If you haven't outsourced lots of technology, you have some serious training requirements to satisfy. Even if you've outsourced some work, you'll still have to keep your technology professionals current. If you have lots of technologists, then you've probably institutionalized the continuous training process -- and hopefully you're measuring its effectiveness.
Like all of the alignment challenges, the people one is a moving target, perhaps more than even applications alignment. Let's look at the components of a sound people strategy.
Business Strategy Linkages
The pace of today's business is generating technology problem-solving requirements faster than employers and employees can satisfy them. This is stressing "learning organizations" to the point where they have to invest in serious training programs for their employees.
"Corporate Universities" are springing up all over the place and the number of new content "titles" (like computer-based training [CBT] titles) is growing by leaps and bounds.
All of this effort, however, must be targeted at coherent strategies. If they're not, then all of the work to keep employees current may be misdirected: Training requirements should be derived from business strategies and tactics -- not the other way around.
Core Competency Assessment
This isn't the first time you've assessed your core and non-core business models and processes. You've assessed them to determine strategic technology investments and to determine how much outsourcing you should consider. This continuous core/non-core assessment should now yield some insight into what skillsets you need and how to acquire them through training.
Continuous Learning Requirements
New hires already get courses about your industry, your company and technology. If you develop lots of applications you probably already have courses in systems analysis and software engineering (your core competency assessment will have identified such courses as core to your continuous learning technology requirements!).
It's importance that learning be continuous and current. Here's a list of courses your ought to be offering -- regardless of how much you outsource or how big your IT staff is. These courses represent some new and stand-by content. Take a look and see if they make sense:
Applications Architectures -- a course that would look at how mainframe (single-tier), client-server (2-tier) and Internet/Intranet (3-tier to n-tier) applications have changed and what the trade-offs among the architectures (defined around flexibility, scalability, reliability, etc.) are and how they should be modeled.
Messaging & Workflow -- a course that would examine the platforms that support all varieties of communication and how communications technology enable enables communication and transactions among employees, customers and suppliers inside and outside of the corporate firewall.
Customization & Personalization -- a course that would build upon basics in DBMS and data warehousing/mining to examine mass personalization, behavioral models to correlate online and offline behaviors, wireless personalization and personal and professional CRM, among other topics.
Automation -- a course that would introduce professionals to intelligent systems technology and the application of that technology to personal and professional automated transaction processing, monitoring, e-billing, and the like. The course would review the methods (neural nets, fuzzy logic, expert systems, etc.), then how these methodologies have been embedded in tools and applications.
Content Management & Understanding -- a course that would position data, information, knowledge and content of all varieties (static, dynamic, text, video, etc.) and how it can be managed for alternative purposes. This course would integrate material on content management platforms, next-generation data base management applications (especially object-oriented DBMSs), as well as semantic and syntactic approaches to voice/speech recognition/response & content access/management.
Optimization -- a course that would look at major technology and business processes and how they can be optimized with a variety of models, tools and technologies. This course would examine the need for integration, interoperability and synchronization and how optimization becomes the nexus for productivity and profitability. Optimization concepts, models, tools and technologies can be applied to technology performance (network optimization, for example) and business process performance (applications design and development, training, customer acquisition, etc.).
Integration & Interoperability -- a course that would look at the technical requirements for making disparate, incompatible applications, standards, platforms and architectures communicate with one another. It would focus, at a high level, on enterprise applications integration (EAI) and Internet applications integration (IAI), as well as wrapper/glue technologies like XML as well as more conventional middleware. The course should be focused on the need for -- and objectives of -- integration and interoperability including cross-selling, up-selling, customer service, alliance building, etc.
Business Technology Metrics -- a course designed to introduce professionals to ROI, EVA, TCO (and other) models for assessing business/technology effectiveness. Business case analysis would also occupy a large chunk of this course.
The Technology Organization -- a course that would examine the relationship of technology people and organizations with their business partners/clients. Such a course would look at alternative organizational structures exploring such concepts and models as centralization/ decentralization, enterprise/lines of business governance and standards setting. Organizational structures could also be examined from the perspective of different vertical industries, revenue size, and even from an M&A perspective.
Security & Privacy -- a course that would examine the concepts, models, tools and technologies that enable security architectures, authentication, authorization, administration and business resumption planning. The technologies would include encryption, biometrics, PKI and smart cards, among others. The course would sensitize professionals to the role that security and privacy will play given trends in applications and communications architectures and the trend toward eBusiness.
Business/Technology Strategy -- a course that would examine the methods for developing and assessing business strategies in specific and converging vertical industries. Some of the models and methods that might be included are scenario planning, decision modeling and alternative futures development. These methods would then be linked to major technology investment decisions around applications, communications, data, etc. Such a course would help professionals understand the relationship between high-level business strategy and computing and communications technology.
Project & Program Management -- this course would require professionals to understand project management processes, methods and tools as well as program management processes, methods and tools. The range of areas to be covered might include several varieties of technology project management and several varieties of program management including technology acquisition strategies, managing outsourcing, service level agreements, etc.
Principles of Software Engineering -- this course would examine all aspects of the software design and development process including alternative design/development life cycle models, design, development, evaluation, management, metrics, etc.).
Supply Chain Management -- a course that would introduce professionals to supply-chain concepts, models and tools. Integrated supply-chain management (by vertical industry) would be a central focus of the course along with the technologies that enable supply-chain management. The course would examine SCM standards, technologies (such as exchanges) and some of the leading SCM platforms.
Professional Communications -- this course would require professionals to understand the roles of the form and content of professional written and verbal communications. Business case development and communication, due diligence and related challenges could be used to demonstrate the significance of the professional communications that occur within simple and complex organizations.
Content, Delivery & Infrastructure Options
The delivery of content -- and the infrastructure necessary to do so -- must be specified. While face-to-face content delivery always makes sense, there are times when some flavors of distance education make even more sense.
Face-to-face delivery requires an instructor, space and transportation. All other models require some delivery technology and a technology infrastructure to support continuous learning.
In order to support continuous learning you may have to establish content arrangements with training companies, universities and educational consortia, and connect instructors with students regardless of their location or mobility patterns.
Acquisition Effectiveness Metrics
Regardless of what you deliver, you'll need to measure effectiveness. Understanding, retention and problem-solving metrics should be developed to determine if the content and delivery is hitting the mark. The same return-on-investment (ROI) and total cost-of-ownership (TCO) models should be used to measure training content and delivery model effectiveness that you use to measure the effectiveness of all of your business -- technology alignment investments.
The above list of courses is nothing more than a snapshot of what appears to be relevant today. There's no question that the list will change dramatically in just one year. Our professional is as high velocity as any on the planet. You'll change the content and delivery of your company's continuous learning strategy over and over again. If you stop modeling learning requirements, you'll quickly fall behind the curve.
Steve Andriole is the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business at Villanova University, where he conducts applied research in business/technology alignment. He is also the founder & CTO of TechVestCo, a new-economy consortium that focuses on optimizing investments in information technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.