The benefits of an internal IT training model are hard to refute, says Mary Shacklett. Here are several steps CIOs should take to optimize their training programs.
Training in technical disciplines such as IT is an ongoing challenge for enterprises and their executives, and it is becoming more difficult in the face of flat budgets and burgeoning needs in skills development.
For instance, in the past two years, big data management and applications and new storage management challenges have become mission-critical areas where IT cannot afford to fail. These technical topics are ones that IT has traditionally not committed much training. The question for executives and managers is: Who should be responsible for IT training?
Most managers don't want the job, because it means extra responsibility on top of a long list of accountabilities that companies already expect. The excuses that are given are many. HR typically says that it lacks the expertise to administer competency and certification programs in highly technical disciplines (which is usually right). IT says that its job is running systems, not teaching them (which generally is not right).
To address the IT training issue, companies have grappled with several internal IT training approaches through the years.
Large enterprises prefer to create an independent training function that is housed directly in IT, and that reports to the CIO. Other companies have attempted to consolidate all training (both IT and non-IT) under HR, with HR working with IT subject matter experts (SMEs) to develop a curriculum. In still other cases, companies have established para-IT subject matter experts in key business functions who collaborate with IT in areas of IT training and knowledge transfer.
From the CIO's vantage point, the most difficult mode of IT training to work with is one where HR (and the HR budget) controls all training. In this model, the CIO can find himself embroiled with others in fights for training funds and priority — knowing that he still will be expected to bring in a big data project on time, whether or not he wins the budget battle for big data analytics training.
In a scenario where SMEs in IT reside within each business area, the CIO can take advantage of the setup by also using these local SMEs as "point persons" for pushing through new IT initiatives and projects.
Of all of these IT training models, the most popular deployment of IT training for mid- and large-size companies is an internal IT training function. IT might prefer not to do training, but the benefits are hard to refute.
First, IT already knows what is needed to deploy and run the systems it is charged with, so there are minimal learning curves involved in transferring this know-how into training. Second, resourceful CIOs use IT training as a means through which IT acquires a deeper understanding of the human factors that go into successful system building — an instinct that has always been in short supply in IT.
To optimize internal IT training programs, CIOs must put the right IT people in charge of IT training —individuals who are flexible, highly communicative, and able to facilitate learning. These people usually come out of applications, quality assurance, or business analysis groups.
Finally, CIOs should focus on the gains training can deliver. Administering your own internal training program might place additional stresses on work and projects, but it also holds the promise of producing more highly trained employees who ultimately improve the productivity of work and projects.