recently partnered with two private companies to provide PC training for county staff.
"A couple of years ago, inhouse training would have been the norm," said Judy Walsh, director of information services for the county. But the department's role has changed in recent years, from providing every possible information service to managing the county's investment in information technology. "We figured out pretty quickly that inhouse training was not cost effective," commented Walsh.
Like California and Texas, Monroe County's Department of Information Services takes care of the bidding and negotiates favorable rates for the training, but does not mandate that county employees use the vendors. "We don't guarantee the vendors anything," she said.
Besides cost, Walsh believes outsourced training has a big advantage over inhouse training. "The minute you put county employees in a class with people from other business sectors, they learn things they would never learn from attending classes with their own kind," she said.
Before PCs became the rage in Monroe County and elsewhere, MIS staff spent their time writing programs for mainframe computers and administering to the needs of the highly-centralized systems. Today, their role is under transformation. "The shift is to business process reengineering, vendor management and project management," said Walsh. "There's a whole different set of skills that IS staff need than what was traditionally attributed to information services."
The public and private sector is in the midst of building a host of new applications in an environment of downsizing, reengineering and distributed client/server computing. According to a recent study by the Standish Group, the work is not going too well. More than 30 percent of all application development projects in the United States will get canceled before they ever get completed, while another 53 percent will overrun their initial cost estimates by 189 percent.
Inadequate training for project management is considered one of the key reasons why so many large-scale computer systems end up in trouble. According to the Center for Project Management, application development projects involving reengineering are often driven by unrealistic deadlines, unclear goals, and run by a handful of energetic employees formed into ad hoc reengineering teams. These teams typically want to produce concrete results as soon as possible. With this approach success is sporadic, and failure is common.
What's missing, according to Raj Kapur, is a comprehensive understanding of the project's process. "If you don't know how to tell time, a watch is no good," he explained. The center trains managers to define and implement a regimented process that includes stages for chartering the project, detailing plans and estimates, executing the working plans according to schedule and implementing the project.
In government, project management usually falls on the shoulders of someone in MIS whose skills are often more technical than managerial. According to Walsh, project management training is often hard to come by. "Most learn by watching someone else do it," she said. Walsh's department usually hires an outside consultant for certain projects and matches them up with a staff person, hoping the situation leads to a skills transfer. "We call this painting the boat while under sail," she remarked.
A look at what other governments offer for project management training makes it easy to understand Walsh's problem. While SEEP in California offers several management courses, its catalog lists only one specific class for project management. At the same time, SEEP offers nine classes for WordPerfect and seven for LOTUS 1-2-3.
CAREERS FOR THE INFO HIGHWAY
MIS departments face other training problems brought on by a civil service structure that is slow to