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2/18/2005
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SmartAdvice: Spreading IT Knowledge Among Staff Benefits All

Staff development of IT knowledge is a win-win for everyone, The Advisory Council says. Also, it's time to evaluate IT structure in light of ongoing Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from leadership advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to smartadvice@tacadvisory.com


Question A: How can we raise the IT knowledge of non-IT employees?

Our advice: IT staff are often viewed as having specialized knowledge which non-technical staff cannot be expected to understand. Although technology professionals have been advised for years to become more involved on the business side, many are still reluctant to view their role beyond managing IT.

Similarly, many users (as non-IT staff are often referred to by techies) are often unwilling to take the time to learn about technology, thinking that their role should focus only on the business. However, with many IT staffs drastically reduced or even eliminated, technology is becoming everyone's concern.

Fortunately, schools teach students far more about technology than in the past, when IT classes focused mostly on programming. Many employees, however, particularly those not recently out of school, aren't IT savvy.

But with computer-based systems prevalent in most organizations, it's essential that both IT and non-IT employees take advantage of opportunities to build their technical skills. Much as IT professionals have had to stretch themselves beyond a pure technical role, non-IT staff must realize that technology skills are required to excel in their jobs and to assure further advancement. Some steps to encourage learning are:

  • Provide on-site seminars focusing on software that's commonly used in the organization. Focus on job-relevant skills while also addressing issues that are commonly directed to the help desk. It's important when offering such courses to pick times that are convenient for your target audience.
  • Publish regular hard-copy and electronic communications from IT to all employees. Featured articles could describe how to improve one's skills in using standard programs at the firm, such as Excel, Word, PowerPoint, E-mail, the Internet, and business applications. Other articles could explain company policy as it relates to Internet or E-mail usage, or security practices. Be creative and interesting in what you write about, and always be non-technical in your presentation.
  • Make relevant IT skills an integral requirement in job descriptions.
  • Plan social events across departments, giving IT and non-IT staff an opportunity to get to know each other as peers.
  • Implement an intranet that provides easy access to frequently asked questions about an organization's technology systems.
  • Give special attention to staff who are uncomfortable using computers, or who are convinced they can't learn more than they already know. This requires patience and recognition that not everyone can absorb new concepts quickly or in the same way.
  • Provide reimbursement for approved off-site training--often staff will feel more comfortable in a group that doesn't include other co-workers.
  • Include training participation in corporate-recognition programs.
  • In the long term, technical knowledge will be a key part of all hiring decisions, regardless of the position's responsibilities. Meanwhile, it's to the benefit of the organization and its staff that technology expertise becomes a key part of everyone's job.

    -- Norman Reiss and Stephen Rood

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