Training boosts IT team’s productivity, reliability says survey

On going, on the job training for IT personnel can have a significant impact on their productivity and contribution, according to a survey conducted by analyst firm IDC of Framingham, Mass.

For instance, a well-trained, three-person IT team would be at least 10 per cent more productive than a similar group that hasn’t had the benefit of such training, the study indicates.

The increased productivity translates to savings of up to 2,000 hours or US$70,000 per year.

The study commissioned by software firm Symantec Corp. of Cupertino Calif., questioned more than 200 North American IT teams with two or more staff members.

The findings indicate that well-trained staff spend more time on high-value activities such as maintaining and improving operations and less on low-value work, such as deploying solutions or fixing hardware devices and processes.

“Well-trained personnel avoid pitfalls and situations that result in system malfunctions, security breaches or broken processes,” says Bob Yang, director of education for the Americas group of Symantec.

“They less time IT teams spend putting out fires, the more time they have for productive activities.”

The survey indicated high-performing teams spend an average of 78.9 hours a month maintaining and improving operations.

By contrast, teams whose performance is low dedicate 62.8 hours per month to similar activities.

The more time spent enhancing operations, the less is required to be expended on “fire-fighting” operations or fixing stuff, the survey reveals.

So high-performing teams spend only 49.2 hours a month in “deploying solutions” and 62.9 hours a month in “resolving broken tools or processes.”

By contrast, low-performing teams spend 54.7 hours a month deploying solutions and as many as 73.5 hours a month trying to fix busted tools and processes.

Yang said these figures “solidify the gut feel” of most managers that properly trained workers “perform better and reduce security risks.”

Apart from improving skills and performance, training also has a positive impact on regulatory compliance and risk mitigation, according to Yang.

The study reviewed key industry operational and process performance metrics over five functional IT areas, including backup and recovery, endpoint security, high availability, archiving and retrieval and client management.

IT personnel that received adequate training successfully completed backup requests without failure, almost 60 per cent more often that teams with less training.

Well-trained staff also met software configuration standards for their production servers more than twice as often as inadequately trained personnel.

“Risks are lessened with well-trained IT teams because they are more likely to be aware of consequences, follow policies diligently and are more consistent,” said Yang.

Despite the importance of training in any organization, many companies fail to realize the significance of a well-thought out program says one IDC analyst. “

Many IT organizations deploy technology without knowing how to effectively use it,” said Cushing Anderson, program director, IDC Learning Services.

As a result, when problems arise “the IT team is ill-prepared to manage and mitigate risks.”

A large number of firms are unable to implement an effective training program because “they either fail to grasp its significance, or do not know how to go about it,” says Jack Probst, consultant for Pink Elephant, an IT service management and training firm based in Burlington Ont.

For some organizations, he said, training ends up as a mere “afterthought”, after some new software or equipment has been deployed.

Probst cited four key hurdles to an effective training program:

• Shortage of resources – some organizations do not have the adequate money or materials to launch a training program;

• Lack of time – some firms are so caught up in daily operations they cannot spare or don’t know how to allocate time for personnel training;

• Inadequate management support – when decision makers do not buy into the idea, nothing moves or proceeds in the desired direction and;

• Lack of focus – very often training doesn’t target the needs of the worker to be able to use a tool to improve operations.

In most instances, Probst said, workers are trained on how to operate a machine but are not briefed on the process surrounding the technology or how its operation relates to their work environment.

“People end up operating the machine by rote without stopping to think about the reason behind the process.”

When something breaks down or a situation outside the “defined parameters” occurs, the worker is “at a loss,” he said.

To be meaningful, said Probst, training should properly clarify the reasons behind processes and procedures and also inform trainees what is expected of them after completing the program.

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