Making Training In The Enterprise Pay Off

Even the most sophisticated new hardware and applications won't benefit the enterprise if employees don't use them. The often overlooked answer is training. Here are some tips on how to determine when training is appropriate and how to make it work.
Even the most sophisticated new hardware and applications won't benefit the enterprise if employees don't use them. The often-forgotten solution to that problem is training.

Training certainly solved a major problem at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.

"When I arrived in 1996, the organization had spent $11 million for new applications since 1992," said Ann Sullivan, senior vice president and CIO of the 4,600-employee institution. "But the IT department couldn't figure out how to implement it, so the new applications were sitting on the shelf."

A major problem was that employees weren't comfortable with the technology, which included applications for handling the company's financials, human resources and payroll as well as a variety of patient information. Sullivan helped develop an organization-wide training program that enabled deployment of those applications.

However, while training is essential, experts such as Sullivan note you must consider several key factors in order to make it effective.

Knowing When You Need It

There are several benchmarks to help determine whether training is necessary, according to Bill Keilt. He is senior director of education services for J.D. Edwards, a vendor of supply chain management, customer relationship management and other enterprise software.

"The more a process becomes automated, the more training becomes mandatory," Keilt said. "If there's a major cultural and paradigm shift how a business process is handled, you can't just expect users to know how to use it."

You can determine precisely what training is needed by asking your organization's help desk, according to Jeanne Cuff, a senior consultant for Compass America, Inc., a performance improvement company focusing on information technology departments.

"If you're just upgrading from one version of Office to another, there may be no point in training people," she said. "The real data (about what to train for) should come from the help desk." If there's an enterprise-wide or department-wide lack of understanding about a specific application, help desk personnel will know it first and can help target the training to the right group.

Cuff noted that training won't lower help desk costs since better-trained people typically ask the help desk more sophisticated questions. However, training can dramatically lower the cost of field support.

"I've seen the second level response rate -- field support -- go down 50% in one company," she said.

Making It Work

Offering training is one thing, but getting employees to embrace it is another. For Sullivan at Maimonides, the answer was to start slow and get the staff to buy in.

"We started by giving them PC classes, how to use Windows, how to use the Internet," said Joan Evanzia, the director of training for the hospital. "It gave them something they could navigate and a way to get information so they started to feel comfortable."

Next, the IT staff built an application that enabled the medical staff to view records but not edit them. "That gave them a taste for it and built up a desire to get more involved and to use the system," Evanzia said.

As the IT department started implementing the medical applications, they asked for input from the clinicians. "That made the physicians sponsors and it gave them a buy-in into the system," she said. After that, they enthusiastically attended training classes, she added.

Proving Its Worth

It's essential, of course, to gauge the effectiveness of programs, including training. There is some debate, however, whether you can do a return-on-investment (ROI) study on training.

"You absolutely can do an ROI on training because it relates to productivity," says Raymond Halagera, president of Career Systems International, a career development company. "It's remarkable the ROI you can generate by training a thousand employees even if their productivity increases only 3%, he said. But a 3% ROI for end-user training is low, he added.

"There are few generalizations (about ROI), but I've seen paybacks on training as quickly as a month or two," Halagera says.

Some, however, believe the technology should get the ROI and that training is just one component of the technology.

"People utilize the technology as a result of training, but the ROI has to focus on the technology," said Ann Sullivan, the Maimonides CIO. "Our clinical systems application had a 13% ROI, which was a four-year payback. Training was part of that, but to do an ROI on training alone isn't possible."

Whether you perform a formal ROI on training, there is little doubt about its effectiveness. J.D. Edwards' Bill Keilt cited studies indicating that, for many enterprise processes, it takes untrained users an average of 22 hours to get to the same skill level that workers gain after five hours of training. The studies also indicate that every hour of end user training is worth at least five hours of additional productivity for the enterprise, Keilt said.

However you measure the benefits of training, though, everybody agreed on one thing: Training is an essential tool for making sure your organization reaps the benefits of new software and hardware.

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