Preparing your network team to get the most out of new tools and services requires patience and understanding. Here's how to make training and education pay off for your organization.
Network technologies are advancing rapidly. Today's 4G is tomorrow's 5G and yesterday's PSTN network is today's IP environment.
Keeping network team members apprised of current trends and preparing them for new workflows and responsibilities is now a priority for virtually all network managers.
"Ongoing training on new and emerging technologies might just be the most significant strategic initiative that a company can undertake," stated Todd Lechtenberg, senior vice president of global operations for Masergy, a software-defined networking services company. "Once you get behind, you're in a bad spot, and it can compound quickly."
There's really no excuse not to prioritize training and invest accordingly, Lechtenberg observed. "Training initiatives are actually not that expensive and will yield tremendous dividends," he said. The primary issue is finding the time to conduct training without interrupting core business functions. "While challenging, if an organization remains committed and plans accordingly, it can be overcome," he noted.
The network space is rapidly transitioning in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. No longer is it just about speed. "Network operators are in charge of supporting digital transformations," asserted Craig Williams, vice president and CIO of network systems, services, and software provider Ciena. "[Staff] must understand everything, from types of traffic to how to run analytics, orchestrate and make decisions in real-time even when the variables are constantly changing."
Williams pointed to SD-WAN, cloud computing, orchestration, zero trust networking, and analytics as just some of the technologies managers and staff need to become intimately familiar with. "These emerging technologies are helping companies overcome today’s ever-changing network conditions," he said.
The evolution and functionality of cloud-based applications have been and will continue to be major drivers in enterprise IT, Lechtenberg added. "From artificial intelligence and machine learning to the proliferation of IoT, the flexibility and power of the cloud are extremely important to manage the data necessary to leverage these [advanced] technologies."
Underpinning a new generation of sophisticated business tools is a growing need for advanced cyber security capabilities, including managed detection and response technologies. "The security strategies of the future will be driven by automation backed by human expertise," Lechtenberg said. "As these technologies continue to surge, training will be a critical element."
Time and place
Organizations should take a multi-faceted approach to staff education, Williams advised. "It’s a combination of reading, instruction, attendance at conferences, and possibly the most important aspect: hands-on experience."
Williams added that team members should view education as part of their job description and take the initiative to continuously and proactively learn what's changing in the industry, seek opportunities and get involved. "Learning new skills or brushing up on the latest technologies often gets pushed to the back burner when to-do lists start piling up, but training has to stay a top priority," he explained.
It also pays to be flexible when selecting the type of training to be provided. "Online or e-learning training may be more cost-efficient and appropriate for some staff training, but based on past experiences, facetime with an instructor is more successful," noted Paula Fredericksen, founder of Veras Partners, an application management outsourcing company. She added that a needs analysis can identify the best way to train team members on an emerging technology. Timing when instruction will be provided is also important. "Training should always take place prior to the implementation of the new technology," Fredericksen said.
Staff-wide post-deployment training should only be provided when a technology is updated, used in a different way, or if the original training failed to deliver the necessary knowledge on a particular topic. "Too often, [staff] can be left in the dark on new features/functionality because no one has updated them on the latest upgrades," Fredericksen observed.
A frequently overlooked aspect of staff training is that team members should be given the freedom and resources to experiment with emerging technologies. "Exploring alternative technologies can pay off significantly for an organization and create positive business transformations," said Steven Solomon, co-founder and CTO of Arcutek, an IT and professional services firm.
Staff education is all about patience and understanding, observed Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics, a company dedicated to cruelty-free, natural, and sustainable personal care products. Employees tend to learn best when they don’t feel pressured. "Everyone learns at their own pace because learning is about transforming something from being counter-intuitive to intuitive," he advised.
Training is without question a win-win for employer and employee, Lechtenberg noted. "If you don’t put your team into a position to be successful, the organization as a whole loses."