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Train or Consequences

Train or Consequences

A first encounter with a user-unfriendly application highlights the cost to productivity when you scrimp on training.

It was November 1989 and I had just joined Unisys as the Unix marketing manager. I found that the communication nerve centre for the entire organisation was a home-grown, mainframe-based e-mail system that was, to say the least, decidedly user hostile. To make matters worse, all I got was five minutes training to understand the application's many idiosyncrasies.

I will never cease to wonder why a company invests millions of dollars upgrading a core system, only to penny-pinch when it comes to educating users on how to use it. Companies aren't going to see much ROI if people aren't properly trained in how to best use the system. Moreover, without formal training, staff will learn from their more knowledgeable colleagues: a recipe for propagating bad practices from one generation of employees to the next.

I recently discussed training with a several InTEP members and they all agreed that training tailored to specific user requirements is by far the most effective. They found full-day training classes particularly ineffective, because even the most enthusiastic attendee's attention tends to drift as the day draws on. In addition, operational departments are more exposed when employees are in training for an entire day. One organisation now prefers half-day training segments. It finds that these allow staff more effective time in the classroom and leave the remainder of the day so they can be back at work, often putting into practice some of the things they have learned in the morning.

CIOs are also starting to investigate alternative delivery approaches to training such as computer-based training or e-learning. They see these as more convenient for staff. This view is supported by findings from IDC's local Forecast for Management study. Undertaken at the start of 2001, this survey included for the first time a question on whether local CIOs had already adopted e-learning or whether they had plans to do so over the next two years. Over 30 per cent said they were using it, and a further 32 per cent expected to be deploying it by the end of 2002.

The overriding message from the InTEP members I spoke with is that training can't be left to chance; nor should it be an afterthought once the new system is rolled out. Organisations must provide effective training so staff can harness the potential of the new investment.

The InTEP members advise that training must be planned in advance and focused on the needs of the student so it suits their schedules, work objectives and skill-sets. Unfortunately, preparation takes time and effort, which can be a challenging commitment against a backdrop of incessant corporate change and staff turnover. However, if CIOs want to realise the full value of new systems, it seems from my discussions, that there really is no alternative.

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