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Let There Be Training

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a pretty geeky guy. I am fascinated by new gadgets and clever software. Looking around my desk, I see at least nine different electronic widgets, gizmos, and questionably practical appliances. Even worse, I have an almost obsessive curiosity about what makes them do whatever it is that they do. Scattered amongst those gadgets are tools to take them apart and hopefully put them back together without ending up with too many "spare" parts.

This is why I am so interested in protocols. This is why I love sitting down with Wireshark traces deciphering call flows and client/server interactions. Frankly, this is why I started writing unified communications articles in the first place. I figure that if this stuff is exciting to me, it must be just as exciting to the rest of the world.

However, there is one thing about technology that doesn't excite me, and I run across it all the time -- technology that users don't understand. No, I am not talking about my kind of understanding involving screwdrivers and packet traces. I am talking about not understanding how technology is used, let alone used efficiently. I am talking about a company that puts a new application on its users' PCs without a lick of training. Sure, geeks like you and me will eventually figure it out, but the vast majority of folks will either struggle with it or not use it at all.

I see this all too often in the communications arena. A company will spend significant amounts of money on something like Skype for Business, install it on every desktop in the company, and then wonder why the adoption rate is so low. Now, I am not picking on Skype and saying that it's difficult to use. It has a number of features that are easily understood without training or a user manual.

However, there are many sophisticated and workplace transformational aspects that don't just jump out at you. You don't make a major investment in a unified communications product for presence jellybeans. You do it because you expect workforce efficiency, ongoing expense reductions, employee productivity, customer retention, and improved teamwork.

I travel around the country speaking at users groups and conferences. I also meet directly with companies, large and small. I speak to directors of IT, heads of contact centers, business unit leaders, and the worker bees that do a great deal of the heavy lifting. I've seen some very successful implementations of unified communications, but I have seen and heard of far too many halfhearted attempts.

I wish I had a dime for every time I've shown someone how to actually use a product on his or her PC or smartphone. While I love hearing someone say to me, "Wow, it can do that?" I am always tempted to say, "What's wrong with your IT department? You should have already known how to do that already."

There are many ways to avoid computers stuffed with unused and underused applications. The obvious solution is to provide user adoption training. This can come in multiple formats tailored to meet the needs of different learning styles.

Some people learn best in a classroom setting where an in-person instructor walks his or her students through a new product. A hands-on approach is ideal, but may not be necessary for all products. The important thing is to provide a forum that shows the product being used and allows for questions and answers.

Of course, training budgets have been slashed and herding students into a classroom may be deemed too expensive. However, that doesn't let you off the hook. There are alternatives.

Personally, I prefer a straight forward user guide with a library of video clips that explain some of the more complicated features and workflows of an application.

In some cases, a webinar or series of webinars is more than sufficient to train users. Even when classroom training is employed, these online resources are needed after training has occurred. It's also important that they be kept up-to-date to reflect new features or changes to older features. Outdated training is nearly as bad as no training at all.

For enterprises that don't want to invest in in-house training, third parties are often available to teach the ins and outs of a new application. This training often comes in the same formats as described above and can be delivered in person or off-site.

User training is certainly important, but just as important are technical evangelists. These are people who are so excited about a product that they need to make the rest of the company feel the exact same way. They spread their knowledge and excitement through emails, workshops, personal webinars, or by becoming the go-to power users. I have seen a drastic increase in product adoption simply because the excitement of these people becomes contagious. Users stop being afraid of that new thing on their PC after they see the amazing things it can do.

We live in a time where every corporate dollar spent should be scrutinized. Don't waste good money on unused software. Don't sacrifice your employees' productivity on poorly understood applications. Embrace change, but be prepared to light the light and show the way.

Can I get a witness?

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

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