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Developing end-user skills
G. Herman, (c) October 2000
A version of a report first published as an NCC Guideline for IT Management.


Management summary
Blaming end-users
Informal learning and peer support
Who is responsible for the training strategy?
Government initiatives
The training process
Training providers
The education-enterprise interface
Teach yourself and LearnDirect
Identifying skills
A framework for defining skills
Skills Framework for the Information Age
Using SFIA
The European Computer Driving Licence

Management summary
The growing demand for IT-literacy in the workforce is the product of many forces - technological development, a highly competitive and increasingly global economy, the spread of the Internet, and the use of IT as a strategic business tool. The irresistible rise of distributed network architecture means that IT skills move out of the data centre into the office, the call centre and even the shop-floor. Yet we continue to suffer from skill shortages and untrained end-users which put ever greater pressure on IS professionals and render business operations inefficient and costly. Organizations with rigid lines of demarcation between job functions and departmental responsibilities find it hard to implement training programmes, since IS professionals and human resources managers have perfectly good reasons to reject the role of trainers in IT skills. Meanwhile, the training establishment has no clear idea of what constitutes an end-user IT skill or how to deliver training in the discipline.

Training end-users is the single most popular candidate for outsourcing within the field of end-user management, yet training standards in this area are often outmoded or irrelevant. In many cases, enterprises rely on informal training or peer support to fill the gaps among end-users, but this carries hidden costs and runs the risk of generating further inefficiencies. Formally training 'super-users' is often an invitation for them to leave the company for greener pastures. Organizations themselves must address these issues, because their people remain their most expensive and most valuable resource. They must implement training strategies which allow corporate management, IS department and human resources to jointly plan the content and delivery of training courses, alongside recruitment and staff development programmes, aimed at enhancing the stock of corporate skills.

These issues are increasingly seen as being of national and even international importance, with the result that major exercises in defining skills and identifying skills shortages are being undertaken by government, industry, and educators. The SFIA project promises to produce a skills framework appropriate to the information age which may eventually break down the unhelpful divisions between IT practitioners and IT end-users, and this framework is winning support at a national and even international level. The SFIA will help organizations to assess their own skills resource and determine their skill requirements. Through instruments such as S/NVQ, the European Computer Driving Licence and the PC Driving Test, skills can be measured, tested and upgraded.

The demand for IT or IT-related skills has never been greater at every level of business. According to the IT National Training Organization, 'The use and management of IT has opened up one of the fastest growing job markets of the age.' The ITNTO makes the familiar distinction between IT use and IT management, but argues particularly that 'the widespread use of PCs in business' has created significant opportunities for new entrants into the job market with computer skills. However, the first report of the Skills Task Force, published in 1998, commented that:

'In 1997 the annual Skills Needs in Britain (SNIB) Survey found that 1 in 5 employers (employing 25 people or more) thought that there was a skills gap in their employees …. The most commonly cited gap was in computer literacy where 55% of those saying they had a gap mentioned this skill' (5)

Most organizations larger than micro-businesses are now so heavily dependent on information systems that they simply could not operate for longer than a few days without IT, but the skills required are no longer just the specialist skills of the IT practitioner. In today's technology environment, almost all business systems are (or can be) end-user applications, run from desktop PCs or network servers without necessary recourse to large centralised mainframes.

Confusion between practitioner skills and end-user skills can lead to unhelpful public policies and unhelpful enterprise strategies. For example, it makes good sense to suggest that the technical skills gap can be plugged if not permanently filled by encouraging women returners or importing foreign workers with relevant skills. But the same solutions cannot apply to end-user skills - these are structural to a degree that technical skills are not. End-user skills pervade individual enterprises and the wider economy and cannot be addressed by finding a few additional skilled workers from a pool of immigrants or retired people.

We have left behind the age of automation, and the age of personal productivity; we have arrived in the information age. In fact, the tendency for information systems to become decentralised and distributed is long established. It brings in train a growing need to centralise the management of IS, and in an organizational context that means centralising the management of end-users.

Managing end-users has always been an IS department function - not least because their identification as end-users puts these individuals in a relationship with the systems they use. In the past, this has been a manageable if troubled relationship, because end-users themselves remained - to a degree - specialists, typically with narrow requirements in a restricted range of tasks and applications. It is almost a mantra of the modern day that we live in an information age in which all businesses are information businesses and all workers are information workers. Managing everybody has, of course, never been seen as part of the IS function.

This becomes particularly problematic when you consider skills. The development of end-user skills (for individuals and for the organization as a whole) cannot proceed without the active involvement of the IS department, yet it is so important to business that it cannot be left to the IS department alone. It follows that there are problems to do with the assignment of responsibilities and authority.

Part of the solution to these problems is managerial or cultural and requires a effective system of discussion, decision-making, and conflict-resolution. Part of the solution is technical and requires the adoption of standards for skills development, skills assessment and staff development. The standards issue is - as always - particularly difficult. It may take months to devise and agree standard tests based on a standard set of skills that determine standard career development procedures. But the demand for end-user skills may change almost overnight and may be driven as much by the commercial agendas of IT companies who produce the hardware and software as they are by business needs.

In attempting to get to grips with these problems, there have been a number of developments in recent months directed at drafting plans of sufficient generality to cope with radical changes in the focus of end- user skills and yet precise enough to enable businesses to control their skills resource.

Blaming end-users
There is a tendency to blame end-users for many of the troubles besetting IS departments - they are too demanding, they are not disciplined enough, they do not understand the technology, they understand the technology too well. There is much truth in these stereotypes, but in most cases end-users themselves cannot be blamed for the problems of corporate IS. They cannot even be blamed for the problems of managing the end-user environment. The villain of the piece is far more likely to be inadequate training.

The NCC Survey of IT Users indicates that almost 95 per cent of IT managers believe that inadequate end-user training contributes to their end-user support problems - and a half of them see poor training as a major cause of problems in managing the end-user environment (see Table 1) (6). Despite the fact that most organizations centralise their hardware and software procurement procedures, and despite the fact that most of them implement a centralised help desk, IS departments do not tend to blame themselves for end-user difficulties. Alongside the nine out of ten respondents to the NCC survey who identified poor end-user training as a problem, we should note the fact that only 29 per cent outsourced their end-user training. In the other 71 per cent of cases presumably the fault lay with the organization itself or even with the IS department.

Major Problem Percent citing
Poor training of end-users 46
Frequency of software updates 36
Wide variety of software and hardware to support 36
Users amending their systems or loading unsupported software 29
Viruses 12
Internet abuse/time-wasting 11
Table 1: Managing the end-user environment - major sources of problems (Source: NCC Survey of IT Users2000)

Training in development tools, system software and high-end enterprise applications like ERP or data warehouses is well-established, and for good reasons. IS departments are full of people who know all too well the problems of using development tools or system software without adequate training or support; IS jobs across the board depend directly on the competence of the department as a whole and since responsibilities are typically well defined within a department, the skills picture will not be overlooked - whether that means recruiting new people or training existing staff. As for enterprise applications, the price of big-ticket software alone would be reason enough to justify training: after all, one doesn't hand over a Rolls Royce to an inexperienced or untrained driver. The proviso, of course, is that training costs are not themselves too high - in practice, this means that formal training focuses on a relatively small cadre of expert users.

But when it comes to the generality of end-users, there are no clear departmental responsibilities involved in most enterprises and while total expenditure on desktop software may be high, cost per user may be lower than the price of training. A simple calculation may indicate that training in end-user software is an unaffordable expense.

Yet, untrained end-users can easily waste half-an-hour to an hour a day thanks to lack of training. They meet problems every day, they do not know the short-cuts and the time-savers built-in to the software they use, they do things in the least efficient way. On an individual level, this may seem relatively inconsequential, but in an IT-dependent enterprise correcting such a situation across the board could translate into a five to six per cent increase in productivity.

If things stayed the same, this wouldn't matter much. The need for end-user training would - in the nature of things - gradually decrease as people became steadily more familiar with the systems and applications they used. But, of course, things do not stay the same. Training becomes more imperative the deeper and faster things change, because the major problems that arise from inadequate or non-existent end-user training tend to occur at crisis points caused by developments of which the IS department may not itself be in complete control:

 the introduction of new systems and applications
 frequent software updates
 rapid and sometimes dramatic change in the business environment caused by M&A activity, alliances, strategic shifts, or management upheavals
 the demands of staff development and the integration of new staff

This means that it is vital to build a training element into the following situations:

 Rollout of new technology
 The development of new IT-enabled lines of business
 M&A activity as it affects department-level operations
 Recruitment and staff development (seen as mechanisms for adjusting the corporate skills inventory)

In an IT-dependent enterprise, training end-users could translate into a five or six per cent increase in productivity…

Informal learning and peer support
Since training in end-user skills is so frequently ignored or underestimated, end-users are often obliged to look after themselves. Nowhere in business is self-education more evident than among IT experts, and particularly among the 'expert' end-users who are scattered around most organizations. Accordingly, in many organizations, on-the-job training means little more than 'ask your (self-taught) neighbour'.

Often, this sort of training - unstructured and unplanned - is given grandiose names such as 'mentoring' or ‘informal learning’. It represents a considerable hidden cost to the business: faced with a relatively simple task such as a mail merge or running a spreadsheet model, an untutored end-user may turn to his or her neighbour for advice. If the two of them get nowhere, others may be brought in until eventually someone in the office who knows a thing or two about computers comes to the rescue. If they demonstrate the solution, they are unlikely to leave the original end-user any the wiser, since the office expert is rarely a good teacher. Where solutions are cobbled together from bits of knowledge and trial and error, they may involve bad or inefficient practices, which may consequently begin to diffuse through the organization.

In one specific study, by Giga for Microsoft, the cost of this informal learning (described as 'peer support' in the report) in relation to e-mail is estimated at between $454 and $862 per user per year ( based on figures of between 21 and 39 hours spent per user earning an average annual salary of $35,000 with a 25 per cent overhead, and depending on the software being used). This compares with estimates of $123 and $158 for the cost of initial training, on-going training and end-user support in two different software environments (7).

Informal learning is a recipe for time and money wasting, but without formal training programmes it has become commonplace in all areas of business. In fact, it is often assumed that reliance on these casual arrangements is an indication of flatter hierarchies and friendlier business organization. That's an attractive notion to those who correctly identify apprenticeships with rigid hierarchies. But the flip-side of apprenticeship is the idea of corporate governance in relation to skills and skills development. Getting rid of rigid hierarchies does not have to mean getting rid of the responsibility for making sure a workforce has the skills it (and the business) requires.

Where specific skills are in short supply (notably, among end-users of ERP systems), one solution has been the 'formalisation' of informal training, by cultivating a small number of so-called 'super-users' within the enterprise. The problem with this approach - which has clear short-term benefits - is that super-users quickly realise their market value and routinely move to better paid positions as consultants. Since one of the major functions of an information system is to maintain and strengthen organizational cohesion, in the longer term IS departments training super-users risk losing control. It is critical that end-users submit themselves to the discipline of the system, not the other way round. But IS professionals and their colleagues in personnel departments and corporate management are caught on the horns of a dilemma - either they don't train end-users and undermine the systems, or they do train end-users and undermine their human resources strategy.

On balance, it is preferable to train end-users formally and ensure that staff development is supported by effective recruitment and retention programmes.

Getting rid of rigid hierarchies does not have to mean getting rid of the responsibility for making sure a workforce has the skills it (and the business) requires…

Who is responsible for the training strategy?
The real problem., as we've already observed, is deciding where exactly responsibility for end-user training lays. At one level, this may seem to be a rather simple problem to solve. Where IT is the concern of the IS department and training is the concern of human resources, the possibilities are limited - responsibility for training end-users should fall on one or the other or both working together. But such a well-arranged solution fails to locate IT training within a strategic framework, and in the current climate it certainly is a strategic issue - particularly given the debates on training for IT skills current in the wider society.

In practice, the objections to the simple solution outlined above are these: regardless of the costs involved, the IS department does not accept that it should take responsibility for the training of people who are not directly involved in the production or delivery of information systems, while human resources does not believe that it has the necessary expertise to handle training in skills which are so intimately connected to those self-same information systems.

Such objections might dissolve if one could guarantee that all those who needed to use IT were equipped with the necessary skills before they entered the workforce.

Government initiatives
In the UK as elsewhere, there are numerous initiatives under way aimed, essentially, at the creation of an 'IT-literate' workforce. For example, the first report of the National Skills Task Force concluded (among other things):

'Although there may be a number of skill gap needs, we believe that we must look urgently at the most needy area - IT. The pressure points in the IT skills market and the relative roles of education, private trainers, National Training Organisations and employers in the development of IT skills are less well
understood than in other sectors. Given the importance of IT, there should be a national strategy for IT skills which clarifies the roles and which provides a better basis for careers advice' (8).

Even if businesses can overcome their traditional doubts about government initiatives, there is the problem of determining exactly what is meant by IT skills. As soon as you move outside the IT practitioner field, IT training programmes tend to lose focus. They are either too general or too specific, aimed on the one hand at absolute beginners and technophobes or, on the other, at users (or would-be users) of particular software packages. To the extent that end-user software is standardised, the latter approach works better than the former - although even within the apparently monolithic Microsoft, software design can be arbitrary and illogical. Moreover, the needs of an organization and the software it uses both develop - sometimes, in unpredictable ways. If IT literacy means the ability to learn for yourself, it requires more than a familiarity with a few standard packages.

The core skills for IT users are only now being mapped out by the various organizations engaged in the task of establishing training standards. It is possible that eventually these skills will form part of the national curriculum for schools.

But even if end-user IT skills are addressed at national level - and it would fit with the broad objectives of all major political parties - enterprises will still need to review and renew the IT skills of their staff. The only thing that a set of standards can guarantee is the existence of a yardstick against which to measure the actual skills of individuals, and since actual skills will always need refining and developing, an organization cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for training just because all school leavers have a certificate in IT competence.

The training process
The business environment provides a consideration just as important as the educational environment. It's almost a cliché to say that the right software can bestow competitive advantage in an information-driven economy. It is somewhat less hackneyed to observe that competent end-users are an invaluable resource to any business. Problems may arise when that competence involves new and non-standard software packages.

The actual training may come in different shapes and sizes: in-house or externally; on or off the job; through face-to-face tuition or by means of TBT; from within the enterprise or provided by external agencies, among whom we can count software suppliers, systems integrators, commercial training companies, educational institutions, contractors and freelance trainers. However the training is actually delivered, educational and business considerations both indicate that the training programme must be addressed as part of general management strategy.

Ideally, a training group should be established including representatives from the IS department, human resources and the board. This group will focus first of all on high-level planning - establishing objectives, setting budgets and deadlines, and approving contracts and agreements. The IS department, through its procurement and roll-out procedures, will be able to identify technology-driven demand for skills. Human resources, through recruitment and staff development programmes, will be able to determine the current skills inventory.

Beyond the high-level planning, there are two elements to the training itself: programme planning and programme delivery. Programme planning - which is the responsibility of the IS and HR representatives on the training group - includes the identification of trainers and trainees, curriculum development, and detailed timetabling and logistics. The conventional wisdom is that course development is part of programme planning, but it may make more sense to see it as an element of delivery (that is, the training itself) particularly when feedback from learners is used to modify instructional methods and content.

Delivery is the area most likely to benefit from the arrival of training standards. In the future, it is unlikely to be provided in-house. The NCC survey of IT users demonstrates that training is already - and by a wide margin - the aspect of end-user management most likely to be outsourced. Some 29 per cent of respondents said they were already outsourcing this function, with a further 8 per cent planning to do so in the future. This is hardly surprising: training is extremely labour intensive, time consuming and highly specialised work. The sort of desultory training sessions in which a technical expert from the IS department runs through the main features of the package for one or more bored employees will soon become a thing of the past.

Training providers
The demands of IT training have generated a healthy market for specialist training companies and independent freelances for some time now. Increasingly, other institutions with a remit that seems to cover education are turning towards IT training: colleges of adult, continuing and further education; community-based schools; universities (particularly where they are involved in community education schemes); local authority-funded training centres (often financed by European Commission social funds, charitable institutions or lottery money as part of economic regeneration and regional development schemes); trade unions and professional associations. Enterprises developing IT training programmes tend to shop around, particularly for short-courses and top-up sessions of between one and three days.

In time, they will no doubt enter into longer term relationships with training providers based upon mutually agreed requirements specification and service level agreements such as those that might be drawn-up for any other service provider. To this end, the independent Institute for IT Training (IITT) has developed codes of practice and competence frameworks covering external and in-house IT training departments, individual trainers, course developers, and developers and providers of technology-based training (TBT) products (11).

The ITNTO similarly introduced an accreditation scheme for IT trainers: the ITNTO Assessment of Instructional Skills for IT trainers for the delivery of IT Training Service. This supports the UK Occupational Standards for Training and Development and is benchmarked against the international ibstpi (sic) criteria, which are based on best practice in instructional skills. ITNTO assessment is recognised by Microsoft and IT trainers who successfully pass the ITNTO assessment are listed on the ITNTO UK Register of Accredited IT Trainers.

Programme delivery - that is, course writing and the training itself - is the area most likely to benefit from the arrival of training standards…

The education-enterprise interface
Among the BBC's most successful campaigns in recent years have been its 'Computers Don't Bite' and 'WebWise' campaigns, tied to FE colleges and adult education centres. Local Authorities from Liverpool to the Lea Valley, typically in collaboration with FE or HE institutions, have - over the last decade - been energetic in developing IT taster courses, and IT courses for small businesses, women, ethnic minorities and the unemployed. Computer stores are awash with self-instruction manuals, most of which are designed to make you an expert in two weeks and seem to have been written in the same amount of time. This is a completely chaotic situation in which there is a singular lack of quality control, adherence to standards, or agreed procedures for certification of students or accreditation of trainers or materials. Into this situation have stepped the commercial IT training providers and freelance trainers offering in-house and off-the-job courses in everything from IT appreciation to Java programming and network administration.

But self-education remains the only viable mechanism for training the quantity of end-users needed by industry. As yet, however, there is no adequate structure for IT self-education - nothing that will directly connect the achievement of the auto-didact with his or her desired career. The UK government is beginning to address this situation. It has introduced 'Individual Learning Accounts' which will help individuals to manage and finance their own training, and organizations to develop and run the courses that may be required by industry. And there are numerous schemes encouraging collaboration between employers and unions or employers and colleges to stimulate training in end-user skills.

The University for Industry (now branded 'LearnDirect') is a flagship project, strongly backed by some sections of government and seen as an Open University for the new millennium. IT skills have been singled out as priority areas for content while SMEs are priority targets for the service. LearnDirect may have a significant impact on vocational education and training, but it unclear how it will relate to the burgeoning market in commercial IT training provision.

The developments fuelling concern about managing end-users are precisely those in which certain skills migrate from the data centre to the desktop....

Identifying the skills
However and by whomsoever training might be delivered, it will require an agreed curriculum and a set of established procedures for assessment and certification. The e-government strategy being developed within the Cabinet Office under Ian MacCartney incorporates a best-practice distillation of ideas about IT skills. There is the inevitable confusion between practitioner and end-user skills, but this is increasingly blurred at the edges. As we have already observed, the developments fuelling concern about managing end-users are precisely those in which certain skills migrate from the data centre to the desktop.

According to the document 'Skills for Information Age Government':

'The Information Age Government (IAG) vision is that in a Modernised Government (sic) there will be a wide ranging use of information and communications technology in all aspects of government activity. The IAG Champions recognise the huge impact on all staff that this will have. It generates a wide range of requirements for new skills, and greatly impacts recruitment and development policies.'

This statement can be applied equally well to the private and the public sector. The so-called IAG 'champions' who are overseeing this programme have taken 'a high-level look' at the skills situation in government using an approach which:

 Groups IT-related skills into categories defined according to a skills map which sets out fundamental organizational relationships and structures
 Uses the groupings to identify gaps, needs, and delivery channels for further investigation (for example, training needs analysis), recruitment, preferment and training
 Maintains regular communication between the IT function and corporate management in order to coordinate and drive skills programmes

The process may appear to be once-and-for-all, but like any reengineering task it is in fact continuous and permanent. Skills are a human resource. In practice, they disappear, are lost, and become obsolete just like physical stock, and - as with stock - the replenishment and reassortment process is a constant and central feature of management. The IAG champions defined IT skills broadly, including such areas as knowledge management, business process analysis, risk management and benefits realisation which are closely aligned with technical skills. On the same basis, it is entirely proper to include basic end-user skills such as word processing, file management, spreadsheet operations and e-mail and Internet use within any definition of IT skills.

The IAG analysis has identified seven broad types of skill which could be grouped together. The skills should not be identified with individuals - for example, leadership can be demonstrated at many levels and in many areas of a business, it is not a characteristic of senior management alone. Nevertheless, this Guideline is concerned with only a subset of the seven categories, although they may all be relevant to strategic planning:

1. Leadership
2. Business system development
3. Acquisition management
4. End-user skills
5. Specialist user skills
6. Information professionalism
7. IT professional skills

The first three are seen as essentially different from the last four which are confusingly all described as end-user skills. In practice, the four last categories should be seen as covering the following areas:

1. (4) Use of common applications such as word processors and databases to perform routine clerical and operational tasks (including data entry, point-of-sale, and customer-handling) - typical jobs, clerk, administrator, call-centre operative
2. (5) Use of specialist applications such as statistical analysis programmes and desktop publishing to perform creative, analytical or interpretative tasks - typical jobs, financial analyst, designer, fleet manager
3. (6) Use of specialist applications to store, organize, manage and retrieve data, documents and other information-rich content - typical jobs, researcher, librarian, trainer
4. (7) Use of specialist applications and new technologies for the production of information services and products - typical jobs, web designer/manager, CD-ROM developer, call centre manager

A frameworks for defining skills
The IAG model started with two 'frameworks' to support a system of vocational qualifications relating to what are now being described as 'information skills' - a category covering both IT practitioner and end-user skills: the SFIA and the Skills Foresight programme. These can be universally applied.

The SFIA project grew out of the work of the AISS, and is managed by the e-skills NTO. The framework itself is biased towards IT practitioners and IT businesses rather than end-users, although it does address specific end-user skills as well. It is not itself a qualification, although the SFIA does offer a Company Certification service to organizations that can demonstrate 'processes for developing and deploying a workforce that collectively possesses the skills needed to deliver its promise to customers.'

More importantly, the SFIA provides a basis on which skills can be enumerated and skill requirements assessed. NCC and Computer Weekly recently used SFIA in the career tracking survey of UK IS professionals, while the e-skills NTO will use the framework as the basis for its annual IT skills survey.

To facilitate its use within the context of courses and qualifications, SFIA (now in revision 1.1) includes mappings to the British Computer Society's Industry Structure Model (ISM) and the UK IT National Occupational Standards (ITNOS), which underpin the IT S/NVQ system. In fact, the SFIA is intended to be applied across an enterprise, complementing not replacing existing skills development frameworks and functional classifications. It draws on salary surveys (including NCC's) and user feedback as well as the BCS ISM and ITNOS.

The Skills Foresight programme begins from a different base and covers a wide range of skills necessary 'for the information age.' Working to a request from the DfEE and the DTI, the ITCE skills strategy group, which includes representatives from TECs, NTOs, employer organisations, professional bodies, and HE institutions, focuses on IT skills including end-user skills. In their second report, the group observes that, 'The lack of an agreed and consistent framework for describing the skill needs of the sector is a major problem. We wish to build on work done by AISS … to establish a clear framework which describes the skills and key competences required for different ITCE jobs, the ladder for career progression and the qualifications and training required.' (18)

In 1999, the ITCE group used SFIA for a pilot study, ‘Occupations in Informatics'. As a result the group’s report to government a year ago recommended that SFIA is used as the framework for the IT, Communications and Electronics sector - the 'informatics domain', including e-business. It seems inevitable that SFIA will be extended to cover information skills required in broadcast media, library services and electronics manufacturing.

Skills Framework for the Information Age
SFIA addresses business-IS activities in six major categories using seven levels of competence. The categories are:

1. Strategy and planning
2. Management and administration
3. Sales and marketing
4. Development and implementation
5. Service delivery
6. User

The competence levels are:

1. Follow
2. Assist
3. Apply
4. Enable
5. Ensure, advise
6. Initiate, influence
7. Set strategy, inspire, mobilise

The competence levels approximate to S/NVQ levels 1-5, 5+ and 5++. They do not reflect professional, technical or managerial status, which is an increasingly irrelevant consideration in contemporary organizations. In some activities where responsibility can be assumed, such as project management, lower levels of competence are accepted as givens. The BCS has recently adopted a similar structure of expertise and responsibility in ISM 3.2.

The SFIA category of 'User' cuts across the other 'practitioner' categories within IS departments or IS businesses. The user category can apply to any organization and involves three skills:

1. Use of IT (aka Information systems)
2. Information literacy (aka Information management)
3. Business-IT alignment

The first two of these can be mapped to the last four IAG categories: end-user skills, specialist skills, information professionalism and IT professional skills. Business-IT alignment maps to the first three IAG categories: leadership, business system development and acquisition management.

Using SFIA
The first step in applying SFIA involves mapping employees to the framework. SFIA describes what people actually do, not what their jobs are called. The framework gathers sets of skills into sub-categories which probably - but not necessarily - relate to job descriptions, and gathers sub-categories into categories which probably - but not necessarily - relate to functions or, in larger organizations, departments. The industrial validation exercises for the SFIA project indicate that in-house methods of job classification should be ignored. Because it relates to other widely-used classification schemes, the SFIA provides an effective standard for job description. As a basis for skills-testing, it also provides a yardstick against which actual skills can be determined.

Increasingly, end-user skills are tested within the ITNOS framework which, as we have already noted, maps to the SFIA. In practice, this means that S/NVQs are the vocational qualification most relevant to end-user skills, although other qualifications in basic and intermediate IT, such as those issued by the RSA and OCR group, can easily be brought into the framework.

SFIA 'Use of IT' (or 'Information systems') and 'Information literacy' (or 'Information management') skills have been mapped to S/NVQ 'Using IT' units from levels 1 to 5. The lowest level of SFIA 'Business-IT alignment' skills have been mapped to S/NVQ 'Using IT' units at level 5. As yet, there are no relevant S/NVQ units for the top two levels of 'Business-IT alignment'. In practice, this means that SFIA extends and generalises the S/NVQ structure. Once an organization assesses its inventory of end-user skills with SFIA, the S/NVQ structure can be brought into play in order to determine existing and desired qualifications.

The highest level of SFIA user skills do not correspond to any existing elements of a vocational qualification system. That may, of course, be because there are no readily available tests to judge the capacity of individuals to initiate, influence, set strategy, inspire, and mobilise in the matter of business-IT alignment. Leadership skills are always difficult to assess and business-IT alignment remains one of the most obstinate of goals for most enterprises. Success tends to be measured not by the abilities of individuals, but by the performance of organizations.

SFIA may yet drive the development of reliable, simple tests of leadership abilities within business-IT alignment which are more repeatable than CVs or records of achievement. At lower levels of competence, however, there are already signs that the uniform approach offered by SFIA will bear fruit.

The European Computer Driving Licence
Considerable attention has been paid in recent months to the ECDL initiative. This is a Europe-wide qualification (the first) designed to allow people to demonstrate basic competence in computer skills. It has been mapped to S/NVQ 'Using IT' level 2 and can be used towards the achievement of the appropriate UK qualification (19). The ECDL syllabus is maintained and published by the BCS and testing is carried out by accredited test centres. The aims of the initiative are:

 to raise the general level of IT competence
 to improve productivity in IT-related jobs
 to help employers invest more efficiently in IT
 to ensure that best practice and quality are understood and implemented within the end-user IT environment

An even more basic end-user qualification is the PC Driving Test, introduced by NCC several years ago, which covers fewer elements of S/NVQ UIT level 2 than the ECDL. The PC Driving Test is a TBT test comprising a series of multiple-choice questions and basic exercises in word processing, spreadsheets and e-mail. It has been approved by the DfEE and is accredited by the Information Systems Examination Board (ISEB) on behalf of the British Computer Society. Certificates issued by an authorised test centre can be converted to the ISEB Certificate of PC Competence.

End-user skills have traditionally been the Cinderella of IT training, largely because of the difficulties in determining an agreed curriculum or standards for assessment. The result has been a proliferation of independent training organizations devising their own curricula and a heavy reliance on self-instruction and informal training. This has not been good for businesses whose need to equip their end-users with the right skills is increasingly important. The need to rationalise the system of training for IT end-users is urgent, and has been recognised as such by government and the IT industry. It looks like it may be met at a theoretical level through the development of the Skills Framework for the Information Age. Yet the question of who will shoulder the responsibility for and the cost of end-user training within an organization remains a potential stumbling block.

Individual enterprises must grasp the opportunity provided by government-funded research and the establishment of new frameworks for skills definition and development. They must adopt a 'non sectarian' approach to training and skills development, based on standards, cutting across departments and addressing the dynamic and potentially fruitful relationship between IT end-users and practitioners which is increasingly at the heart of the successful deployment of information systems.


AISS - Alliance for Information Systems Skills, an independent alliance of UK organisations concerned with IT skills, formed in 1996
BCS - British Computer Society, anassociation for individual IT and IS professionals
CAD - Computer Aided Design, graphical application to assist in the production of blueprints, architectural drawings and engineering diagrams
DfEE - Department for Education and Employment, government ministry responsible for skills within the workforce
e-skills NTO - see NTO
ECDL - European Computer Driving Licence, a Europe-wide vocational qualification meeting most of the requirements of ITNOS UIT level 2.
ERP - Enterprise Resource Planning, large-scale database applications used to manage resources - such as time, staff and stock - consistently across an enterprise
IAG - Information Age Government, a UK government modernising initiative
ibsti - International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction, a not for profit group of 15 professionals in the field of 'performance improvement' , based largely in the US but including representatives from Norway and the UK, working to establish and maintain ethical and best practice standards for trainers, course designers and training managers
ISEB - the Information Systems Examination Board, a body run by the BCS to accredit examining and award-giving bodies in IT and IS
ISM - Industry Structure Model, a BCS initiative to map skills in IT and IS geared to its professional development programme
IITT - Institute of IT Training, an independent membership organization for IT trainers and training providers
ITCE SSG - IT, Communications and Electronics Skills Strategy Group, a group operating within the NSTF programme addressing IT-related skills
ITNOS - the IT National Occupational Standards, system of standards defining the basis on which IT S/NVQs are awarded
M&A - Mergers and acquisitions, along with demerger, the process by which an increasing number of businesses grow and change shape
NCC - National Computing Centre, national membership organization representing IT users in business, the IT industry, and the public sector. Publishes surveys dealing with IT user activities, salaries and security.
NSTF - National Skills Task Force, a DfEE initiative to address skill shortages in Britain
NTO - National Training Organization, industry-led body with responsibility for vocational training and qualifications in its field. Government is encouraging them to merge in areas where activities are complementary, hence the ITNTO and the e-business.NTO have merged to become the e-skills NTO
OCR - Oxford, Cambridge, RSA, an examination accrediting body
PC Driving Test - commercial product from NCC used to automate testing of IT user skills. Passing this test meets most of the requirements for the ECDL
RSA - Royal Society of Arts, an examination accrediting body
S/NVQ - Scottish/National Vocational Qualification, the authoritative qualification recognising practical abilities in particular areas of employment. Managed by NTOs.
SFIA - Skills Framework for the Information Age, industry-led inititaive managed by ITNTO to develop a standard approach to the classification and definition of IT skills
SME - small and medium-sized enterprises
SNIB - Skills Needs in Britain, annual survey of the skills picture
TBT - Technology Based Training, the use of computers and related technologies to facilitate remote training, enhance the learning experience or deliver self-tuition
UCAS - The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service for the UK, central clearing house for new entrants into FE and HE
UfI - University for Industry, a government initiative to establish high-level vocational training for industry, now rebadged 'LearnDirect'
UIT - Using IT, IT NOS standards defined at three levels aimed at testing of end-user skills


1. Press release, 'e-business.nto and ITNTO to merge', ITNTO, 8 June 2000

2. Cited in Tim Lane, David Snow, Peter Labrow, Learning to Succeed in Business with Information Technology, NCC Education, Manchester, 2000

3. See the ITNTO web site,

4. Caroline Lloyd, Hilary Steedman, Intermediate Level Skills - How are they changing? Research Paper 4, ref: SKT9, Skills Task Force, Sheffield, September 1999. (Available on the Skills Task Force web site: http//

5. 'Towards a National Skills Agenda: First Report of the National Skills Task Force', Skills Task Force, Sheffield, 1998. (Available on the Skills Task Force web site: index.htm).

6. NCC Survey of IT Users, NCC, Manchester, 2000

7. TCO – Microsoft Exchange: A Total Economic Impact Study, Giga Information Group, Norwell, MA, 1998

8. op. cit.

9. See the Information Age Government Champions web site, run by the Central IT Unit of the Cabinet Office, available at

11. See the Insitute of IT Training web site, available at

15. These figures are available on the UCAS web site,

16. See the AISS web site,

17. Available on the Information Age Government Champions web site, listed above

18. Skills for the Information Age, Consultation Document, Skills Task Force, Sheffield, 1999. Available from the NSTF web site at

19. Mapping the European Computer Driving Licence to the Scottish/National Vocational Qualification 'Using Information Technology Level 2', Information Technology National Training Organisation, London/Glasgow, 2000

Key Points

 The demand for IT or IT-related skills has never been greater at every level of business, and its satisfaction is critical to the future health of individual businesses and the UK economy as a whole

 IT skills are moving out of the data centre and dispersing throughout the enterprise with the result that demarcation lines between IT end-user skills and IT practitioner skills are blurring

 The creation of the new e-skills NTO, the development of the new Skills Framework for the Information Age, and the work of the UK's National Skills Task Force implicitly recognise the overlap between end-users and practitioners

 Almost all IT professionals believe that end-users are poorly trained - and a half of them see poor training as a major cause of problems in managing the end-user environment

 While poor IT training results in unnecessary costs for businesses, there are no clear departmental responsibilities for end-user training and training all end-users may be seen as expensive

 Informal training or peer support is an inefficient and often dangerous approach to transmission of skills. Training nominated super-users to act as mentors can mean that organizations become too dependent on key individuals whose market value is dramatically increased by training

 Inadequate training becomes most problematic in periods of technological or business change. Training should always be seen as part of a roll-out plan and in conjunction with overall recruitment and retention strategies

 Training strategies should be devised and implemented by IS, HRM and corporate management working together, based on standards and using external suppliers when necessary

 Initiatives such as SFIA and NSTF will generate standards against which skills can be measured, training needs analysed, training programmes devised, trainers accredited and individuals qualified.

Key Issues

Nine rules for developing a training plan
1. Identify training suppliers who meet your requirements in terms of accreditation, expertise, and ability to offer a customised service
2. Identify most frequently used functions of the software to be covered in the training programme
3. Determine the criticality of these functions to the organization
4. Together with nominated training suppliers, use standard definitions and tools to test the competence of relevant employees in relation to critical functions
5. Construct table identifying gaps and weak points in the skills inventory together with a training plan for all relevant employees
6. Establish training goals in terms of timetables, employee numbers and target competence levels
7. Target training and recruitment measures to fill gaps and strengthen organizational weaknesses
8. Draw up a comprehensive service level agreement with your nominated training suppliers
9. Test the competence of employees after training to establish a measure of benefits achieved

Sunday, September 09 2001