Using your LMS to manage inductions

It’s that time of year when we have our internal ISO 9001 audit and as a line manager I was asked to demonstrate that I had done inductions for my new starters.

I could have done that the hard way, looking through my inbox for the emails, but I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to dogfood our own LMS to support our ISO process (See dogfooding on wikipedia if you’re not familiar with the term)!

Then I can use a report (and a pie chart!) in the LMS to support the ISO process.

  1. The first step is to use the compliance manager to set up a skill and set the audiences for that skill to be everybody.
  2. The second step is to add an attainment method for the skill, we’re going to use a verification for that. We’ll configure the verification to be something that the line manager has to assert.

    In our organisation it is the line manager that knows best when it comes to their team – so it’s their responsibility to log this information.

    We can also upload our Induction process document to the verification and link to an intranet page if we need to.

  3. That will trigger a link on people’s home pages, and email prompts will go out to ask people to start entering the induction dates for their teams.

And the audit? Yes, I passed. All green. Even better, when new starters join their line manager will now be prompted for an Induction and at the next audit we can run just a report.

Are you ready for the big Windows XP switch off?

In April 2014 Microsoft will stop releasing security fixes for Windows XP. Doesn’t sound very scary does it? However you should be very scared. I can understand why people hang on to XP, but let me explain why I think it’s time to let it go.

Every version of Windows has been an evolution, some bigger than others, but each one contains a large chunk from the previous version. Even Windows 8.1 will have some parts from Windows XP.

At the moment if Microsoft finds a bug in any version of Windows it will check all of the others to see if they are affected as well. That’s why security patches often apply to several versions of Windows. After April 2014 Microsoft will stop doing this for Windows XP. So what?, I hear you say.

The problem is that the bad guys will be watching for these security fixes after April, and those fixes will tell them where the holes are. Then they will look to see if those holes exist in XP. In a lot of cases the holes will be there – and they are not going to be closed.

Every Windows XP PC will become significantly more vulnerable.

You need to start replacing or upgrading those PCs now, if you don’t you run the risk of serious disruption to your business. Please, you have time, don’t waste it.

Further reading:

Microsoft Security Blog: The Risk of Running Windows XP After Support Ends April 2014
http://blogs.technet.com/b/security/archive/2013/08/15/the-risk-of-running-windows-xp-after-support-ends.aspx

ComputerWorld: XP’s retirement will be hacker heaven, Hackers will bank bugs until after Microsoft retires Windows XP in April 2014; expect attacks, say security experts
http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9241585/XP_s_retirement_will_be_hacker_heaven

 

IE6 – it’s not dead yet

There’s been a lot of talk recently about finally dropping support for old internet browsers, specifically Internet Explorer 6, by website designers and the technical media:

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/07/09/old-browsers-are-holding-back-the-web/

As an aside Smashing Magazine have also done a good job of explaining why you should upgrade:

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/07/10/dear-web-user-please-upgrade-your-browser/

Some web sites have even taken stronger steps such as imposing their own tax on purchases made in older browsers, though it could be argued that this is more about PR:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2405813,00.asp
http://www.kogan.com/au/blog/new-internet-explorer-7-tax/

It’s easy to blame the user for not keeping up to date, and as a fellow developer I can understand the frustrations. However a recent trip to a hospital in Barcelona gave me a new real world insight from a user’s perspective.

Before I had kids I don’t think I’d been to hospital for at least 20 years, but now I’m thinking that we should be getting a loyalty card.

This time we were on holiday when my son, Henry, had his two front (milk) teeth knocked out while messing about with his brother – so a trip to Hospital del Mar (not quite as nice as it sounds) was in order.

As a software developer I see computers and software differently to normal people. Much the same way that a builder or an architect looks at a house, or an artist at a painting, I “see” behind the screen to the structure behind it. I have an insider’s view.

The first problem was registering with the hospital’s system. They had automated the place using SAP and it took 20 minutes to get us signed in. The receptionist let us know her frustration with it – usability was obviously not a priority.

Lesson 1
We all need to up our game when it comes to the user’s experience. It is the software developer’s dilemma:

“If we get it right then you won’t even notice it, it will be so smooth, when we get it wrong we’ll be the root of your bad day”

As I’ve alluded to before on this blog, software can do great things – it should also do it well.

Once we got to see a doctor (they arranged for an English speaking doctor btw – nice touch) Henry had to have an X-ray. When the image was ready the doctor whipped out her Samsung Galaxy Ace and she looked up the X-ray in a chat message from the radiologist. She then entered the number into SAP which opened up an old version of Java to display the image.

Finally as we were waiting, someone wheeled in a very expensive looking custom PC on a trolley. Well not just on a trolley, it was the trolley. It was running Windows XP.

Lesson 2
It’s not the users fault that they are using old software, if they even know anything about it. They have to do the best that they can with the tools that they have been given. That might even mean using their own devices to make life easier. Internet Explorer 6 on the PC, iPads and Samsung Galaxy S III’s – all in the same workplace. It might not even to be possible to upgrade the software – that PC on a trolley wasn’t cheap and it will be around for a while yet I’m sure.

The person sitting in front of the computer has little influence over what is on it – even if they wanted to.

This shows in our own browser statistics too:

90% of our users (that login) are using Internet Explorer and 5% are still using IE 6.

On average, Internet Explorer has a global share of only 32% and Internet Explorer 6 only 0.5% so our audience is somewhat specialised. This is as you would expect, our product is used by enterprise customers. We can’t and don’t ignore these users.

Source http://gs.statcounter.com/#browser_version_partially_combined-ww-monthly-201207-201207-bar.

What to do
So this is what we will do:

  • We will be doing our bit to see if we can persuade our clients to upgrade from IE 6 to something more modern.
  • We will make sure that IE 6 works as well as the newer browsers.

That’s not going to stop us producing a great user experience but as far as the desktop browser version of our application is concerned, HTML 5 will be a distant dream. On mobile devices it’s a different story of course.

We have to work with what you guys are using…and hopefully you won’t notice, you will just have a great day…

Apple disappoints with iOS 6

Apple have a problem, they have set themselves up with a reputation for flashy, big bang updates. That keeps the fans happy but it’s not leaving them with enough dev time to get the boring stuff right. iTunes on Windows has got to be one of the worst examples of mainstream software around today, and it’s Apple’s.

  • Retina display, sorry can’t see the point – literally.
  • Siri, no thank you, maybe one day, but it’s not important to me right now. It’s also heavily biased towards the US.
  • Facebook – I don’t think so.
  • Passbook – do you really think Easyjet and Ryanair are going to pick this up? That’s going to be a US centric service for some time.

The phone application updates are useful, but come on, my old HTC Diamond phone could pull off better tricks than this. Apple are too far ahead, the early first movers, and it’s leaving a nice gap for Samsung and Microsoft. Samsung with the Galaxy SIII, Microsoft with Smart Glass.

It looks like my iPad will have to put up with living with an Android phone in the near future.

Software umwelt, are you compatible with the software you use?

Umwelt is a German word and is described thus:

In 1909, the biologist Jakob von Uexküll introduced the concept of the umwelt. He wanted a word to express a simple (but often overlooked) observation: different animals in the same ecosystem pick up on different environmental signals. In the blind and deaf world of the tick, the important signals are temperature and the odor of butyric acid. For the black ghost knifefish, it’s electrical fields. For the echolocating bat, it’s air-compression waves. The small subset of the world that an animal is able to detect is its umwelt. The bigger reality, whatever that might mean, is called the umgebung.

The interesting part is that each organism presumably assumes its umwelt to be the entire objective reality “out there.” Why would any of us stop to think that there is more beyond what we can sense? In the movie The Truman Show, the eponymous Truman lives in a world completely constructed around him by an intrepid television producer. At one point an interviewer asks the producer, “Why do you think Truman has never come close to discovering the true nature of his world?” The producer replies, “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented.” We accept our umwelt and stop there.

 from The Umwelt @ edge.org

This is a useful concept to bear in mind when you are thinking about purchasing software – no, it is, really.

You will have a world view of your business and how you think it interacts with the world. Your accepted business processes will seem like the only sensible way to handle that view. Your colleagues will more than likely share your view and be accustomed to those governing processes. Your life experience will frame your observations and decisions.

On the other side of the fence are the software developers, and the designers that wrote the software you are looking to use. Let’s call them Enterprise Study, or ES for short, but it could be anyone building software they believe will help you manage your business in line with your processes.

ES have built up a suite of software tools to support and manage learning and development programmes and process. Some features are large and have their own marketing sweet spot, others are small but are no less significant when it comes to building a tool for a business.

It’s not the feature, it’s how you use it that matters

You see, when clients go fishing for a new piece of software for their business they send out a tick sheet with a list of features that they are looking for. However, what matters more is how those features enable process; how they are going to fit into the existing business and it’s umwelt. Will the umwelts be compatible? ES have one umwelt. Indeed every vendor will have their own unique umwelt. Every customer will have their own unique umwelt.

If the two are compatible then the relationship will be a mutually powerful one. If they are opposed then a business change process will be required for the software to work for the business.

That’s why we spend a lot of time at ES working with clients to match features to processes.  We understand the processes and the umwelt that our software needs to support. That’s why we have a lot of configurable switches to adjust the behaviour of the software.

So if you are looking for a piece of software to support your business and its processes, here is our advice:

  • Think carefully about your processes – especially the intricate details.

    It’s not the day-to-day things that cause difficulties, it is the misfits, the edge cases.

  • By all means start with a feature list, but finish with how you want to use them and what would be your sacred cows.
  • We will ask you about things that you will think are blindingly obvious, but our umwelt is different, we may not grasp all the intricacies of the work that you do.
  • Is your current way of working absolutely critical, or just a quirk of your current software?

It’s an exciting journey…you could discover a whole new umwelt.

Apple’s master stroke will be iOS 6, it’s the software stupid

The iPad 3, the ‘new iPad’, is a wonderful piece of kit, but somehow it manages to be a bit dull IMHO. In fact if you look at most tablets on the market today, even the non Apple ones, the hardware is pretty impressive. Nice bright high resolution screens, speedy CPUs, more than enough storage for most people’s needs, respectable battery life. However in the end they are just fine foundations for the really exciting part – the software.

The software gives the device its soul, its personality. It decides if you will love it, or if it will drive you mad. iOS has led the way for a while now and the Apple ecosystem has caused Microsoft to take a knee jerk direction with Metro and Windows 8, a decision that seems to be alienating Microsoft’s desktop users. Google is doing an admirable job with Android but it is Amazon that made it work by reworking the user experience in the Kindle fire.

Apple on the other hand has been quietly deploying vast amounts of hardware into people’s homes. iPhones, iPads and Apple TV’s are everywhere, the true Apple TV is rumoured to be imminent as well. At the moment iOS powers it all, and it mostly works, but there is one other attribute that will give Apple the opportunity to pull off it’s master stroke – it updates itself easily and efficiently.

That will be important for what I believe will be Apple’s next move – the iPhone 5 and a new version of iOS, version 6. You see, the updates that we’ve had lately in iOS have been fairly small. Surely with Apple’s resources they should be doing better – they have to do better to maintain their lead. With iOS 6 Apple can make all of their deployed (auto-upgrading) hardware really sing. Especially if Apple can sign some new content licenses with Hollywood.

There are few companies that can pull off the same trick, Samsung would be my favourite, followed by Sony and Panasonic, but frankly their software up until now has been disappointing to say the least. Lacking vision and direction. Sony in particular could convert all those obsolete Bluray players into SMART boxes. Maybe they will form a consortium together to beat Apple, or form some sort of open developer ecosystem/paradise

They’ve got 6 to 9 months to get it right I would say.

What’s this got to do with us? We believe in making great software that enhances rather than annoys, or restricts, you and it’s instructive to watch these great battles unfold. To watch companies rise and fall due in no small part to the talents of the software engineers and what their managers will let them do. We write software to Transform Learning and we are passionate about growing with our current – and future – customers!

Links

Crisis in Microsoft land: what next after the mixed reception for Windows 8 Consumer Preview?

They might be a bit dull, but iPad’s are still selling reasonably well🙂

The New iPad Makes Apple’s Tablet Domination Clearer Than Ever

Apple Quantifies Their iPad “Record Weekend”: 3 Million Sold In 3 Days

Intelligent Software, not electronic paper

The lull between Christmas and new year is often a time for reflection, especially when you hold a position of responsibility. I met up with a friend recently who runs a very similar business to ours, in the sense that they sell software that can radically alter the way a business operates.

In this case their software manages data from energy meters, sensors and controllers in buildings – the reporting and visibility delivers significant savings by better management and monitoring, and it enables new ways of working. Senior management get to know what’s going on and an opportunity to change things. The software adds a level of responsibility and intelligence to an existing company, just as we do at Enterprise Study for the training sphere. Take a look at http://www.kaldien.com/ if you are interested, I’ll wait.

This is the world of enterprise software and it’s getting more sophisticated every year.

It seems that both companies face similar challenges.

You see the problem is most people working outside the technology industry do not yet grasp the potential of using the right software for the job. I’ve spoken to several people recently and they all tell the same story, businesses and even the military, manage several key processes using nothing more than Microsoft Excel. We’ve seen the same thing in training companies as well. This is not that much different from using a paper based system, just because you are using IT doesn’t mean that it is efficient. You need to be using the right software to go with it.

Now Excel is a good general purpose tool, but if you are using Excel to manage your business then you are likely to be missing a trick.

Intelligent Training Administration

How can we sell our software when most businesses don’t think they need us? They don’t know what software is capable of, so Excel (or their in house Access database) seems like the optimal solution, or they are so busy manually moving numbers around to keep the spreadsheets in sync that they don’t have time to look up.

Let me try and explain what I mean by intelligent software with a contrived example.

You take a call and enter a confirmed training course booking into your system (it doesn’t have to be Excel either). Then what happens? You reach for a clean sheet of paper and your quill, you pick up some ink and you write a letter to confirm the place. You fold the paper and place it in an envelope, then you post it. Now wait, that’s silly. Technology has moved on, this is what really happens.

You reach for a clean sheet of paper and put it in your typewriter. You then type out a neat letter. You fold the paper and place it in an envelope, then you post it. Now wait, that’s silly too. Let’s try again.

You open up a letter template in Word and edit it. You print it out. You fold the paper and place it in an envelope, then you post it.

Getting better? Well you used a computer, but the computer can do so much more. This is where the intelligence comes in. Your training administration software that you entered the booking into, that should have all the information it needs to generate the letter for you. Print it and post it.

Let us go further, if the software has the users email address then it can send them an email automatically. It can attach pre-reading material appropriate for the course, it can attach a map to the training location because you gave it one.

Why would you want to do this manually? There are far more important things that you could be doing.

That’s just one step in the process. What about automating evaluation forms and reminders? What about seeking authorisation and sign off automatically?

There’s more too. Since the information is now in a database and not a spreadsheet you can report on it easier.

Software can and should do more than just replace paper.

Change management

This is all good stuff, but there are other side effects to implementing a real training administration system to automate business processes – you’ve got to have business processes, and you must be able to describe them.

For example if you have a cancellation charging policy, then sure you can automate it. But if you are always overruling it then do you really have a policy at all, or is the policy not to charge? These are important conversations that often don’t happen until you start implementing a system. You also start to think more clearly about what your ‘blue sky’ process is, which can be automated, and how you can minimise the manual interventions that cost you money. You get clarity too. Is everyone following the same policies?

There are downsides of course, a software system won’t be as flexible as a spreadsheet, but the benefits of automation and consistency will always outweigh that.

Change is rarely easy, but it is ultimately rewarding.