Like TechNet UK on Facebook
By Steve Smith,
SharePoint MVP and owner of Combined Knowledge.
This article deals with the subject of ‘Aligning skills with real world business benefits’ and why continued investment in technology skillsets is even more important today than it ever was. We will be looking at the importance of practical training alongside real world skills and aligning it all with qualifications and how a company as well an individual or team would benefit in both the short and long term after being through this process.
After many years in the education space especially around Microsoft products there is no doubt that the products themselves have evolved into much more complex platforms. The knowledge and skills that we developed in the nineties and early 2000 certainly provided a solid foundation for the core skills needed in today’s world.
But what if you are fairly new to the world of managing Microsoft technologies what skills am I talking about and why are they still so important?
Let’s take SharePoint as the perfect example for this article, it is a product that can provide so much to the business but if done badly does nothing more than make a bad situation worse. But SharePoint is not a standalone product it requires many core skills that enables the product to function properly and to make the most of all the available feature sets. The product needs to authenticate and process data from other systems and therefore in order to really design / build / manage and troubleshooting SharePoint deployments a good systems engineer or SharePoint server Administrator would ideally need the following basic skills before even starting to deploy the product in a live environment:
Microsoft has started to try and address this cross skills requirement with some new qualifications such as the MCSE for SharePoint. This qualification is aimed at getting people to learn not just the core SharePoint skills but also the core Windows Server skills ticking some of the boxes in the list earlier. http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en-us/mcse-sharepoint-certification.aspx
These skills however are not achieved overnight and it may take you 6 months to a year to gain all the knowledge necessary to pass these exams in the real world and that's a very important aspect of skills benefiting the business. A qualification gained by pure academic methods does not help the business without real world experience to back it up. Very few companies will hire a person that has a qualification from a boot camp but no real world experience to back it up.
The right way to progress for many people is to concentrate on one area like Windows Server management or SharePoint Server and then develop your skills as you work more with the products. Take a good training course and learn to use those skills in the real world. You will notice that the MCSE certification is also a 3 year rotation which means if you want to progress to the next version of the products you will need to spend time learning and working with the new products when they become available. This skills upgrade is an obvious advantage to the business as it now helps you to have discussions with the team on the benefits to upgrading but also the technical requirements to do so.
Keeping your skills up to date is a very important part of an IT Professional, in an ever changing economy and technology those people that have maintained their skills are a much more valuable asset to the company. On the same token it is therefore important for the business to continue in the skills development of their IT team and understand that just because they sat on a SharePoint course in 2009 a lot of things have changed in the technology and a SharePoint Administrator from the 2007 product would not be able to correctly deploy and manage a SharePoint 2013 environment without skilling up.
The methods of skilling up are many but the most effective way of knowledge transfer for technical content in my opinion still remains face to face training be it public classes or custom workshops for your team. We have however noticed for more end User focused roles that our online environment is proving much more popular as companies shift learning to a more flexible method for those users to suit both company productivity and the ability to take the training from home or within an office training room but without needing to travel.
But we already have people in the company that manage these roles why should I need to learn it?
Is a statement I often hear in the classroom. The key point though is that everyone needs to skill up to the current technologies not just the SharePoint Administrator, the SQL DBA for example should learn about how SharePoint Databases are architected and they need to be managed and if the SharePoint Server Administrator understands how to work with SQL Server at least on a basic level then the two of these Administrators can talk about the design in a way that both understand. It is no use the SharePoint Administrator telling the SQL DBA that he needs the databases for SharePoint configuring differently to the other business databases but not being able to justify why. But if we don’t have these cross platform skills the real loser becomes the business. Over time an incorrect design not only becomes inefficient but also very costly financially such as in a Disaster recovery scenario or a huge performance drop effecting productivity.
Here is a good example of a DBA starter course to introduce SQL server http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en-us/course.aspx?ID=40364A&Locale=en-us
There are also lots of community events usually free that has lots of information and learning potential such as the SharePoint user group that I help run http://www.suguk.org/ and is aimed at all levels of working with the product.
Having the right skills ensures that the not only does the product get deployed correctly in the first place but also in the long term as more features get deployed and integrated that they will also be deployed with minimal issues. Developing a skills program and mapping out learning objectives and time frames is a very important part of this process.
When I take on new end user trainers for example my first task is to identify what they know, what they think they know and what they don’t know. Then develop a skills program that will enable them to reach the level required to train those particular products. This could involve attending certain classes, working on some real world projects along with more experienced people and getting involved with projects within the company. So even with people that already have a good background in technology it may still take those people 6 – 9 months of additional learning and skilling up before they even start to train classes.
Skills development is also about preparing for the future and a good example of this is cloud technology. In a recent study it was estimated that by 2015 at current skill adoption rates there will be up to 7 million jobs waiting for people with the right skills.
Source for data – The skills gap in cloud technology Microsoft - http://borntolearn.mslearn.net/microsoft_it_academy/b/weblog/archive/2013/04/18/preparing-your-students-for-tomorrow-39-s-it-careers.aspx#fbid=bPZzckgeAUs
But we will not install the product that is done by someone else..
Is another common scenario; a business will bring in contractors or a Microsoft partner to deploy the products for them. This does not mean that the business should not invest in skilling up its own engineers, how will they be able to troubleshoot anything if they do not understand how it all fits together? It’s like giving someone a car without any driving lessons. The financial cost of taking days to fix a problem instead of minutes could be tens of thousands of pounds but the obvious advantage of bringing in Microsoft partners is that they have already gone through the skilling up process and therefore you are able to get the solution you are looking for deployed earlier and whilst they are doing the main implementation you can be skilling up your own staff to take over the daily running when it is handed to you.
Here is a quote from Charlie Lee (SharePoint Technical Architect) from Cap Gemini who explains how Engineers with the right skills can easily turn a potential issue in deployment into a straight forward work around which ultimately means the business benefits in deployment time and that is setup correctly in the first place.
“Whilst implementing a large SharePoint 2010 farm for a public sector organisation in the UK it became clear rather late in the day that there was a previously unidentified requirement for User Profiles and more importantly for User Profile Synchronisation. Luckily I had attended a training course on Advanced SharePoint 2010 Infrastructure from Combined Knowledge which had covered the intricacies and quirks of this particular area. During implementation we came across several issues which I had been prepared for due to the detail covered in the training. What could have taken days to resolve without appropriate skills took merely a few minutes to identify and resolve the issues.
The consultancy companies and Microsoft partners therefore also have the investment to make in skills development to benefit their business as well as their customers, they need to ensure that they are not only advising the clients correctly but they must also be learning the products a lot earlier to ensure that they are able to deploy products for early adopters or business that want to deploy an early trial. Here is a quote from Matt Groves Head of Information Worker Solutions at Trinity Expert Systems Ltd a Microsoft Gold Partner.
"As the head of practice in the professional services department of a premier Microsoft partner it is essential that we maintain the highest levels of capabilities with the latest technologies, and training from a provider like Combined Knowledge forms a key part of our skills and talent management strategy. Training and certification allows our technologists to worry less about the technology and focus more on delivering the customers’ business outcomes.
The launch of SharePoint 2013 generated a lot of interest in our client base and having the majority of the team trained during the beta timeframe put us in a position to be able to deliver implementations for clients according to their schedule, not one constrained by the skills of their implementation partner, facilitating a shorter ROI timeframe for all concerned and a higher quality of end product."
Investing in skills development is more relevant today than it ever was especially with the products today being more complex and integrated than they were 10 years ago. The winners of skills development will always be the business through efficiency and productivity.
For more information on available Microsoft skills and qualifications go to the learning websitehere: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en-us/default.aspx or feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Smith (MVP-SharePoint Server for 7th consecutive year) is the owner of Combined Knowledge, a UK company that provides Microsoft SharePoint support, Education training and developing SharePoint adoption and usability tools.
Steve is well travelled spending much of the last 30 years travelling in Europe the US and South Asia for the companies he owned and worked with including achieving his first qualification with Microsoft technologies on Windows NT 4, IIS 3,Exchange and SQL 6.5.
Although tinkering with computers since early teenage years Steve has specialized with Microsoft's Infrastructure systems since 1996 and been involved in many Microsoft Beta programs including Windows 2000, Exchange 2000 and SharePoint 2001/2003/2007/2010 and 2013. The last 13 years however has seen a majority of his time with SharePoint and running the Combined Knowledge SharePoint IT Pro and Infrastructure courses in the UK, Europe and Asia Pacific. Steve is a Co-Founder of the UK SharePoint User Group www.suguk.org, Steve lives in South Leicestershire, England with his wife and 3 children.
Steve can be contacted at email@example.com or Twitter: @stevesmithck.