First and foremost, the training department, led by the CLO, must tear down any and all walls that exist between it and the information technology (IT) department, led by the CIO, the chief information officer.
There are walls in every company. Because enterprise training is most effective with a cross-departmental approach in which end-to-end business processes can truly be addressed, the walls must come tumbling down. The nature of the walls varies from company to company, as does the willingness to wipe them out. Successful companies are those that find ways to remove them and unite the missions of the departments for the good of the entire organization.
To understand the problem these walls pose, let’s look at the typical corporate history: When corporations moved from mainframe-based to open, real-time systems, the CIO and the IT department designed and implemented complete architectures to enable this new technology across the enterprise. It was an expensive transition, but one that has paid off in bringing powerful intelligence to virtually every desktop. Simultaneously, corporations were migrating from traditional instructor-led training into the e-learning world. In many companies, the training organizations went ahead and purchased software for the development and delivery of content, without giving much regard to how the applications would be installed and managed.
After all, training organizations knew how to deliver their product and had been independently in charge of that for years. Traditional instructor-led training didn’t require collaboration with IT, so both the training and IT groups operated very comfortably with minimal crossover.
‘Fix This for Us’
But with training today, there is a huge electronic component. That means that when a training department operating in its traditional mode buys software, they don’t realize until too late that delivering this training to students must be done over a network that they do not control. The too-common response in this situation is to simply toss the problem over the wall to IT with a “we need this done, you fix it” attitude.
This is an understandable response, considering the training department has been on the receiving end of that same attitude, from IT and other departments, many times before. Training departments are rife with horror stories about training demands accompanied by short notice, inadequate documentation, unreasonable expectations and no allowance for training space or user access.
Thus, when training tosses its problem over the wall to IT, sometimes it gets “fixed,” and sometimes it doesn’t. Companies striving to compete in a world where winning depends on agility and nimbleness can’t afford to stumble when it comes to training. That not only means that the problem needs to be fixed every time, but also that it shouldn’t even become a problem in the first place.
Making sure this happens is going to sound deceptively simple: It requires communication and cooperation between the training department and the IT department. Creating an atmosphere of communication, cooperation and partnership takes significant effort, but the results are always worth the work.
Partnership is especially important when it comes to administering an e-learning program focusing on SAP or other ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems. In these cases, the needs and interests of training and IT are so interdependent that without cooperation, the results are dismal for everyone concerned.
All the Enterprise Is a Stage
Theatrically speaking, the CIO owns the playhouse, the stage, the lighting and the seating, and the training department owns the actors and the scripts. They need each other for successful performances. Everyone involved has to take a more process-oriented approach, rather than silo-oriented as they have for too long.
For example—and these things happen all too frequently when lines of communication don’t exist between departments—the training group may decide on its own to purchase a learning management system (LMS). Once the money is spent and the system is delivered, the IT department deems that this won’t work as required with the enterprise’s architecture. The bottom line is that training bought an expensive solution and may only be able to use a small part of it.
This happened on a smaller scale with a client company. One group had purchased a business-process modeling tool. Asked what project they would use this on and how they would implement it, they didn’t have a clue. They saw it as a cool $50,000 tool, but because they had no plan for implementation, utilization and management, it never got used. They never even got the IT department involved. They should have spoken with IT during the evaluation stage, then worked together to develop a plan for installation, license management and support. Instead, they wasted a good chunk of company money.
The best way to create and nurture this partnership will vary from company to company. If there are animosities between the training and IT departments, a senior executive may have to become involved to get the dialogue started. But if the issue is simply lack of communication, the training group may have to make the first move. Remember, if you really want to go to the prom, sometimes you just have to pick up the phone and ask for a date.
As the relationship blossoms and the walls begin to crumble, the next step is to develop a strategic plan. This joint plan is in part a partnership agreement, addressing the issues of how training and IT will share costs and reflecting joint decisions about ownership of the components of existing and future learning systems. It should also reflect a philosophical agreement about the need to jointly advance e-learning for the good of the company. Collaboration is the key, and the plan should mirror that.
How to Build a Plan
The first thing to address in your planning is to project your company two or three years ahead and look backward. Establish your audience and your needs. Ask what it is you want your users to be doing to get the training and support they need. Paint a mental picture of how you want that setup to look.
Like the formation of the training partnership with the CIO and the IT department, the way this plan is formulated will be slightly different with each enterprise. In some cases, it will be driven more by the CLO than the CIO, while in others the balance will shift. Granted, either the training group or IT could develop this plan independently, but the key is to build it together. Each department has different but equally valuable points of view, all of which need to be reflected in the final plan.
Much of the strategic plan has to do with putting hardware and software in place to support the needs. Because these are big purchases, IT and training have to decide who owns the pieces. In some organizations, training and IT obviously haven’t communicated or worked together much, so these issues are going to have to be worked out in a spirit of cooperation.
Once you get the idea established, begin engaging the people who are going to make the decisions. Pitch the plan and the value it will bring. You need to focus on building and conceptualizing the model as well as detailing the return on investment.
There are some common elements to any strategic plan involving a training program and IT. When you are talking about an SAP or ERP system, for instance, there will be procedures that tell the user how to perform tasks or transactions, transaction documents, business process documents and job-role training. Issues to consider include getting system task documents into users’ hands, enabling users to get context-sensitive help and whether you want Web access or file server access. This is where it is critical to know the IT architecture and its ability to enable the training goals.
A smaller semiconductor division of another global company that I work with has no training organization. The IT department drives training. We worked together to create a strategic plan for ERP training before they even implemented their first component in the system. The SAP IT manager became the champion, and he and his boss, the IT manager, sold it to their boss. He in turn drove it to the decision makers at the executive level.
They were implementing SAP and service management components first, so we wanted to create documentation, forming a super-user team that would ultimately own the documentation maintenance. We knew this would have to be in a central location, but at the time they had no central server location, so we set a deadline date for accomplishing that. The IT department did its part by analyzing all the alternatives, and our mutual solution was to put the material on the FTP server where all users in the company had access. It was a workable solution that didn’t even require any investment in additional equipment. The important thing is that the identified solution still maps to the big-picture strategic plan.
Had they not created a strategic plan, they might have had documentation sitting on different servers, possibly on people’s hard drives, and then when it came time to upgrade, they wouldn’t even know where to find all the components. They would, like many other companies, spend money recreating these documents. It happens time and time again.
Once established as a partner, the training department can contact IT and ask for insight on e-learning projects. Because of the trust the departments have established, IT won’t approach the project suspiciously. Training may not even be asking IT to do anything, but once the partners examine the situation, they may find that IT should be involved. This can prevent wasting a lot of money, time and effort on misaligned purchases.
You may be thinking that cooperation and a strategic plan are great for the big project, but are they necessary for the smaller project, something that doesn’t really involve IT? For instance, suppose the training department is going to outsource some training to a company that will provide the content on an ASP (application service provider) basis. The training people may figure that since the content is on the provider’s server and users are connecting strictly over the Internet, IT isn’t really involved and doesn’t need to know the details.
Wrong. Even in situations where your partner department has minimal involvement, they should be aware of all the plans in any implementation. IT will have legitimate concerns over security, network bandwidth and the “extended enterprise,” no matter how the content is delivered. Just as anything training- or education-related should be made known to the training group, the parties should communicate in the spirit of partnership.
There are exceptions to any rule, and the process for building a plan in concert with the IT department has its variations. As an example, at one defense contractor company, the people responsible for training have seen no integration between projects and have had little success in selling their ideas to IT in the past. In this case, we are working with the people who have been developing and delivering training to create a strategic plan. Once that is completed, the approach will be to confer with senior executives and “sell” the plan there. After we establish a good, saleable model, we will head to the enterprise IT department and seek proponents there. This is definitely a variation from the recommended approach, but company culture and politics must always be considered.
Strategic decisions and funding must be negotiated at the C-level and should take place well before any project starts. The training organization must clearly understand the framework in which they operate. Here is where the CLO’s role is critical. Empowered for strategic negotiation and partnering, training organizations can effectively and proactively work with the CIO to ensure the enterprise architecture is well suited to e-learning.
That is why establishing a corporate CLO position has been a great step for those companies that have been wise enough to realize the value. This person has the clout to go out and develop a peer relationship between IT and learning. The partnership is much more effective if it flows downward from C-level agreement and support. And it can safely be said that the more effective the partnership, the more successful an e-learning program will be for the enterprise.
Ginger Luttrell is president of Luttrell Training and Consulting (www.ltcinsight.com), a Dallas-based organization focusing on business-process-based SAP and ERP training. Contact her at email@example.com.