Take you partners

Electronic
learning management systems force HR managers to become involved in an alien
specialism – IT. David Moore offers advice on how to form an effective
partnership with your IT department

If
you are considering installing an online learning management system, it is
critical that the IT department is involved right from the start. It “owns” and
manages the platform on which the new system will run and the installation will
demand of it a major investment of time, budget and effort.

If
the IT department is involved as an equal partner in the project, then the long
term effectiveness of the programme is more likely. Here are four ways in which
the effective union of the IT and HR departments can be developed.

Training
Strategy and Business Plan

This
sounds obvious, but it is surprising how many organisations overlook this first
stage. It is essential that the proposed electronic learning management system
will deliver tangible business benefits – a reduction in the overall training
budget, for example, or an increase in profits resulting from more effectively
trained sales agents.

It
is critical that the HR team can prove that the proposed new system is based on
sound business requirements because the IT department must have faith that its
involvement will not be a waste of time. It will be more inclined to support a
project that is likely to be successful, and the best way to ensure this is to
have a well thought out business plan.

The
training strategy must clearly state what is needed from the system in terms of
availability, consistency, content, support and quality. It must also have the
full support of the HR director because it will involve a major commitment of
time, resources and budget from both departments.

Sufficient
budget needs to be put aside to integrate the new programme throughout the
organisation. For example, it might require a major investment in new hardware
or networks.

Issues
to consider include the capacity of the existing IT infrastructure, systems
upgrades, the availability of workstations and the HR issues arising from the
introduction of an alternative learning method.

Select
a suitable person to work with the IT department

Traditionally,
HR people have highly developed people management skills. They cannot be
expected to be IT experts as well. However, the spread of electronic learning
management systems has created a role for a new breed of HR professional –
someone who is both fluent in training and development issues and who is also
e-aware.

This
person needs to have, or be able to acquire, a range of skills and knowledge
that will enable them to hold their own in discussions with the IT department
or third party vendors and consultants.

Being
e-aware means that this person must know about the potential benefits of all
available electronic learning management systems. They must also be very
familiar with the organisation’s training and development portfolio and be able
to match the two.

They
need to be confident in their knowledge because they must win and maintain
credibility with the IS team. They will also be constantly tested with
questions such as: How will we manage the content on our databases? Can we
deliver the audio-visual content of the on-line training portfolio on our
existing systems?

They
will also need to establish contacts with third party suppliers and become
familiar with their product portfolio. When dealing with third parties, this
person needs to know exactly what the existing IT network is capable of.

They
also need to have substantial project management skills in order to plan, roll
out and monitor the project.

You
will need to decide whether to hire a special person or train an existing
member of staff with an aptitude for IT issues. However, it is probably in the
interest of every HR professional to start to become e-aware.

Build
and maintain a friendly relationship with your IT department

The
best way to do this is to communicate with your IT people as never before.
Everybody involved must understand exactly what is expected from the electronic
learning management system, and what it is capable of delivering.

Do
not, under any circumstances, make promises or predictions of what can be
achieved without first checking with the IS team because when things do not
perform to expectation, people will blame the IT department staff when it isn’t
their fault.

It
is best to introduce the online learning management system a little at a time.
Begin with a simple project that can be easily achieved and spread through
organisation such as the delivery of online training material. Then when the
time is right, use this commonly understood base as a foundation to build up to
more complex programmes, such as appraisals/performance development planning
through to the complete management of the all training and development
activities.

Pay
particular attention to the subject of ongoing technical support. The IT
department might not have sufficient resources to manage the inevitable demand
for technical support as the programme is introduced and people begin to use
it. Indeed, they might choose not to take on the role of routine day-to-day
support.

When
working with a recent customer, we solved this issue by training systems
administrators to provide front line support. Their IT department now only
deals with the administrators which radically reduced the number of support
calls they have to deal with.

Clearly
define roles and responsibilities

As
with all departments, different people within the IT team have different areas
of responsibility.

An
organisation might already be running e-people management systems and the HR
department might already have direct contact with the IT people responsible for
supporting these systems. But it is likely that different people within the IT
department will be responsible for implementing a new online learning
management system.

To
avoid duplication, the HR team needs to look for areas of overlap between
existing systems and the new system.

Wherever
possible, the different systems must be able to communicate with each other, so
the relevant people within the IT department must be identified and involved in
the project.

When
it comes to dealing with third party vendors, however, this is best left to the
IT department.

The
HR person can be involved in relevant meetings but the actual interface needs
to be between the IT department and the supplier. Put simply, they speak the
same language.

If
you have taken every effort to involve the IT team in the project then you can
be confident that your IT people know exactly what you need and will that they
communicate this to the various third parties.

David
Moore is product support manager for Solstra, the net-based learning and
knowledge management system from BT and Futuremedia iLearning. He can be
contacted on 07710 399301.

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