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When Was Your Last Technology “Refresher” August 30, 2011

Posted by Marko Sillanpää in Consulting, Content Management, Technology.
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An assumption that one can make from our blog title is that I’m a big guy.  And one big assumption I made is that I learned everything we need to about exercise when I got out of high school.  No I’m not talking about how the latest elliptical machine works but the most basics of human exercise, running.  As I would try out a new diet program, I would get to a point where I needed to add exercise into the mix.  That would then lead me to walking and then ultimately running.  And after a few times of trying to run I’d usually hit “the wall” at 5 minutes.  Ultimately I’d give up.  Where’s that “Runner’s High”?  But this time around I did something weird, I re-learned how to run.

I found a “new program” for running, called Couch to 5k.  And now after my third weekly run of week six, I ran for 25 minutes straight.  Only three weeks before I thought I was going to die trying to run for 3 minutes.  Now I’m running longer than I ran in high school.

Technology evolves much faster than the human body.  Too often many of us get into a rut thinking we know everything about our chosen technology.  But maybe we need to remember the words of Socrates.

But We’ve Been Doing It This Way For Years

Over the last several months I’ve talked to a lot of people who think they know their solutions.  Then once I started digging into their problems I discover there was something small at the beginning that was causing all the headaches.   Honestly, I’ve seen this for years.  Technology moves forward and we need to keep up with it.  We think we are keeping up with it and maybe even some of us are afraid to admit we are not.  But the thing is, it’s not easy keeping up.  If web applications were human, it would be celebrating the fact it just became a teenager.

Look at how much things change in just a short time.  The iPad is only 17 months old and organizations are trying to figure out how to fit it into business process.  In most organizations, how business is conducted with its customers today is not how it was done five years ago.  In some cases not even a year ago.  Yet many technology deployments have not changes since their launch.

Getting the Fundamentals

First off, for those that think education ends in school, well you’re wrong.  Whenever you are looking at deploying a new technology, you should start with some sort of formal training program.  It is your foundation, the fundamentals.  Anyone that has ever taken up golf knows how starting out with a bad swing really set you back as you try to improve.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked to look at a problem and it can be drawn back to lack of fundamental training.  Just because you can pilot a plane does not mean you can pilot a helicopter.

I understand that one cannot always find time to go to training but manuals are not enough.  Not that I’m saying it’s wrong, but it’s really hard to learn from a book.  It can be done but it’s not easy.  Get one fundamental wrong and your whole foundation can crumble.  Some software vendors have realized this and makes it part of their offering.  If you are allowed to purchase Epic, the healthcare software, your organization will be required to send a few people to a week of training, administrators and end users.

Keeping Up

That foundation of training is not enough.  I like to say that systems architects often miss the fourth dimension, time.  We are so focused on making sure our solution meets day one requirements, we miss the fact that solutions will evolve.  The butterfly effect happens in technology too.  Look at how fast the iPad is effect business processes.  In order to make sure that our solutions we need to keep our knowledge current.  Knowledge goes stale and has an expiration date.  Fortunately there are several ways to keep knowledge fresh.

Webinars are probably the easiest way to keep current.  Vendors and the industry are always making presentations on the latest product releases or industry trends.  Often these are one way presentations rather than discussions, but they do offer insight into the latest technology and in many cases include customer case studies.  The best thing about webinars is that they require no travel commitment.

Probably the best way to keep current is through user conferences or user group meetings.  These meetings not only offer presentations on what’s fresh and current in a product or the industry but they also offer the ability to talk with others and learn or share information.  I have attended user group meeting that even held brainstorming sessions to have teams to focus on a specific attendees problems.  I think the real benefit of these in-person meetings is the networking.  Even if the users in your area are not in the same industry, how the technology works is usually similar though why they were implemented are different.

If none of these work, ask you vendor for an update.  What a better way to get a view on the products you’re using today than through the vendor themselves.  Just remember that this will probably be a little sales-sy.

But I Don’t Have Time

Many professions require regular continuing education.  Isn’t it funny that in high-tech, we often don’t.  We really need to find time to keep our knowledge current.  Maybe you can’t attend a national conference; most conferences now post at least their keynotes online.  Maybe your vendor’s user group meeting is not nearby; there is probably a local ARMA or AIIM chapter meeting.  Maybe you can’t make is scheduled webinar; it is probably recorded.  Isn’t it funny why there are so many reasons why not and only one reason why.

I hate to say it.  But maybe if you don’t find the time to keep your knowledge fresh, you may find yourself being given plenty of time for a refresher.

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