OPINION: The learning curve


2 Feb 2011

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Martin Hill explains how remote training can help companies upgrading to Windows 7 to meet the needs of non-IT users.

Unlike its predecessor, Vista, Windows 7 is a major shift in end-user operation. If it is to play any role in an economic recovery in Ireland, more Irish organisations need to look at training their non-IT staff through intuitive and multi-levelled remote learning. Your productivity figures, and IT help desk, will thank you for it.

Windows 7 was described as a "strategic imperative" for Irish business by the head of Citrix Systems in Ireland last year. The comment was in relation to a Citrix survey which found 73pc of Irish company directors and IT managers plan to deploy the latest Microsoft operating system as soon as possible, with nearly half intending to do so before the end of 2011. 

Staff impact

One aspect often overlooked in this type of upgrade is the impact on staff, especially those outside the IT department. Windows 7 will completely change how end users work with their everyday business software packages. While it offers more flexibility that will increase efficiency in the long run, there are valid concerns over the short-term drop in output as staff struggle to get up to speed. With Ireland’s fragile economic situation, can businesses afford to take this temporary hit? The good news is that they can minimise the impact of the big switch over.

Unfortunately for IT managers, the rush to Windows 7 has come at a difficult time. The economic situation has led to cost-cutting exercises, resulting in smaller IT departments and leaving many companies lacking the technical staff to support employees through the adjustment to a new operating system. Business managers need to first find a way to reduce the pressure on their IT departments and prevent help desk meltdown before searching for the competitive advantages promised by Windows 7.

This means recognising the needs of non-IT staff, and addressing them through training. In the past, the prospect of sending non-IT teams out for IT training days would be a difficult sell. Yet as IT systems advance and increasingly puts the power to drive business growth in the hands of the whole team, the fear of being left behind should be sufficient incentive to make businesses think again.

The solution to this rock-and-hard-place scenario has been making a comeback over the past few years. Once out in the cold, ‘e’ or remote learning is now central to IT migration strategies.

E-learning

Back in the late Nineties, out-of-classroom, electronically-supported learning was seen as the future of IT training. CIOs would finally be able to install that desperately needed system update, safe in the knowledge they had a low-cost and effective way of training their staff to use it.
 
But the revolution failed to materialise. Customers were unconvinced by static, off-the-shelf training courses which seemed little more than online versions of the textbooks they were supposed to replace. CIOs were back where they started.
 
However, in recent years, there has been a reversal of fortunes. Estimates put the percentage of training delivered in person at just 62pc in 2009, and this is expected to fall to around 50pc when the 2010 figures come out. As classroom-based teaching declines, online learning is returning.

Nowhere is this more evident than in IT where CIOs with recession-hit budgets are increasingly opting for affordable, on-demand, remote-learning programmes to support their system upgrades.

Different needs amongst staff

We have seen evidence of this shift in customer demand around the migration to Windows 7. A key failing of IT e-learning the first time around was the lack of appreciation for the different needs of staff within a business. The introduction of a new operating system like Windows 7 will have an impact on the day-to-day activities of every member of staff but, crucially, not all in the same way and it is important to work with a provider that can deliver courses accordingly.

The flexibility of on-demand learning lends itself to a new ‘multi-level’ approach, where the same content can be easily modified and the style of delivery adjusted in response to the specific needs of each user.

Cloud-hosted, remote-access learning can offer training programmes for up to thousands of end users at a time, which is cost effective, consistent in content, with flexible delivery.

Despite difficult economic times, 2011 will see a host of tech-savvy Irish businesses switch to Windows 7. By addressing the skills gap across the whole workforce created by these migrations, forward-thinking organisations are embracing e-learning to maximise their IT investments and ensuring that their entire workforces are sufficiently skilled to use the new technology from day 1.

Martin Hill is EMEA sales director for Dell Education Services