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Train in Vain?

Children of the Eighties remember that "Train in Vain" was the hidden track on the Clash's "London Calling" double album. When it comes to enterprise communications, user training may not just be hidden, but absent altogether. And whether it's in vain may depend on the enterprise.

This is a subject of ongoing debate in No Jitter columns and at Enterprise Connect (user training, not the Clash, about which there can't really be any debate.) In talking about Microsoft Lync/Skype for Business, Kevin Kieller of enableUC often returns to the refrain that you can't just give communications tools to end users and expect them to pick them up and use them efficiently. Apple may have trained us to think that way about our consumer devices, but enterprise communications isn't that simple, and shouldn't be, Kevin argues.

Andrew Prokop of Arrow SI makes this point as well. In a recent No Jitter post, Andrew writes that, while a product like Skype for Business may have easy-to-use aspects, "You don't make a major investment in a unified communications product [only] for presence jellybeans. You do it because you expect workforce efficiency, ongoing expense reductions, employee productivity, customer retention, and improved teamwork." That does seem like a lot to expect any product to deliver without requiring any training.

But it's not just a matter of teaching people where to find the functions within their tools. They need to know what the tools are really doing. And in this regard, there's a big difference between consumer- and enterprise-grade products. This came home to me in a conversation via Skype I had earlier this week with Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research.

Skype -- the consumer version, which is where I'm connected with Zeus -- is an example of where the challenge comes in. For the most part, consumer Skype is where, for example, my wife and I exchange quick notes throughout the day about necessary errands, household reminders, and so forth. It's mostly my personal-life IM tool of choice.

But it also happened to be the most practical place for Zeus and me to connect, and it's where I've had many late-night debates and joke-swapping sessions with Dave Michels, another one of our No Jitter/EC tribe of contributors. Sometimes Dave and I talk business on Skype, sometimes not. And sometimes Dave finds out what my family is having for dinner before my wife does, if I've got his chat window open but think I'm talking to her -- another one of the hazards of mixing business and personal communications in one tool.

So Zeus, in our Skype chat, mentioned that one difference between consumer-grade UC/collaboration tools like Skype and the new grade of enterprise tools like Cisco's Spark, is that Spark records everything that you do with it. That feature is important for enterprise management, but it's not a feature that enterprise users might necessarily expect to be in place when they use such tools. And it's certainly something that you wouldn't expect or want when you're in "personal" mode.

So user training doesn't just mean showing people all of the cool features and functionality of the Spark application or a similar such product. It means making people understand what their enterprise tools of choice do, and how their performance will affect their work lives. I don't think that's the kind of thing people are ever likely to be able to just discover on their own. Training isn't just about the how; it's about the why.

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