As IT more closely aligns with the business, technology begins to deliver greater value to the entire company. Every year, IT organizations invest in new or upgraded software, hardware and infrastructure in an effort to meet increasingly challenging business objectives and manage the risks associated with IT organizations. But technology alone is not enough. In order to ensure an IT organization is managing IT risk and maximizing IT performance to prevent IT failures, people and process have to be addressed as well.
One of the most overlooked elements of a high-performing IT organization is the training and skill of its team. According to a May 2007 study of over 220 IT teams by research firm IDC, more than 60 percent of IT managers believe that the skill of their team is the most important success criteria for critical IT functions. In addition, better trained IT staff can drive more benefits from new and existing technology investments. Moreover, when an IT team is well trained, its functional performance can improve dramatically.
While many factors can impact team performance, including attrition, motivation, and certification, training and team skill top the list. Almost 60 percent of IT managers believe training prevents errors, and one-third also believes that training reduces downtime caused by errors. At a minimum, a well-trained team is better able to leverage the built-in features and functions of their technology—which, in turn, can increase the team's performance and productivity. They are also able to mitigate IT risk more effectively.
Well-trained IT teams successfully complete more critical functions than insufficiently trained staff. For example, according to the study, less-trained IT teams are able to complete only 25 percent of restore requests within an hour, while well-trained IT teams are able to complete 100 percent of such requests. Well-trained IT staff complete 99 percent of backup jobs on schedule and with no failures or errors, while less-trained staff complete 41 percent of the same jobs.
The ability to mitigate IT risk and quickly respond to crises situations is significantly impacted by the level of training as well. Without sufficient training organizations are more susceptible to data and security breaches. For example, insufficiently trained IT teams are able to protect just half of all PCs from viruses, spyware, and adware in accordance with IT policies, while well-trained IT organizations are able to protect 100 percent of PCs.
A recent statistical analysis of IT support cases concluded that the root causes of IT failures was not the technology in most cases, but rather the people and processes put in place to use the technology. More than 53 percent of support cases were linked to process issues involving asset management, testing, change control and patching, while 41 percent of cases were tied to gaps in end-user expertise and product knowledge.
Clearly, team skill plays a demonstrably significant role in IT functional performance. For organizations concerned with maximizing performance for areas of IT that are often key to organizational success, teams must first be skilled on the tools and processes that support high performance and help mitigate risk.
Improving IT Productivity
In addition to improving technical performance, training can also have a positive impact on productivity. According to the IDC study, well-trained IT teams are able to allocate their time and daily work more effectively than less-trained teams. For example, well-trained IT teams are able to deploy new technologies faster than less-trained teams, resulting in a deployment time savings of 10 percent. Reducing the time required to deploy new technologies and processes offers organizations an opportunity to improve team productivity.
A well-trained IT staff also spends 15 percent less time fixing errors than insufficiently trained personnel. In other words, with fewer problems to remedy, high-performing teams can reallocate their time to maintaining and improving technology and solutions and less time to fixing broken tools or processes. According to the study, this reallocation of effort can result in a 10 percent improvement in team productivity—or 2,000 man-hours saved annually and $70,000 productivity gained for a typical team of two or three IT professionals.
Not all training is created equal. With IT managers tasked to constantly balance the need, benefits, and cost of training against the daily operational requirements of the business, training options must be both effective and practical.
On-the-job training remains a well-trusted source of skills enhancement. However, on-the-job training can be reinforced or enhanced through a variety of self-service support and reference tools, from books and manuals to Web-based online training and knowledge or reference libraries. The usefulness of these sources combined with the relevance to the installed environment makes these methods highly valuable for many organizations.
For some, in-house classes taught by either an authorized training vendor or a technology vendor can also deliver value, as can certification courses. Although these training sources are often given lower preference by IT managers due to cost, they can supplement primary sources by providing a broader point of reference for developing general IT skills and often serve as the first choice when a technology is new or going through significant upgrade or migration.
In today's fast-paced business environment, sustainability is only possible when organizations remain competitive; and, to do that, they must have the up-to-date skills and expertise needed to deliver value to the business—regardless of the size of business or type of industry.
For IT organizations, training can significantly impact performance and make a measurable contribution to the business. Just as IT systems are an important investment for many businesses, IT training is a critical element in maintaining business continuity, protecting efficiencies and productivity, maximizing existing IT resource investments, and enabling the organization evolve to support new business initiatives and objectives.
As a result, IT training is no longer viewed as an additional overhead but as a critical, measurable investment in the business. Simply stated, well-trained IT staff performs better than under-skilled teams. This increased performance, in turn, leads to improvements in productivity as IT is able to focus more on value-added activities such as planning and improving infrastructure and less on finding and fixing problems.
The most effective training does not necessarily come with a hefty price tag. For those who manage mature technologies or environments that reside in a steady state, knowledge and reference libraries, books and manuals might suffice; however, new software or large upgrades might require hands-on instructor led training and technical labs to learn the full feature set.
The type of training may depend on the topic, or even those taking the training. For example, classroom training is best for those who learn by doing and who would benefit from practicing in a test environment. Self-paced training offered online or through CDs and books allows students to absorb material at their own pace and provide more opportunities for repeated study. On-the-job training, aided by self-service tools, can give IT staff the practical skills they need to consistently carry out critical, daily IT functions with a high rate of success.
The bottom line?
It pays to train IT staff to better manage the implementation of new and existing technologies in order to address evolving business strategies and changing work practices. From driving technical performance improvements and increased team productivity to enabling more effective allocation of time, IT training represents a key element in ensuring organizational success.
Bob Yang is senior director of Symantec Education Services.