IT's top 5 training mistakes

When rollouts go wrong, it's tempting to blame the end user. You might need to look in the mirror instead

You just rolled out companywide, only to find your help desk flooded with calls. Or you spent hours with the mobile sales group going over the basics of laptop and wireless security, only to discover team members still opening rogue e-mail attachments and stumbling over password protocols.

Sound familiar? The problem could be in your training.

It's all too natural for IT to cast blame on end users when new or upgraded systems hit snafus, but rather than pointing fingers, IT should instead consider its own role in training miscues, experts advise.

While IT's relationship with end-user training has always been ambivalent, the pressure is on to get users comfortable and productive on new tech systems, thanks to a corporate emphasis on information security, compliance and return on investment to justify costly hardware and software rollouts.

In that light, a good training program can count as a competitive advantage, but management isn't always sold on the business benefits of effective tech training. "Companies don't yet fully value training," says David S. Murphy, founder and membership director of nonprofit International Association of Information Technology Trainers (ITrain) and a professor of English and computer science at the University of Phoenix and Howard Community College in the US. "I've yet to come across a commercial company that embraces training as a requisite value-added service as opposed to an optional value-added service."

Worried that your IT training falls into that latter category? We talked to IT managers, in-house and third-party trainers, industry advocates, and academics to uncover the top five mistakes technology professionals make when training end users.

None of these mess-ups are fatal, we're happy to report. With an open mind and some targeted adjustments, IT managers and trainers can achieve greater success with their end users and a little peace of mind for themselves.

Mistake No. 1: You didn't plan for training upfront.

IT budgets have been under close scrutiny for years, and the dollars earmarked for training have been among the hardest hit, according to Murphy. As a result, many companies don't factor end-user training into the total cost of their systems' rollouts and are left scrambling for funding and resources at the tail end of the deployment.

Consensus in the industry dictates that a good training program should account for 10 per cent to 13 per cent of the total spend, yet most companies underestimate the cost and the resources that requires, according to Pat Begley, vice president of learning solutions at RWD Technologies, a US-based professional services company that does end-user training.

"Many times, organizations feel they have the bandwidth within the IT team to do the training, but they don't realize how tied up those people are going to be with the blueprinting of the system," she explains. "Then they get caught short with little time left" for training.

Unisys learned that lesson the hard way several years back during a companywide rollout of Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003. At the time, the company didn't have a prerollout training program for the software in place.

As a result, Unisys University, a companywide training group, partnered with IT to deal with training issues after the fact, when the software landed on people's desktops. "There was a flurry of calls about 'how do you do this?'" recalls Weston Morris, chief architect with Unisys' strategic programs office for Microsoft products. "It was an expensive proposition."

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