As part of a strategic plan to makeover The City of Mississauga’s IT processes and infrastructure, an IT training course that would normally have taken two weeks was compressed and customized into a boot-camp-style session for IT staff.
The goal was to move to a Windows-based infrastructure, including replacing an aging legacy messaging system with Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 SP1.
“We were getting rid of two directory services and all the overhead associated with synchronizing that,” said James Lin, systems specialist with the City of Mississauga.
But this necessitated IT training because the administrative messaging team’s expertise centred on Novell’s GroupWise system, not Microsoft. While the City wanted to cut overhead costs in its infrastructure, it was also necessary to minimize IT staff unavailability given the costly time out of the office that training often demands, said Lin.
“It’s not like we can sit around for about a month taking the official (full-length) course,” he said.
The urgency was also driven by the fact with 4,500 City staff, in turn delivering municipal programs and services to 700,000 citizens, depended on the IT department getting up and running as quickly as possible.
The City worked with CMS Consulting Inc., a Toronto-based firm specializing in Microsoft infrastructure and collaboration technologies, to implement the Microsoft messaging system. A pilot first migrated the IT department to the new messaging platform, followed by the 4,500 users in just one weekend.
“They realized there was a massive skills gap so we suggested they do this accelerated training course,” said Alex Chan, vice-president with CMS Consulting.
The implementation began in October 2008 and the training course was compressed from nine to six days last March, for the City’s four IT professionals, during which they covered new functionality in Exchange 2007 SP1 not offered in standard training courses.
The City’s approach aligns with current trends to continue investing in internal IT resources through things like training despite tight budgets, said Chan. “Instead of hiring a consultant to do the entire work, maybe they want to keep it in-house,” he said.
According to Alexander Niederfahrenhorst, systems specialist with the City of Mississauga, it was never an issue that IT training should be relegated to the backburner despite tough economic times.
“It is more economical for a firm to look at customized training to basically say, ‘this is what we need, this is the environment that we have, and we only want to get trained on that,’” said Niederfahrenhorst.
A former IT trainer himself, Niederfahrenhorst said standard courses tend to offer a wide base of knowledge, of which some topics may not require focus by all companies.
“You get some generic answers in the course, but yet half of it you might not implement, and the other half you’d like to know a little bit more,” said Niederfahrenhorst.
In an economic downturn, companies unable to hire additional staff must therefore invest in making existing resources more technically proficient, said Lin. “If your management is enlightened, they will actually see the benefit of this,” he said.
According to CMS Consulting president, Brian Bourne, the tendency now is toward customized versions of what he calls “public calendar” courses or regularly scheduled standard offerings. These customized courses are based on the same content but are accelerated to minimize time out of the office, which can be quite costly, he said.
“If you’re talking about five or six people, it works out that we can do it for similar money than if (employers) sent those people on public courses,” said Bourne. “But we’re able to do it with less productivity loss … and give them more specific skills they need for their environment.”
Actually, CMS Consulting and Microsoft Canada Co. teamed up to offer, this September and February, a 10-day boot camp for IT professionals that focuses on two certifications, primarily the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP): Server Administrator and MCITP: Enterprise Administrator certifications for Server 2008.
Bourne said the boot camp targets those IT professionals responsible for the Server 2008 environment and who need well-rounded skills because “the certification is a good way to get the skills and prove they have them.”
But the training is also targeting consulting firms that depend on their employees being certified. Borrowing from his own experience as the head of a consulting firm, Bourne said that billable employees who are not working at client sites incur costs to the business. “And everyday that they are not out billing is a much higher cost than anything that I would pay to train them,” he said.