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March 2000

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Technology Systems

The Key to a Successful Installation? Training!

Extensive, upfront training can minimize expensive customer support calls after software is installed.

By Richard J. Herron

IMAGINE a brand new sports car sitting in your driveway. Shiny, chock full of gadgets and gauges You open the door, slide into the leather interior, insert the key, and . .nothing happens. Upon closer inspection, you discover that the battery was not included In other words, an ingredient essential to making everything work is missing.

This analogy can be applied to purchasing hardware or software without receiving appropriate training. It may look great but it is practically useless if you don't know how to use it properly. User manuals may be fine for reference purposes, but are usually not designed to provide actual training.

Before you buy, plan your training. Consider: What type of training does firm personnel need? What are the best sources? What are your firm's standards and expectations? How can you best prepare your personnel for training? Who should be trained?

A popular misconception is that training is necessary only for software. Comprehensive training should also include an overview of all hardware components.

If the computer system purchase includes hardware, ask about acquiring instruction on the correct use of all peripherals included in the system. This includes installation, daily use, care and maintenance of hard drives, backup procedures and scheduling, monitors, printers, cabling, modems, etc. Your systems manager should receive the majority of this type of training, but all users should be trained on the basics.

Comprehensive Training

Of course, software requires the most comprehensive training. While most staff members will not (at least initially) use every optional feature included, all need instruction on basics. Training is especially helpful on all facets of online and/or field-sensitive help systems. Extensive upfront training on system peripherals and software will prevent a large number expensive customer support calls to the vendor.

What's the best source for trainers? That depends on what you and your staff prefer. Do you want a traditional classroom environment, one-to-one training, small groups, day-long intensives or short sessions scattered over a longer time period?

Get referrals from other law firms who use the same product; do Internet searches; check out Yellow Page listings. Consider traditional commercial and non-profit options. You might want to bring a consultant onboard to do one-on-one training.

There are legal-specific training companies; many community colleges offer training; inexpensive courses are often available through organizations such as the "Learning Annex;" and even big chains such as CompUSA offer classes.

Inquire about user group, and plan to join. They often offer classes, and help facilitate information exchange via telephone, e-mail or Web sites.

As you research training options, don't be shy about requesting written information about the courses taught, prices, location and whether onsite training is available. (Sometimes onsite training is cheaper than sessions at the trainers' facilities). Prices and services can vary widely. It's always best to know exactly what you are getting before you commit to purchasing any form of training.

Although it may seem easy to include training with the purchase price of the system, be wary about computer companies that market themselves as "one source" or "turn-key" systems. If you do go that route, ascertain the trainer's expertise with the software. If the person spends an average of an hour a day on your telephone calling the software company's support line, that's your clue to look elsewhere or request a more experienced trainer.

Your Expectations

Training is an important yet expensive investment. There are several ways to ensure that you are receiving the very best product and service from the training source of your choice:

Screen the training personnel. Rarely are you given a choice regarding trainers; one is usually assigned to your account. Larger vendors often have a staff of trainers with different hourly billing rates based on their level of expertise with the product. Find out which trainers have the best track record with staff of your firm's skill levels. Newbies and experts have different training issues. Request biographies; select the trainer with the credentials best suited to your needs.

Training courses always should include user manuals (usually available on a CD as well as paper) or online tutorials. Be sure updates are sent on a regular basis or in conjunction with software updates. Don't hesitate to criticize any documentation you receive from a vendor. User comments play a large part in the evolution of the style and format of a vendor's training tools.

Check availability of follow-up training. With normal turnover, you'll need ongoing training opportunities as new employees are hired. Ask about turnover of trainers: are you likely to find someone who will be around in 12 months? Who can develop a relationship with your staff and firm?

Also, if you've negotiated training as part of the purchase price, these are important issues to negotiate before the purchase contract is signed. If modifications or enhancements are made to the software, verify that training will cover them, if necesssary. (This is especially important if training is part of the purchase price).

If you are organizing onsite sessions, check with the trainer ahead of time as to what equipment and connectivity is necessary, and be sure the room is appropriate. If training is outside the office, be sure everybody receives pertinent information such as directions, office hours, room location, transportation, etc. Let the trainer know beforehand about special issues with the software so they will be included as part of the agenda. Get manuals ahead of time, and encourage staff to review them.

Selecting Trainees

Should you train individually, or in groups? That sometimes is a cost issue. Some trainers charge a fee based on the number of attendees, others charge a flat hourly fee. Obviously, one-on-one training is an expensive luxury. Classroom-style group training can work if the trainer can keep everyone engaged. But this can be difficult, given the wide range of computer experience of the users.

Busy attorneys may not be amenable to long, group training sessions that, by definition, move at the speed of the slowest student. (And some attorneys may not want to be embarrassed by their lack of technical prowess.) Some trainers separate support staff from attorneys just because of different personality and role issues.

Consider a "train the trainer" scenario where one individual receives training and then functions as a "firm trainer" for the rest of the users. In any case, designate at least one individual as the firm trainer. This is often the system manager, who also is the primary liaison between the firm and the vendor for support and training issues.

No matter what approach you take, from one-on-one to group; the bottom line is, do it! If you do not purchase training up front when negotiating your system, and rely instead on using manuals or, worse yet, expecting users to learn through trial and error, you are guaranteed to experience one or more of the following: 1) decline in productivity; 2) inefficient, inadequate or erroneous usage leading to frequent support calls; 3) high monthly support charges; and 4) high frustration rate among users leading to "new system bashing."

Although training is not inexpensive, you cannot afford to eliminate it.

Richard J. Herron is a law office consultant with Jeannette Russell Systems Group.

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