Trainers sometimes like to think they, and their departments, are perfect. But truth be told, all organizations need a learning and development booster shot every now and then.
Such was the case at Niagara Regional Police Service (NRPS). In order to better promote collaboration between employees, NRPS recently underwent an upgrade of its IT infrastructure. The new technology environment includes Windows-based solutions such as Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, System Center Configuration Manager 2007, and Microsoft Active Directory.
To get staff trained quickly and effectively, NRPS worked with Toronto-based CMS Consulting, a Microsoft Certified Gold Partner, to develop customized "hands on" training sessions around the collaboration technology. NRPS reports it was given the knowledge and skills to manage the migration and administer the technology, and says the custom on-site training provided by CMS helped reduce the total length of its training program by approximately 45 percent.
Located in Southern Ontario, NRPS delivers police assistance and public services to citizens and visitors of the Niagara Region, which includes 12 municipalities, a population of more than 435,000, and more than 15 million visitors annually. With a staff of 1,050, NRPS relies on information sharing, e-mail, and collaborative tools to effectively carry out its mandate to serve and protect the community.
The problem was the organization's previous technology environment lacked the flexibility and scale to meet NRPS's growing needs. The previous environment included siloed applications and limited IT integration. NRPS's IT staff of 10 found it cumbersome to manage IT applications within its Novell-based legacy e-mail environment, while employees, including administrators and police officers, needed enhanced communication and collaborative tools to help them be more productive and efficient. The staff, for example, needed faster and more effective scheduling and messaging tools, as well as easier access to e-mail, calendar items, and voice mail.
The organization decided migrating to a Microsoft-based infrastructure would help lower costs, centralize management, and improve efficiency, says Akram Askoul, director of information and communications technology for NRPS. "Many of our younger workers are already familiar with Windows-based messaging and collaboration tools, and in order to improve operations, efficiency, and moral, we needed to move to a more collaborative and integrated IT environment," Askoul explains. "This would not only improve our operations, [but] it was also essential to our staff retention, maintaining a competitive edge, and allowing us to continue our constant pursuit of excellence in every circumstance."
NRPS currently is using Windows-based messaging solutions including Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and Microsoft Active Directory. But to ensure a seamless transition from a legacy e-mail system to a Windows-based solution, the organization needed to quickly and effectively prepare and train end-users to benefit from the new environment. NRPS thought CMS Consulting was just the vendor to provide support as it consists of senior consultants with a specialty in customized training and knowledge transfer for organizations looking to leverage Microsoft-based IT environments.
The Novell to Microsoft migration project launched with a pilot in October 2008, and was completed in three months. Alex Chan, vice president, CMS Consulting, says the firm worked closely with the IT team at NRPS to provide on-premise training that educated employees on operating within the new technology environment. When customized training is requested by a client, CMS Consulting typically uses the same consultants and field instructors who were engaged in the original IT implementation project to deliver the training, thereby offering a more enriched and effective training environment.
CMS Consulting delivered a customized "boot camp" to train NRPS staff on the new IT solution. This work was a good fit for CMS, which considers itself "front-line experts with real-world knowledge of how organizations can best leverage Microsoft-based technology to realize a sizable return on investment." Chan says its training techniques proved compatible with NRPS. "Our training approach involves arming technology administrators with the skill set they need to take advantage of new IT tools," he points out.
By leveraging customized on-premise IT training from CMS Consulting, NRPS says it realized a range of business benefits. Implementing the CMS custom training model helped bring staff up to speed quickly, allowing for streamlined training costs by eliminating travel and reducing down time. Given that NRPS is an emergency response services organization, it was important that the classroom training time was brief and focused to allow staff to return to work quickly and carry out normal duties. CMS was able to tailor the Microsoft Server training course, typically a one-week course, to four sessions that specifically focused on the areas relevant to their job.
"The CMS training was beneficial in that it allowed our staff to make full use of the new system as soon as it was installed," says Askoul. "Having better-trained employees really helped us speed knowledge sharing and retention, and obtain the most from the technology investment." Chan says CMS makes a point of creating training that suits the needs of each client. "Typically, our on-premise training courses are completely modular and interchangeable based on the client needs and requirements," he says. "This flexibility helps organizations become more confident in their use of the new technology, leading to enhanced productivity."
Not that the project was without its difficulties. "The migration project was challenging because we initially had very limited knowledge using tools such as Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory," says Askoul. "We worked closely with CMS throughout the entire project, and from a culture and personality perspective, that is really critical to success. Our IT staff is extremely satisfied with the partnership that CMS demonstrated throughout the lifecycle of the migration project."
NRPS also was impressed with the level of technical expertise and instruction provided by CMS. NRPS says the consultants were involved during the IT migration, from initial deployment to rollout. The Migration project concluded at the end of May, and NRPS currently is conducting a user satisfaction survey to discover what the user community thought of the migration and new technology, and what they would like to see in the future. "These types of user satisfaction surveys are integral to our planning and development processes," says Askoul. "Each year we make improvements to our services as a direct result of the input we receive in this way."
He says the training provided by CMS was palatable. "Our employees really enjoyed the training, especially the level of knowledge transfer and the fact that CMS consultants are exceptionally experienced in their field," he says. "This helped to enable a smooth transition to a Microsoft-based environment without disrupting normal operations."