Users want new applications to work for them now. They don't want to bother with user manuals or even online help, and if they call an IT help desk, they expect immediate answers. This need for immediate know-how places pressures on IT to deliver business-changing apps, as well technical support and end user training for new technology.
Training and support skills are not IT competencies that IT has historically been evaluated on, so most CIOs try to stay away from these areas. In many cases, they convince users to subscribe to commercially offered training programs as a preemptive strike on assuming responsibility for training and ongoing IT help desk support. In other cases, such as when solutions are developed internally, IT has resorted to online help guides and frequently asked question (FAQ) lists to avoid providing "live" support.
Another approach is to consider that developing IT staff's competency in training and application support can pay dividends for the company and for IT.
Benefits of having IT provide training and app support
For starters, an active and continuing dialogue on application use between end users and IT forges healthy and collaborative working relationships. IT can learn a great deal about application usability from these ongoing discussions, and then apply what they learn on future development projects — this ultimately leads to applications that are more useable and successful.
Second, when application training and documentation are de-emphasized in IT and the company, there is a risk that end users will focus on the application's functions they most often and easily perform in order to get by on their jobs but never advance to using the app's more sophisticated options. In cases like this, the 80/20 rule often applies (so, 80% of your end users wind up using 20% of the application) — that leaves a lot of your application investment on the table. It also likely means that some of the most strategic (and perhaps beneficial) portions of the application are not being used in the business.
Should IT be training business users at all?
A majority of CIOs who are technicians and engineers at heart would like to answer this question "no." But in an era of rising service expectations, the business is no longer evaluating IT purely on the technical solutions that it delivers; part of service is ensuring that business users avoid frustration and get their questions about technology answered promptly.
Some forward thinking CIOs are taking an aggressive posture on service and training by including both as an integral part of every end user technology project they deliver. In these projects, end user training on a new application is as integral to considering a solution "installed" as the actual technical installation. Follow-on technical support for a newly delivered solution is also teamed with follow-on end user training and help desk support. The end goal is to ensure that the application "sticks" in the organization, and that it delivers the intended value to the business.
Optimize your company's technology investment
IT decisions makers and end users should constantly evaluate if they are getting the most out of their software investments. If end users are educated to the point where they are comfortable using all features and functions of an application, the return on the technology investment for the enterprise is optimized.
There are CIOs who proactively focus on return for technology investment by devoting resources to user training and app skills. These CIOs position themselves well for when the ultimate and inevitable question comes from the CEO or the board: Is the company getting the most out of its technology investments?
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.