In today’s age of information and automation, I am shocked by the number of large companies that still store training records in old file cabinets in dusty closets collecting cobwebs. Other companies may store the data electronically, but have no intention of using the information. What is the point of storing the records, if no one is ever going to use them?

A well-designed training database is a powerful tool that can help align human resources with critical strategic initiatives in your business. In this article, I will discuss how using electronic training records can bring your organization into the 21st century, as well as how to select the best software for this record-keeping job.

Here are the first five steps to organizing your training database:

Step 1: Catalog and group training modules into functional and tiered-level programs.
This provides employees with a long-term vision of development and growth opportunity within the company, and can be an integral part of the HR branding a company uses to attract and retain the best talent.

Step 2: Use automated training records to link training initiatives and business initiatives.
Program training schedules to tie into product rollout timelines. In this way, training can become seamless and implemented in a timely fashion for employees.

Automate training schedules to provide reminders to participants and instructors, freeing trainers from administrative tasks.

Step 3: Link computer-based training to the training database.
Module completion, as well as any test scores associated with those modules, can be automatically downloaded to the database. Once again, your staff’s time is moved from performing administrative duties to more important training tasks.

Step 4: Load performance measurements into the training database to allow a comparison of training initiatives and performance levels.
On a business-wide level, managers can pinpoint correlations (or the lack thereof) between performance improvement and training. Then training managers can make informed decisions about the long-term value of specific training programs and make appropriate adjustments to long-term training plans.

On a case-by-case basis, trainers can determine the impact that specific training had on individuals.

Step 5: Tie training resources and costs directly to each training module.
Analyze your expenses by module to assist with budget planning and return on investment calculations.

The next step: Selecting software
There are thousands of additional uses for training data, but before you get too excited about this project, be warned: There is a considerable investment—of both time and dollars—required to create a strong training data management system. Critical decisions need to be made.

These decisions range from whether to purchase a ready-made package, develop a custom package in-house, contract with a vendor or consultant, or create a hybrid system using customized add-ons to pre-purchased software.

When planning a data management system, consider these four critical areas:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Usability
  3. Sustainability
  4. Expandability

Flexibility: Is it compatible?
Make sure your training database can interact with current company platforms. This can be the trickiest part of the project. Web-based systems can download distance-learning applications, but they don’t easily speak to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platforms, such as PeopleSoft or SAP.

Usability: Is it easy to use?
No matter how powerful your training database is, if people can’t use it, it’s worthless. Even if you are working in a high-tech company, it is a mistake to assume that the HR staff is highly computer literate. The training database should be user-friendly and intuitive.

Sustainability: Can it be upgraded?
Out-of-the-box databases win this contest. Vendors will be knocking on your door every year with the newest and coolest version of their software. However, “canned” databases don’t offer much flexibility.

Expandability: Can it handle all your data?
Many companies create custom databases using Access or similar software, which is a good choice for many organizations. The software is flexible, easy to use, and fairly easy to upgrade. The one drawback is that there is a limit to the amount of data you can store. Much more than 10,000 core field entries can cause the database to collapse.

Make your choices wisely, it’s a big investment
There are trade-offs in all areas, and no one database will provide a complete solution. And, don’t forget about budgets. The cost of development and implementation can easily become a six-figure endeavor. Smaller projects can cost much less ($5,000 or less). While the cost of the project should reflect its scope, don’t forget the hidden costs associated with implementation (end-user training, data entry, integration with other software, etc.).

Before going headlong into a database project, invest the time in figuring out what your company needs and what people will use. I have seen too many companies skip this stage, spend thousands of dollars, and implement a database that goes unused.

Checking out your options
There are dozens of Web sites dedicated to the sale of human resources information systems (HRIS) and training database solutions. I’ve listed a sample of companies—ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies.

  • Best Software, Inc. is the developer and distributor of ABRA, software that specializes in HRIS.
  • Chris Collins, Inc. is a small business dedicated to building customized databases, with a focus on training software.
  • PeopleSoft is a leader in HRIS and ERP. This Web site showcases all HRIS functionality, with a training database serving as a part of a larger data warehouse.
  • Oracle , another ERP option, focuses on finance management. There is an HR module as part of this package. The Oracle Web site touts it Web-enabling capabilities.
  • Nu View Systems, Inc ., a smaller software company, includes a live demo on its Web site.

To find even more sites, do an Internet search on “HRIS” or “human resource software.“
What is the status of your training records? Do you have any? Have you seen them lately? Write to Wendy and share your experiences or post a comment below.