Testing times

Its work is largely invisible to many of us, but its efforts help uphold the criminal justice system of this country. The Forensic Science Service (FSS) is a Home Office agency and market leader in the supply of forensic science services to police forces in England and Wales.

More than 2,500 scientists and administrative staff are employed in nine locations in the UK, and it also provides laboratory services and consulting support to private sector companies. It is the custodian of the National DNA Database, which it manages on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Although the work it carries out is highly specialised, and in some cases unique, its infrastructures and needs are similar to many organisations today. And like many of them, FSS has started the migration to the electronic delivery of services, implementing an SAP online procurement system last year.

The switch to such systems can put a lot of pressure on IT and IT training departments, which not only have to worry about the system being up and running from day one, but also have to ensure staff are able to use it properly.

In this instance, FSS IT training manager Anthea Rooney and her Birmingham-based team were only given a three-week window to install, create and deliver a training programme for staff in all nine locations across the country.

“Given the short timeline, it was decided the best approach was for all staff to go through a series of mandatory computer-based training, as opposed to instructor-led training in a classroom,” says Rooney. “We needed to develop courses and assess how well people had learned. We knew the end result we wanted, but didn’t know how to get it.”

FSS wasn’t new to creating its own learning materials. It was already developing and delivering web-based courses using a content management system from Global Knowledge called Knowledge Pathways.

These courses complemented in-house, instructor-led training for Microsoft desktop applications. The system allowed FSS to centralise training materials, administer courses and measure user’s knowledge.

Rooney had previously heard of an enterprise training platform called OnDemand Personal Navigator, which could train users in SAP applications.

With SAP training top of the agenda, OnDemand was one of the vendors invited to tender, and the FSS decided its offering more than met the criteria it had set.

Target learner
All the staff who would potentially use the e-procurement system, ranging from forensic scientists and fingerprint experts to HR and administrative staff, were expected to be trained.

“Only staff who completed the training would be granted access to the e-procurement application,” says Rooney.

Course development
Using Personal Navigator, three members of the IT training team produced the e-procurement course in just three weeks. The software allows trainers to record ‘click-by-click’ on-screen steps for performing various tasks in the e-procurement application.

“From a documentation perspective, the beauty of OnDemand is that you carry out a function as though you are recording a macro instruction,” says Rooney. “And it automatically records the course for you.”

The software provides immediate guidance and support when implementing an enterprise application, reducing time, money and resources, explains Mike Cotton, director of EMEA Alliances at OnDemand.

“Through a single authoring session in Personal Navigator, Rooney could create multiple synchronised outputs of documentation, training and performance support materials for all phases of the project life cycle,” says Cotton.

“OnDemand estimates other customers have realised a reduction of at least 40% in content development costs with the ability to propagate multiple types of output through a single authoring session,” he adds.

Using the software to develop the content, FSS was also able to generate a range of material at the same time, including business process documents, user training manuals and quick reference guides, eliminating any duplication of effort. “Once the content is edited, the changes are made simultaneously throughout each piece of documentation,” Cotton explains.

Main challenges
Rooney and the then SAP training manager Rebecca Slack, wanted a solution that could integrate with Knowledge Pathways so that they could maintain a single, consistent system for course materials and training resources across the organisation.

They also wanted a tool that could produce reports and accommodate different approaches to a task performed by the e-procurement system, based on different user roles.

OnDemand enabled them to do this, and achieved it within the tight timeframes imposed.

“If we had been creating this documentation with screen shots, for example, rather than OnDemand, the development and roll-out of those courses would have been far, far longer,” says Rooney. “By using OnDemand, we’ve been able to do it on a shorter timeline and with fewer people.”

The information is recorded automatically, which eliminates the need for the course creator to take notes or proofread subsequent material. As FSS was also producing a range of additional material, this proved to be another major time-saver.

Roll-out and feedback
The courses were rolled out to all nine FSS locations at once. Staff could sit courses at their desks or from remote locations, and a built-in online assessment ensured the knowledge was retained before staff gained access to the new system.

The IT training department was able to quantify and collate the assessment results centrally in Birmingham.

Feedback from delegates was positive, and the effectiveness of the courses was reflected in the low number of people who needed additional training.

The IT training team identified ‘super-users’ in each location to address residual needs or specific difficulties for those who did need further assistance.

What next?
FSS is due to upgrade to the next version of Personal Navigator (8.5), which delivers step-by-step instructions directly from the help menu within SAP. This will enable staff to access the steps to complete the task at hand while they are working in the system.

FSS has the option to implement further SAP applications, such as HR management and training, although Rooney doesn’t see the need for a wholesale shift to e-learning, but confirmed it will be used alongside classroom training.

“As new systems are deployed, a computer-based course of some sort will be created as a complement,” she says. “So whatever we do, whether it’s through Knowledge Pathways or OnDemand, the content will be managed in the same way, and we will use the same methods to ensure competencies have been transferred.”

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