Training as agile as technology: A business requirement

By Milind Gurjar, Sr. Director & GM, Cisco [NASDAQ:CSCO]

Milind Gurjar, Sr. Director & GM, Cisco [NASDAQ:CSCO]

Digital transformation is happening so quickly that in a recent survey by Gartner, half of all CEOs said they expect their industries to be unrecognizably transformed by digitization. Solutions and infrastructure that used to be hardware driven are shifting to software, software business models are shifting to subscriptions. These changes are shifting risk from the customer back onto the vendor. Vendors are under pressure to help customers realize outcomes from the solutions they have sold. Failure to do so has a bearing on future business.

At the same time, only 16 percent of businesses believe they have the right talent in place to succeed in digital, according to another report by Forrester Research. So how can organizations grapple with this dilemma? The key is to continuously upskill the workforce.

The Challenge of Keeping Skills Current

Three quarters of business leaders told PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2015 that the availability of key skills was one of the top three threats to their organizations’ growth. That is a jump over 63 percent in 2014.

Leaders must ensure that training development strategies keep up with the rapid changes in the business environment. The shift to a software-based IT posture is further accelerating the velocity of change. DevOps models and agile development sprints are resulting in new code being pushed into production every few weeks.

When a workforce goes untrained, employers are exposed to two risks. First is the risk of infrastructure outages that can cost enterprises billions of dollars in lost business and productivity. A recent Dimensional Research study showed that a vast majority of outages arise from human error. The second risk is the associated reputational consequences arising from service disruption to customers or breaches in security that expose confidential customer data.

The Tradeoffs of Successful Training

Organizations want to use cutting-edge technology to give them competitive advantage in delivering better value to their customers. It also can reduce operating expenses and improve the bottom line.

Many technology vendors today realize that strategies for developing training content have to keep pace with the changes in the business environment. It takes longer to produce high-quality training content, but the shelf life of training content is shrinking. This mirrors the shelf life of the associated product.

"Leaders must ensure that training development strategies keep up with the rapid changes in the business environment"

Meanwhile, customers are looking for training that is accurate and current. Training departments of technology companies have to find a way to meet customer requirements and internal stakeholder expectations. The tradeoff between cost, quality and time is starting to resolve towards meeting time-to-market expectations with good enough quality on a reduced budget.

Employees prefer the effectiveness of live, instructor-led training. However, employers themselves prefer learning and on-demand training to support the continuous learning needs with minimum disruption to work while keeping training costs under control.

Setting A Course

The needs of employees and employers must be balanced. Today’s training strategies need to include skill development as well as provide access to the latest updates from the technology vendors whose products and services the organization is using.

Technology training must address three key areas:

1. Employee development: Employees demonstrate greater engagement and a strong workplace culture when learning opportunities are available.

2. Taking on new technology: Organizations need education to support business value realization in addition to enabling successful go-live strategies.

3. Long-term learning management: Today’s rapid pace of change has led to the need to quickly access the exact content learners need, when they need it.

Understanding the different types of available training and determining which make most sense for an organization’s teams can be challenging. Lines of business leaders need to find the most comprehensive solution to meet their training needs, across all vendors.

Generally, instructor-led training is best suited for new technology adoption. That is because typically a project team needs to acquire skills in a time-bound manner before starting a new technology rollout. For career development training, manager budgets will drive the decision in favor of either on-demand or instructor-led. On-demand training through a training subscription provides a way to scale agile training across enterprises to meet the ongoing technology management needs. It has the added benefit of producing a higher return on investment over time.

Measuring Success

Benefits must be measurable to see the correlation between training and the associated outcome. For example, time-to-market and defect rate metrics are relevant for new technology adoption. Time to respond/resolve could be useful metrics for ongoing technology management. Employee engagement and attrition could be potential measures of career development training. From a management perspective, a key measure is operational efficiency. What’s the yearly cost of training an employee? What’s the cost of not training employees?

Agile Learning Ahead

It’s no secret that technology is rapidly changing. Training must change just as quickly. Technology vendors need to be able to provide the appropriate training for their users right out of the gate. Learners need current content that they can access at anytime, anywhere. To stay competitive, business success demands technology training and certification that equip the learner and the whole organization for the future. Agile training isn’t optional; it’s required.