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New software: Is the tail wagging the dog?

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Is the tail wagging the dog?Why don't we evaluate the business benefits of new software before it is implemented, asks Jooli Atkins? Otherwise, aren't we just training users in software that vendors want us to have – rather than the software that we need.







Does the way IT training is 'sold', whether to internal or external customers, impact on it's perceived value in an organisation?

Historically, IT training has focused on software and hardware features, so a mail client workshop might cover 'email distribution lists' and the course outline might refer to, for example;


  • Creating a distribution list
  • Amending a distribution list
  • Deleting a distribution list
  • Sending emails to a distribution list etc

"Where does that leave us, the IT trainers? Having to train users on the features of the new software, implemented because the software vendors want us to have the latest version to boost their profits."

This is all very useful but only explains part of what email distribution lists are. Course outlines rarely refer to the benefits of the software features.

We need to know what features are available (or are possibly no longer available when moving from one software version to another) but to get real buy-in we must concentrate on their benefits.

The HR side of the training profession is no better at this than we are, regularly providing 'sales' materials such as course outlines detailing a change management workshop covering;


  • Reasons for change
  • Human and financial effects of change
  • Communicating change
  • Benefits and barriers to change
  • Planning change

Very often we focus on the features of software - particularly when training supports a system upgrade - because the software is being implemented for system rather than user reasons and the benefit to the business is not readily seen in anything other than IS (information systems) terms.

If we start looking at what the features offer users in ways that help them to improve productivity or reduce costs, both of which are calculable business benefits, we can then evaluate the impact of the system on the business.

It is not just the system that could provide benefits. With most system changes come accompanying process changes and they can often provide as much, if not more, benefit than the system supporting them.

"How’s this for a novel approach... why don’t we consider evaluating the business benefit of the software before it is implemented."

One way of drilling down to the benefit behind any feature is to keep repeating the question 'so what?' each time a feature is mentioned. If we drill down through the answers to that question enough times we will find true business benefits and we can then begin to evaluate and then 'sell' them. Perhaps we can then get some recognition for the benefit that our training brings to organisations when we can describe them.

So, how’s this for a novel approach... why don’t we consider evaluating the business benefit of the software before it is implemented?

Probably because many IS upgrades would not happen if we did (some system upgrades have no real business benefit). I have had experience - and I am sure I am not alone - of systems being upgraded because vendors have withdrawn support for an earlier version. It may, under such circumstances, be difficult to find a user benefit that would provide a justifiable business case? And where does that leave us, the IT trainers? Having to train users on the features of the new software, implemented because the software vendors want us to have the latest version to boost their profits, without any of the benefits – not the easiest 'sell' but one that is, sadly, too frequent.

Jooli Atkins is chair of the British Computer Society (BCS) information and technology training specialist group and author of 'The IT Trainer's Pocketbook'. She's also an IT training professional at Matrix FortyTwo.

To read her last feature: 'I'm an IT trainer and proud of it', click here.</strong

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