Maximizing productivity Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

Complex enterprise applications have been deployed continuously and rapidly in recent years. With technology budgets restrained in today’s economy, investments in new technology need to have a perceived and real impact on ROI. This is a time to listen closely to end users to make sure they are maximizing the technologies currently in place and understand how new technologies can enhance productivity and ultimately profitability.

“When new technology is deployed, often the soft side is overlooked,” says Mary Rodino, Chief Marketing Officer for CIMCO Communications. “This may be due to issues such as insufficient training, employee hesitancy to embrace change, barriers in place to prevent work-arounds or the lack of processes.”

Smart Business asked Rodino what enterprises could do to maximize their existing technology thus making employees more productive.

What is a typical performance bottleneck?

Performance bottlenecks by end users, particularly with enterprise applications, can hurt customer relations, sales, finance and vendor relations, and ultimately impact revenues. Industry experts claim that 90 percent of features in existing technologies are never used. Work-arounds, or ways to getting a job done, are quite common because the scope of features and functionality a new technology offers may be too confusing to users.

For instance, take a company’s CRM tool. Sales employees often create loopholes when entering data in order to retrieve their information in the method they prefer. By creating shortcuts, the information may not be captured in a consistent manner, ultimately compromising overall data integrity.

How can bottlenecks be prevented?

Business analysts and IT departments generally focus on the financials and technology but often forget the people side of technology change. If considered at all, it is usually a quick training session or distribution of a user’s manual. However, if you take an in-depth look into some bottlenecks, you may find an investment in better training ensures acceptance, use and productivity of the technology or application.

How can a business enhance training of existing/new technology?

Training should be continuous and repetitive. Typically, users receive it one or two days before deployment. Little or no follow-up is done, so the training is less effective. While it may not be realistic to provide ongoing, on-site training sessions, other technologies can be used, such as Web conferencing and podcasts. An employee blog dedicated to technology issues is another way for employees to ‘train’ each other as well as provide management insight into technology issues.

A periodic review to assess users’ skills, even with basic applications such as Microsoft Office suite, a CRM tool, audio and videoconferencing, or the new features of an IP phone, is rarely conducted. Most people assume users are adept at an advanced level. And, many users probably don’t want to admit deficiencies in these areas. If done discreetly and with sensitivity, a program to assess and keep users’ skills updated on the basics will better prepare them for learning more advanced technologies. For example, with travel budgets being cut, you can train end users on how to conduct a successful meeting via an audio conference call or Web conferencing.

How can businesses provide assessment and training on a limited budget?

If you don’t have internal capabilities, check with your providers. Value-adds, such as training and communication services, may be negotiated with your technology solutions provider as part of your package. It won’t necessarily be free, but the cost may be less than an outside consultant. You’ll see cost efficiency with a single source provider, as long as the services and quality are at your standards. They may also have training materials on hand to share with employees. It is a good idea to start there and see what is affordable to bundle on a limited budget. If your provider cannot offer training and assessments, there are many consultants and professional service firms equipped to develop and implement a program.

Let me provide you an example of how this all works together. We recently sold and implemented a VoIP solution, complete with a training bundle, to a multilocation company. This was important to the company given it wanted to train all of its employees on the new features and functionality. The initial training was conducted via Web conferencing and then was supported by a training module produced by us, as the company’s provider, and archived on the customer’s Web site for employees to access at will to refresh skills.

You can achieve success by implementing elements individually or through layering various training techniques over each other. No matter how you do it, training, assessments and communications are all important elements of making the most of your technology.

MARY RODINO is Chief Marketing Officer for CIMCO Communications, based in the Chicago metropolitan area. Reach her at (630) 691-8080 or