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Training

Training your users is an ongoing process, but initial training should take place before the hosted application is used for actual business. To get good training, you may stipulate that course materials and presentations cover any functionality, tasks, and policies uniquely created by the customized hosted application. This means that standard materials from the software vendor of the application should be revised accordingly.

Generally, too, the best training offers content in several modes—written, presented, and in interactive workshops—so that users who learn better in certain modes are exposed to the content in their preferred mode. Interactive workshops also expose users to actual common screen sequences that occur during routine work scenarios. For instance, sales reps who will have to create orders using a sales automation package usually benefit by doing so in a demonstration rather than having to transfer knowledge they learned from screen shots in a workbook. This said, multimode training is nice to have; not a "must have."

Train-the-trainer strategies are also a cost-effective way of shortening the ASP's period of involvement with your users and ensuring that ongoing training occurs after the initial sessions. Using this approach, ASP personnel train one or two users who then train the rest of your users. It's a good idea to choose initial trainee/trainers who are proven managers or who excel in the area of expertise that the hosted application addresses. Often their feedback helps the ASP make the application more user friendly and to more accurately handle the company's work processes. Also, their proven competence makes them the best candidates for reinforcing "the right way" of using the application to your other users in the future.

Often, to expedite an installed application's launch, training occurs while the application is still being tweaked during the final stages of customization. This may be necessary to cut costs and stay on schedule, but it can be very frustrating for users who may encounter different functionality in the finished application than in the version on which they were trained. With hosted applications—especially in the case of accelerated deployment—this may be necessary. But the consequences for your users will probably also be more harmful. A bulletproof application is the best training ground, and ASPs should always strive to approach that ideal.

Although during customization your "techies" develop a relationship with the ASP (this is where an ASP first proves its "tech" competence), during training your users develop a similar relationship (this is where the ASP proves it has a nice personal "touch"). Although the ASP model stresses a high-tech/low-touch approach, if an ASP takes a "no-touch" approach, it can backfire. For instance, the ASP might ignore your users' input during training, so even if the live hosted application works fine later, the users' resentment from training may undermine their acceptance of the application. This hurts their productivity and your bottom line. The importance of this cultural factor to the long-term success of your relationship with the ASP cannot be overstated.

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