"When you learn a tool like Excel, for the most part you'll learn more than you ever need to know about it. I only have so much memory in my head, and I can't upgrade it."
-Pamela Leal, D irector of Information Knowledge and Management, Raytheon Company

One of IT's main jobs is to train users in the essentials of Microsoft Office and other applications. But does this type of training give users the right knowledge-the knowledge that enables them to do their particular jobs, not just perform generic tasks? For users at Raytheon Company, the answer to this question is "yes," according to Pamela Leal, Raytheon's director of information knowledge and management. But three years ago, Pamela and others in Raytheon's IT management recognized that users were far less productive with Office applications such as Microsoft Excel, Word, and PowerPoint than they could have been, mainly because they were spending too much time trying to figure out how to make the applications do what they wanted. With the backing of corporate management, Pamela and Intelliem, a consulting firm, developed a strategy to give users application-specific training relevant to their on-the-job tasks and provide ongoing user support through a network of end-user subject matter experts (SMEs). Senior editor Anne Grubb spoke with Pamela about how Raytheon implemented its successful user-education and support program, called In-Context Solutions (iCON).

Why did Raytheon decide to revamp the method it used to deliver application training to end users?

We wanted to change users' impression that IT does a "hit and run" with training users on applications-that is, IT gives users a tool and leaves it up to them to figure out how to use it-such as by taking classes or using the application's Help. Often Help is generic; it's far more effective to spend a couple minutes with an experienced user who can show you how to solve the problem rather than trying to figure out the solution yourself-and figure out what help you need in the context of your particular problem. We wanted to enable people to use the tools in ways that are specific to their jobs-that is, the way we use the tools at Raytheon, which might not necessarily be how the software vendor intended them to be used.

How did you decide what type of training and application support would be most effective for Raytheon users?

First, we determined that we needed outside help with user training, so we had Intelliem come and conduct day-long "boot camp" training sessions, primarily on Excel, PowerPoint, and Word, with employees who voluntarily attended. The purpose of the boot camp was to find users' pain points: where they were having problems with the tools and what tips and solutions we could easily provide to help them. These sessions helped us identify where we needed to put our time and money in developing solutions applicable to our users.

Next, on our intranet we created the iCON site, which contains information about all standard Raytheon applications-primarily Office applications and Lotus Notes. We decided that we needed a way to capture users' knowledge about the tools and share that knowledge with other users around the company. To do this, we created a forum where we posted tips and hints for people using the tools in the context of their work. We seeded the iCON site with tips-at first with content that we purchased from Intelliem, then later also with tips from our own user base. We made the tips searchable and added a Help tab at the top of the intranet page, which takes users to the iCON site.

We also added a place on the forum where users could ask questions and give an example of what they were trying to do. As we saw users post questions and answers on the forum, we thought of enlisting users as volunteer SMEs. Most SMEs heard about the program through word of mouth. When an employee posts a question about a particular tool on the iCON forum, it's automatically sent to the SMEs for that area, and the SMEs can choose to answer it or not. Anyone else who's online and sees the posted question can respond as well. When a SME responds, the response is automatically sent to the requester and posted on the forum. The average turnaround is one to two days, although some questions are answered within minutes.

How did IT respond to iCON?

IT was actually the hardest group to get through the change process. They had to shift their thinking from, say, "We need collaboration, so let's go get a collaboration tool" to really thinking through what they're trying to provide users and how employees will actually use the tool. IT also initially was concerned about how to validate the quality and accuracy of the information that the SMEs provided. I responded that, "Well, if they give bad information, people won't take their information anymore!" And actually, we've never had a user complain that an SME sent them down the wrong path. What typically happens is that someone provides a solution, then someone else elaborates on it or provides a better solution.

How do you gauge the success of iCON and the SME program?

One measure is the increase in the number of SMEs. From January 2005 to January 2006, we had a 377 percent increase in SMEs. We started with two or three SMEs, and now we have about 215-not only for Office but for other desktop tools, such as Notes, as well as some tools that are specific to particular businesses within Raytheon. We have an average of about 10,000 unique visits to iCON per month, from an online population of about 30,000 users.

When we upgraded users to a new version of Notes, we followed the iCON process-that is, first we told people about the upgrade's benefits and what would change for them in the new version. We assembled a group of volunteers to beta-test the upgrade and heard their pain points. We created the Notes upgrade Help content to tell people how they could keep working as usual during the upgrade and also how to get the most benefit from improvements in the application. When we rolled out the upgrade, we gave users a link to the iCON site where the Help content was. The Help desk found that the Notes upgrade seemed to go much more smoothly than previous upgrades; the day of the upgrade was almost like another day for them.

What final piece of advice would you give IT pros who might want to initiate a similar program within their companies?

The bottom line is that you need to get support for this type of program at the corporate CIO level. Both corporate and our business's CIO gave us the funding for iCON, which we needed to invest in the initial training and content. We couldn't just create the Help content from scratch; we had to buy existing content, which we later added to as the program grew.