Feature: The Business Case for IT Training

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Ram Dhaliwal, manager for training and certification, Microsoft (UK)
explores the business case for IT training.

While businesses will happily admit the importance of well managed IT systems, many employers often remain oblivious of the skills needed to keep the network running effectively. Indeed, a recent survey showed that while 85% of business managers thought that IT staff should be appropriately qualified, only 40% actually knew whether this was the case. 1

For human resources professionals, approached by IT staff with requests for training, persuading the business decision makers of its necessity can be a difficult task. The expenditure of any company is a tightly controlled affair, and staff training will be one of many company requirements competing for a share of available resources. There are however a number of solid business reasons why companies should, as a matter of course, allocate budget each year for IT training requirements.

Performance
Training needs may not always be obvious. If your company suffers from frequent system outages the fault could potentially lie with lack of staff expertise and adequate training as much as with the technology infrastructure. YouGov research issued late last year found that UK businesses were losing £63bn each year to network downtime. 2

Two in three of the respondents had experienced system failure during the last two years, and 80% of companies took up to half a day to fix problems when they occurred. The damage that technology failure causes - lost sales, decreased customer satisfaction, drops in productivity – has a considerable impact on business performance.

With a qualified IT workforce businesses can be confident that they have in place the expertise to negate the impact of technology difficulties and cope with unforeseen difficulties.

Delivery
It’s not only in the day-to-day running of a company that suitably qualified IT staff can prove their value to the business. A firm may expect its IT department to make a significant contribution in any number of instances: relocations, setting up new offices, or linking together disparate technology systems are just a few examples.

The better qualified the staff, the greater the chances of such projects running smoothly. Research of more than 200 companies has shown that as the percentage of certified staff increases, more projects are deployed on time and in budget. 3
IT training programmes have in recent years shifted the emphasis of their testing methods to reflect the need for practical expertise rather than technical knowledge.

Having responded to criticism that courses relied too heavily on the recitation of course book content, today’s certification programmes are performance-based and test problem-solving skills, in acknowledgement of the fact that there is often more than one way to resolve a problem.

Future
IT is increasingly responsible for providing a business with a competitive edge – whether by automating systems to cut operating costs, provide a better service, or better manage customer interaction. Used effectively, IT training when linked to a progressive IT strategy can play a significant role in driving the business forward.

Online tools available from the leading IT training providers can map skills deficits and training requirements against the expertise needed by the business to fulfil its strategic objectives. Drawing up training programmes using these tools is a sure way of demonstrating the need for training investment, and ensuring that the money spent will benefit the business.

Staff
Some businesses are reluctant to invest in IT training for fear that the IT professional may then seek more lucrative employment elsewhere with his/her newly acquired skill set. Businesses thinking along those lines would do better to ask what effect inadequately skilled IT staff could have on the business’ performance.

The UK has a well documented shortage of IT workers. With technology certifications now structured to provide a career path for IT workers, a willingness to invest in their professional development goes a long way to retaining and recruiting the best staff.

1 Research by Dynamic Markets, published in August 2004, surveyed 290 SME business decision makers.
2 Research by Vanson Bourne, issued in November 2004, questioned 450 small and medium-sized organisations (minimum 50 employees, maximum 1,000).
3 Research published in 2003 by Burlington Research.

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