In the run-up to a new IT budget year, tech professionals spend a lot of time thinking about the acquisition of new software, hardware and services. Yet how long do you spend on the functionality and suppliers, versus educating your users?
I'd say probably 80 per cent of the effort goes on the technology itself. The remaining 20 per cent is allocated to developing the rollout plan and educating the users.
But why spend more on education? After all, most technology these days is promoted as intuitive and easy to use. So is education merely for those who are neither geeks nor digital natives?
Before I run one of my email workshops, I encourage participants to benchmark their email IT fitness and tell me which of the top 10 features of their software they use. For example, rules, categories, colour, or in-field editing.
It never ceases to surprise me that so many people struggle or simply have no knowledge of even the most basic functions. All these software features are productivity enhancers and can help save time.
Technology always has an abundance of such productivity functions but many people outside the millennial generation, which means probably 75 per cent of the workforce, may not naturally turn to these tools.
The conscious competence learning matrix provides a useful insight into this situation. Many users operate with a very low level of IT fitness in the unconsciously incompetence quadrant. I call these bronze users. They either fumble or just use the bare minimum.
Some make a foray into conscious incompetence by reading about IT and playing with it and will be motivated to move to quadrants three and four, and hence silver and gold.
IT professionals normally operate as gold users in these two quadrants as it's their business to seek out how to bend the software and hardware to make it more functional and integrated with existing applications.
However, how many focus on improving the IT fitness of their customers to make the most of the IT investment?
The average business user's main concern, when faced with either a new application or piece of hardware, is how to get his or her job done with the minimum of disruption. As a result, new functionally is often not exploited and in some cases technology is not as extensively deployed as it should be.
I've lost count of the number of times I've heard a CIO say they have implemented collaborative working tools, such as SharePoint, when in fact the software turns out not to be extensively used in their organisation.
Business users and those of generation X often need help to move from being unconsciously incompetent bronze users to being at least consciously incompetent, silver to gold users and hungry to exploit the technology.
Users operating in Q3 and Q4 improve their personal productivity and this improvement leads to better technology take-up and greater returns on the IT investment.
Here are three easy ways to help business users improve their IT fitness, which some CIOs are using very effectively.
1. Benchmark IT fitness
Provide online tools that users can access to benchmark their own level of IT fitness - for example, our Outlook IT Fitness check. Just knowing what you don't know often spurs people to learn.
2. Deployment role models
Adopt a role model for deploying technology. Send members of the helpdesk to sit beside users or do some floor-walking to see what users do and how they use the technology. It can be an eye-opener.
3. Regular hints and tips
Produce regular - say, weekly or even daily - tips and hints that are task-based. One tip could be, for example, using a certain colour to highlight emails from key people. However, make sure the tips are tested and checked by a person of low IT fitness, because you will be surprised at how much we in the profession take for granted.
Ideally the time spent on user education versus selecting the technology should be 80:20 rather than the normal 20:80. That's asking a lot and involves a big culture change. Sadly, in times of budget constraints training is usually the first item to be axed.
Yet just a small increase in time and budgets allocated to business user education will yield real benefits. One hour's training will give you back at least two hours' increased productivity. In these days of almost zero interest rates, training is a great investment towards improving the bottom line.
Dr Monica Seeley is an international expert on email management and runs the Mesmo Consultancy. She is a visiting fellow at Cass Business School, City University, London, and has just written her third book, Brilliant Email, published by Pearson.