter day to day. The business culture and management does put priority on this topic, and the users themselves are stressed trying to keep up the day to day and test for the upgrade. It is a lose / lose scenario...

Helen Frericks: Short answer - but an upgrade is what kicked off our super user needs and it was a great way to get buy-in - and we had a "non-event" ECC 6.0 upgrade that was a huge success.

Comment From Guest: Is there existing documentation regarding the SU concept? Dos and don'ts?

Helen Frericks: I created a strategy for Entegris based on a lot of research I did through numerous Web sites - there is a lot out there and you need to figure what works for your organization - but I do recommend sitting down and drafting that strategy - it gives you more credibility.

Comment From Guest: Do you use any tools or technology for training, collaboration, or keeping in touch with your super users regularly?

Helen Frericks: We use a number of tools for collaboration that we already had existing in email tools, etc. Social media type sites work well for sharing, and the ability to screen share with users is a must. Also, regular meetings with smaller functional groups help keep us all in touch.

Kristine Erickson: I found the following question interesting for those involved in hiring and looking at SAP technical skills. What super user skills should an organization also look for in the hiring process?
Comment From Marv Eckerle
: Is there a market for full-time or contract "super-user" skills for companies undertaking initial implementations of SAP, major upgrades, etc.--where the company has no current super-users, wants talent to provide functional knowledge transfer, master data creation/conversion assistance, GRC role design, etc.?

Helen Frericks: I look for people who understand the business and yet also have an affinity for systems - they are not afraid to click buttons and see what happens. The business knowledge is key; we can teach SAP. They are people who like to engage in solving problems - in most organizations, you can already spot them, as they are the people that their co-workers are already going to them if they have issues or questions.


Comment From Lucy: Any tips for letting super users know what they're signing up for without deterring them from participating? Being a super user can become very time-consuming and I'm curious how you keep SUs motivate.

Helen Frericks: I try to be very up front about what we expect both with the employee and with the manager - having a super user strategy helps define the expectations. We keep them motivated by continuing to challenge them with being involved in new projects and continuing to grow.

Comment From Guest: Have you lost SUs to other companies because other companies are also seeking SU talent?

Helen Frericks: This is absolutely a huge risk - in fact, we tend to lose them to IT departments to become Business Analysts - so we need to keep that motivation going, but yet know that we need to continue to build new super users because of that risk.

In fact, in my team, half of my BAs come from the business and the rest from IT - so sometimes you lose them to your own organization, as they also have a tendency to get promoted - good for them, but you have to keep replacing.

Comment From Belinda Nilsson-Rodrigues (Global Head of ERP, Novartis V&D): How do you deal with the gaps? Do you have other Super Users cover the gap areas (like manufacturing ops)? Or does your IT team cover it?

Helen Frericks: We cover it with the IT teams if we lack super users - you can always tell here who has the most super users, as they tend to have the highest number of active projects

Comment From Guest: Does the network support day to day user questions? What is the scope of the network’s charter? How much of their time is devoted to network business?

Helen Frericks: Yes, they do - the super users are names in our IT ticket resolution software as the first port of call for questions - they are asked when they report an SAP issue - have you talked to your super user?

Comment From Guest: How is training handled for your super users? Are they trained by the SAP business analyst or do you utilize resources for SU training, and if so, can you detail the other resources utilized?

Helen Frericks: We do use the BAs to help train on SAP-specific items - I have also brought in professional trainers if needed for the soft skills - I also have the stronger super users train the less strong - use whatever you have.

Comment From Guest: How about documentation and training? Are your SUs required to keep all documentation updated and train on new processes? And is your documentation controlled?

Helen Frericks: This is something that we are working on - in some areas, they do keep the documentation up to date, in others, not so much - this is a weakness in our company that we need to work on.

Comment From Guest: What is the training method for the super users and who owns their training (the business or your organization)?

Helen Frericks: Right now IT owns the training, but we have added Business Leads for the super users and they are taking a more active role in training and managing the program, and that helps a lot.

Kristine Erickson: And how do you evaluate / get feedback on the super users in your program?

Helen Frericks: One of the things that we do is to certify super users at our annual conference - they need to have been engaged and participated throughout. We also measure the number of issue resolutions that they handle and how many never make it to IT, since they resolve at the super user level. I also gain feedback from the Business Leads for each function, as well as the BAs who work with them - then I provide feedback to the managers of those super users, as well.

Comment From Guest: Hi Helen, what strategies do you use to keep members engaged?
Our corporation has a similar network, but since our processes cover such a wide range, some members are engaged, while others are not. What does the organizational structure of your network look like?

Helen Frericks: We have the program manager and then the business leads - these are functional leaders who take on the task of meeting regularly with the super users. It is definitely an issue that there can be a lack of engagement by some people and that is why, ultimately, we certify and review if that person should really be part of the team. What has helped us is having good testing software, so that we can track who participated and who did not on testing, etc., as well as tracking issue resolution and feedback. We have to accept that not all suggested super users will make it.

Kristine Erickson:
We're about to wrap up today's chat. And Helen, thank you again for taking these questions today. Obviously this is a topic that lots of us are struggling with. Thanks for all the wise advice!

Helen Frericks: Thank you, and thank you for all of the interesting questions - if anybody would like to know anything else about our program or has ideas that they could share, please feel free to email me at:

Kristine Erickson: Thanks again, Helen, and to all who joined us today. We look forward to more on this topic in the coming year!


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Commenting on this article is closed.

Kristine Erickson

11/6/2013 10:20:18 AM

Marv, Thanks - great question. I've never heard of this - at least of anyone using the "superuser" terminology for this role. But I wonder if hiring organizations are consciously considering super user skill sets in hiring decisions? Might be interesting in the context of super user manager roles, too. We'll post it in the chat discussion and discuss at 12:30 today!

Marv Eckerle

11/6/2013 10:05:36 AM

Is there a market for full-time or contract "super-user" skills for companies undertaking initial implementations of SAP, major upgrades, etc.--where the company has no current super-users, wants talent to provide functional knowledge transfer, master data creation/conversion assistance, GRC role design, etc.?