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
1 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
2 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
3 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
4 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.