Do we still need training if we’re using SaaS?

Training.jpgAt one time using a computer system required training.  Not everyone will remember what older mainframe/terminal systems were like but user-hostile doesn’t completely convey the response.

Here’s an example of how to add a frequent flyer number to your itinerary, from the old character-based Sabre airline booking system from American Airlines (and others):

Using the abbreviated entry, add the FQTV (code for a frequent flyer number) number NW 759964796 to the PNR for the second name field:

Enter: 3SSRFQTVNWHK/NW759964796-2.1

Imagine having to learn hundreds or even thousands of these kinds of commands.  Check-in agents would always keep a “cheat-sheet” card on their person for those hard to remember commands.

This type of interface was also true for early project management software systems such as the venerable Artemis.  These kinds of long command lines would have to be entered to create a new project, new resource or new tasks.    It’s no wonder that training was so critical to successful deployments of project systems.

The result of this kind of non-intuitive interface was that no deployment of project management software would be done without training.  It was typical to allocate 20% or 25% of a deployment’s budget towards training.

But then the world changed.

As interfaces became more graphical, point-and-click interfaces meant that no one had to memorize long complex strings of commands to be typed in.   So, not as much training would be required.  Interestingly, at the same time, the cost of systems decreased.  Where a deployment in 1980 of a project management tool would have easily been $250,000.  The same deployment in 1990 was $50,000.  By the year 2000, deploying the same functionality was closer to $5,000.

Where a training budget had once been $50-60,000, now, the same allocation of percentage of budget would be closer to $1,000.  And, while it’s true that using complex software is much more intuitive than it ever was, it’s an interesting thing about training – a lot more knowledge transfer happens while you’re doing training than you’d ever get by just figuring out the functionality with online assistance.  Basic underlying concepts and principles that the software publisher and long time users would understand just don’t always translate into instant function-based help.

At our firm we’ve noticed this gradual decrease in a commitment to training for our own TimeControl enterprise timesheet software over the years and in the last couple years the challenge that HMS and many other software publishers face in this training area has been compounded by a series of changes in the business world.

  1. There is a movement in project management and in organizations generally to be less co-located. The improved ability of people to work remotely regardless of their geographic location has made using remote workers much more popular.
  2. There is a movement in software development to focus on mobile interfaces and to have those be even more intuitive. SmartPhone popularity has driven all software developers to make software interfaces so obvious that they requires no training at all.
  3. There is a movement in software development to focus much more on Software as a Service. The installation, configuration, management and integration of such tools is now delivered virtually instantly and the costs of such systems as a subscription are considered an operational rather than a capital expense, making investments like training seem even more unusual.

The result?  Less and less training.   There is some mitigation for this in the proliferation of more online training, more YouTube video training, and more free materials for self-training but when dealing with enterprise systems like an enterprise timesheet or an enterprise project management system, there seems to be no substitute for having someone who really knows the system teaching the underlying principles in how it works.

We’ve seen in recent years more and more of our clients returning to us with what appears at first glance to be a technical support request but eventually turns out to be insufficient training which, once delivered, makes for much happier clients.

It turns out there’s still room for the human touch in enterprise systems after all.