ICC's Approach to IT Training: Why Can't More Companies Do This?


Last month in a post about the importance of staff training, I cited IT Business Edge contributor Don Tennant's recollection of an interview with Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian. The chief told Tennant he'd had to replace a quarter of Novell's work force to obtain the skills he felt necessary to drive the company forward. When Tennant asked why he couldn't have trained existing employees to freshen their skills, Hovsepian said he simply couldn't spare the time. He told Tennant:

... The cycle time is the biggest issue. The brutality of the pressure the company has to operate under in 90 days is what drives us.

Over the past year, folks have been quick to assign blame (and rightfully so) to Wall Street financial firms for the economic crisis from which we are just beginning to emerge. But what about the analysts whose focus on short-term profits rather than long-term stability drives decisions like those made by Hovsepian? A quarter of Novell's work force translates into a pretty large number of people scrambling to find work. (Even though there might not have been a net job loss, since Novel hired replacements.)


And not to single out Hovsepian, but why can't more CEOs sell their investors and boards of directors on the need to better balance strategic objectives and quarterly gains? This kind of shortsightedness is also leading U.S. companies to scale back on long-term R&D projects, as I've written before.


I could go into full-on rant mode here, but instead I'll share excerpts from my recent interview with Jim Gallo, manager of BI Partner Channels for Information Control Corp., a Columbus, Ohio-based provider of IT services, including software development, technology infrastructure, business intelligence and project services. ICC has developed a program called the Information Factory designed to attract young people to the BI field and to keep BI skills in the pipeline.


I couldn't help but remember Hovsepian when Gallo told me his company didn't put new hires fresh out of college "out in the billable world" for two or three months while they learned business intelligence skills from senior employees. He said:

We put them on the bench and pay their salaries while we are training them, and while they are training themselves.

ICC's training program, called BI Boot Camp, involves team-building exercises, a series of intensive learning sessions, a course of self-study and placing trainees on project teams composed of a senior architect/developer, senior quality assurance analyst and three junior developers. The team structure is "very portable across various disciplines" so ICC can form them around data integration, ETL (extract, transform, load), the analytics layer or other desired skill sets. Said Gallo:

If you think about what the senior architect does, he or she will create an object, a reusable component, in say ETL. The senior person will create different audit components. Then the junior members, just like an assembly line, will grab those objects and assemble them into a work stream. So that's where the Factory name comes from. We know we may be developing projects with thousands of ETL jobs. All of them will use the audit function. The junior developers grab those components and put them into their overall process. They don't have to be experts in the tools, but they can use the tools and learn about them at the same time.

The composition also allows ICC to offer a blended team rate and bring its pricing models in line with those of offshore competitors providing similar BI services. If companies don't begin putting more effort into training entry-level business professionals, then they'll have to look offshore for advanced BI skills as well, Gallo told me. He said ICC felt it had "a social obligation" to contribute jobs to its community and to "stop the brain drain."


IN addition to offering its internal training program, ICC is working with area colleges and universities to help them beef up their BI curricula and to address what Gallo calls "a leadership vacuum." Though BI is a top initiative at many companies and is one of the few areas in which IT spending remains healthy, many schools haven't kept up with the demand for it, Gallo said.


And of course, the less training ICC's college recruits need, the better. Said Gallo:

We spend a couple months with folks riding the bench while they are learning. If they came straight out of college with more skills, that gets them into billable-hour work faster. So we have altruistic reasons for working with colleges, but economic ones, too.