The Option to Learn

By Pedro Pereira  |  Posted 2006-09-08 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Opinion: Yes, technology is too complex, but the industry can mitigate the problem with some good training.

Judging from the responses I received to my column "Keep It Simple" last month, the increasing complexity of IT products weighs on a lot of people's minds.

No one wrote to say that I was off the mark, which may be the first time I got a 100 percent positive response to a column, though I must admit the negative feedback tends to be funnier.

But my sources of amusement aside, the reaction tells me the industry realizes it has a problem, and it is one with no easy solution.

As is widely known, users of Microsoft Office applications, for instance, take advantage of only a handful—in the 5 percent range, by most accounts—of available product functions.

Complicating matters, which functions fall into that 5 percent or so differs from user to user.

Microsoft promises to make its Office applications, which include Word and Excel, more manageable with an easier-to-use interface in the next release.

But even if the applications become easier to use, the complexity issue will persist. It's not an exclusive Microsoft problem of course, but since products such as Word and Excel are so ubiquitous, those examples always come up in this discussion.

One IT professional who responded to my column said he constantly stresses to his software development staff the importance of simplicity, while another said his company gets around the complexity of its products by giving users customizable menus.

Of course, customization is time consuming and requires a fair amount of technical skill at configuration.

All of which leads me to an important subject that too often isn't taken as seriously as it should be—training.

Yes, the increasing complexity of products is a pain, but it seems we're stuck with it, at least until IT companies figure out how to make everyday-use products as simple as an iPod, which is easier to manage than a cell phone.

That being the case, training is unarguably important. Too many companies shrug off training users either because of the expense or because time in the classroom is time away from work.

Concerns over affordability are understandable, but forgoing training because of perceived short-term productivity loss is shortsighted.

Well-trained users are ultimately more productive than those who have to fumble their way around a product, potentially damaging or losing data.

It behooves IT companies and their channel partners to constantly push training as part of their sales activities. For channel companies, sales of training offerings are all about the profit margin, unless of course they are conducting the training themselves.

Typically vendors set up classrooms or tap third-party training companies to educate users on their technology.

In some cases, even when vendors do a good job of selling classroom time, some of it goes unused by the customers who buy it. This has to do with the reluctance to take people away from their day-to-day activities.

While vendors may be tempted to shrug that off so long as they collect the revenue, they should make every attempt to fill those already-sold classroom seats.

An educated user is a better buyer because it is easier to pitch updates and new technology to people who already have a good understanding of a vendor's products. They are more likely to understand the benefits of newer technology.

So as the industry wrestles with the difficulties posed by the increased complexity of technology, it should make a concerted effort to promote the benefits of training.

But make no mistake, training is not enough. Ultimately, technology that masks complex tasks with simplicity of use is the way to go.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner, contributing editor to The Channel Insider and a veteran channel reporter. He can be reached at ppereira@ziffdavis.com.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
























 
 
 
 
 
 

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