The high cost of not training

A few years back, I was on a plane going to a conference where I was to speak on IT issues.

One of the themes of my presentation was that nearly 90 cents of every dollar spent on software for end users was wasted because of a lack of training.

Sitting next to me was an older gentleman using what was then a state-of-the-art ThinkPad. It clearly oozed "power user", and the huge (for the time) 14in display was amazing and grabbed my attention. In the course of glancing longingly at the screen, I noticed that the application my seatmate was busily typing away in was Windows Notepad. Even more astonishing was the fact that Notepad wasn't zoomed to fill the XGA screen, nor was word-wrap turned on, so he was forced to scroll in four directions instead of two.

After a moment or two of watching this, I introduced myself and we chatted for a bit. It turned out that he was the CEO of his company. He ranted about what a waste of money his PC was and how unhelpful his IT people were (his actual words were slightly more colourful). Watching him work, I easily understood his frustration. I showed him how to zoom Notepad and turn on word-wrap. From his reaction, you'd think I was Prometheus showing him fire. In exchange for promising never to divulge either his or his firm's identity (although every time I tell this tale, at least three people say, "Oh, I see you met my boss"), he let me poke around his laptop a bit. I found hundreds of text files saved in his root directory. But though he had every possible PC productivity application installed -- office suites, graphics applications, Web tools -- no one had ever bothered to show him how to use any of it. He had just tripped over Notepad and started using it to get some work done. I thought at the time, "Ninety cents? More like 99 cents in this case."

I share this tale because things aren't getting simpler on PCs. Despite software that claims to be "intuitive" (although I've yet to see a PC intuit anything; I suspect they mean the software is intuitable, although it isn't that either), few people will become productive without training.

I suspect this situation will become even worse over the next year, since vendors are increasingly targetting end users with marketing pitches designed to gain mind share for their products. IT departments must counter this by keeping users informed of their planning process, but they also must be prepared for an onslaught of support and training challenges as users clamour for the new stuff.

The problem is that when budgets are slashed, training is often the first thing to go. Remember, there's no technology investment that will yield productivity without some learning. Ignore that part of the equation, and it doesn't matter how good the core technology is or whether the technology deployment is being driven by IT or by end users themselves. Instead of productivity, you will get frustrated and angry users who will be loath to approve the next big thing.

Make sure you spend the time getting your executives up to speed on their corporate gear and the stuff they buy themselves, even if it's not IT-approved. Who knows? One of them might be sitting next to me on my next trip.

Michael Gartenberg is a VP and research at Jupiter Research

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