Training the Modern Workforce Live is a weekly show discussing training and talent development solutions and best practices. Hosted by Allogy CEO Colin Forward, each episode features an informative conversation with a prominent guest in the training world.
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About Liz Benson, Senior Director of Strategy at Kofax
Liz Benson is the Senior Director of Strategy for Kofax, driving corporate-level strategy formulation and leading alliances to partner with complementary ecosystem technology companies to create scalable and transformative solutions for customers. She previously led the Conversational Artificial Intelligence practice for Deloitte across the federal, state, and local government and higher education markets, which encompassed delivery and sales. Ms. Benson spent many years solving clients’ complex business issues using automation technology, such as robotics process automation (RPA), intelligent chatbot, analytics and machine learning, and systems integration. Additionally, she serves on the Executive Board of the Ascend Greater Washington Chapter to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. She is a graduate of West Virginia University.
Adam Wagner: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Allogy’s podcast, Training the Modern Workforce Live, the weekly show discussing training and talent development solutions and best practices. Each episode, we’ll talk about a different training topic, and make sure to keep an eye out for special guests and interviews from top training professionals.
With me, as always, I have Colin Forward, CEO of Allogy. For the last decade, Colin has provided major U.S. hospitals and federal agencies with distance learning solutions. He studied mobile technology under Dr. David Metcalf while earning a degree in computer science and his MBA.
And joining Colin this week is Liz Benson, the senior director of strategy for Kofax. A graduate of West Virginia University, Liz drives corporate-level strategy formulation and leads alliances to partner with complementary ecosystem technology companies to create scalable and transformative solutions for customers. She previously led the Conversational Artificial Intelligence practice for Deloitte across the federal, state, and local government and higher education markets, which encompassed delivery and sales. Ms. Benson spent many years solving clients’ complex business issues using automation technology, such as robotics process automation, intelligent chatbot, analytics and machine learning, and systems integration.
This week, we’re going to be talking about automation in training. We’ve got some great questions on deck already, but feel free to ask any that may come up in the chat, and we’ll get to as many as we can. Alright, Colin, over to you.
Colin Forward: Thanks, Adam. And thanks, Liz, for joining us. We’ve talked about a lot of different aspects of modernizing training on this show. We’ve talked about content. We’ve talked about training the trainer. And now, we’re going to talk a little bit more about the technological side of things and how big organizations can leverage things like automation to practice smart technology adoption for training. So, we really appreciate you joining us today. Why don’t we just jump right in and start with:
What Are Some of the Use Cases Where Governments Are Struggling to Distribute Information Effectively?
Liz Benson: Great. Thanks, Colin and Adam. So happy to be here today. So as we talk through the ways that technology is really meeting citizen’s needs and distributing that information, I think it’s more important to take a step back and understand what those driving forces are so that we can understand if we’re meeting those needs. And those driving forces are, first, we experienced a tremendous shift in the expectations of the experiences that we receive as customers in our everyday lives.
And with that digital wave over the last decade—and you think about the rise of Amazon and Google and Facebook and all those other disruptive technologies—we now expect information as customers and consumers of information on-demand, 24/7, and want to be in control of when and where we have those interactions.
We also really want to find that information easily, and importantly, we want to enjoy the experience when we’re using technology. I want it to be personalized. I want it to be accurate. I want my Amazon experience to tell me what I want to buy. And you see that this inflection point happened in the commercial space a little bit more quickly than in the government sector.
But you saw it take hold in various government ways. The U.S. Digital Services organization under the White House and 18F were established back in 2014, and they were to modernize and improve the citizen experience. You fast-forward four years, and you see the OMB mandate to incorporate the customer experience across all executive branches, and this required customer experience to be considered and strategic decisions across the board, as well as culture, training, getting your workforce repaired, and then the design of services to implement those to citizens.
And then, you come to 2020, and we have this COVID world, and it’s pushed more people online—and even demographics that historically may not have been your typical digital consumer. And with those hardships, we’ve also come into 2020, and we’ve seen that state and local governments are clamoring to provide information and respond to citizen requests that are genuinely critical to keeping roofs over people’s head and food on the table. And those organizations themselves had to shift and adjust their own policies and operations.
And that means that they then have to educate their own workforce quickly and efficiently, and oh, by the way, they now have to do it remotely because of that distributed workforce. So, I think that we can’t depend on being in person anymore. Even after COVID, I don’t think we’re going to go back to that.
So all of these factors now—with the digital revolution as well as 2020 being what it is—have combined to really make being digital, being agile and flexible, ever more important, and being able to spread that information in formats that people want. So back to the use cases, I would say that, generally speaking, all government agencies are on some spectrum of a digital journey.
It’s more of a matter of where they’re at in that journey and their strategy to optimize the greater technology adoption and create a framework to make it sustainable and successful. So, you think about those current approaches to citizen services, a lot of them still include the paper-based or manual processes.
And we see a wide array of issues when this happens, and it’s bottlenecks, it’s processing times, it’s the lack of transparency to citizens. And then, on the other side, internally, you have frustrated employees because they’re tasked with low-level work or maybe they don’t know the most current policies or operational changes as they’re happening in real-time.
So with these use cases and people still lagging behind in complex processes, even simple requests like updating a citizen’s address—that could take four to six weeks. And that’s a really long time, with a lot of manual tasks on the organization side, on the customer side, and it’s just really unnecessary.
So when you start to look at technology, you see that you can reduce those transaction times. You can reduce the manual processes that you were depending on for your staff to complete. And you can imagine that in today’s world, that four-to-six week lag time to update an address can really be parsed down to five minutes—five minutes with a chatbot on a mobile phone, five minutes using your web browser, and not having to touch or talk to a human because of the way that information is being sent and distributed.
And then, you think about the even more proactive nature of that—you as a user internal to your organization or to an external citizen can be requesting something from a government organization or from your employer or whomever, but you can receive that proactively. You can receive mobile update pushes; you can receive SMS texts.
There are a lot of different technologies that can meet that end-to-end, technology-based approach that really improves the operations. It’s cost savings. It’s a better experience. And digital technologies are really transforming that across the board.
Colin Forward: So I like how you’re framing this around the mandate to adopt better customer service practices. I mean, I think that is a great example of how technology, and specifically training technology, can really play a difference all the way through the lifecycle of the service that any agency provides. And we’ve all probably experienced what you’re talking about with government being a little bit behind industry to adopt some of those best practices.
And we can’t ignore the fact that I think COVID is kind of the great equalizer now. It’s interesting seeing that these same trends are kind of at the same point in the timeline for government and industry in a lot of ways, as far as people adopting that technology that helps people do their job well remotely.
So one of the things that you reminded me of when you’re talking about some of those use cases is we work a lot of times with folks in healthcare who constantly need to be up to date on the latest protocol, on the latest version of a device or a piece of software, and their vendors are having a really hard time getting face-to-face to do in-service now. And they’re having to use more distance learning technology. So, that brings up the question:
How Does Technology Fit Into the Government’s Communication Strategies?
Liz Benson: Yeah, I love that question because I think that we’re at a point now where technology really allows the government organizations to take a really information-centric approach. And that’s very important when you’re thinking about standard information that’s being communicated across the board internally and externally. And much of that data is already available, so it can be included in apps and experiences now.
You know, I say that, but many organizations are still in the process of unlocking some of this data. Whether it be structured or unstructured data, the data can still be locked away in paper documents of yesteryear legacy systems. But through using technologies like AI and machine learning and intelligent document capture and automation, you can really make all of that data searchable, findable—you can build capabilities to grow it over time. And that includes tying it back to core systems and improved workflows. That really could be a learning system. It can be a mobile application. It could be a lot of different things. And now, you have this valuable data, and you can really be, again, information-centric.
You can provide real-time information, so that should be key in your communication. You can provide customized context to consumers, internal and external, for your organization. You can be more proactive like we just talked about, and the exchange of information can be bi-directional.
So now, if you think about it, it’s not like training 20 years ago where you spoke to someone in a classroom or you handed them a manual. You can be exchanging that data and that information and getting real-time answers and feedback via technology. And that’s the same if you’re automating an action or a request. That is bi-directional communication, which I think really changes the game.
Colin Forward: I’m going to drill down on this data topic a little bit because there’s definitely just a ton of value waiting to get unlocked in government data, especially federal data. I mean, the agencies have come a long way on this, and things like api.gov really make it clear that there’s a lot to work with.
In training, this conversation is kind of nascent, I’d say, where a lot of the AI or machine learning applications that we see target training data. So that might be an outcome on an assessment or a percentage of compliance, but there’s a lot more than that out there. Right? And you’re talking about tying together some disparate systems. So:
How Can AI Be Used to Drive Training Outcomes or Measure Your Return on Investment in Training Technology?
Liz Benson: Yeah, I mean, I think you hit on the most direct way to use AI and that’s to bubble up training content. But then, the whole other piece that you’re alluding to is using data from operations, interactions, experiences, and processes to determine what training and content that you need to put out to the workforce, how quickly that they’re adapting to it, and also taking a look at what the standard way of doing something is or where people keep getting hung up.
So when I think about it from our point of view, we automate a lot of processes. And to do that, we use process discovery and process mining, which means we use technology to watch how people are doing something via technology over and over again, and it’s the same repeatable process. And when it’s recording that, it’s also recording the outliers. So if people stray from the normal, standard way they do something, and then you take that data, you get it in analytics, and you bubble it up, and then you say, “Well, why is that person doing that? Or why did these five people do it this way?” And then, that leads you to ask, “Are there operational issues? Maybe we’re not doing it right. Or is this something that needs some remediation, and can we address this via training?” And that’s the internal use case.
And I think externally, you can use that as well. If you’re expecting people to do something on a website or interact a certain way with your agency, you’re able to then look at all the different data that’s coming in and do it in a very automated fashion. Use analytics, AI, machine learning. Figure out what the process should be, needs to be, and who’s not doing it to push out, again, customized, very specific content and training to those users.
Colin Forward: So I think what you’re talking about really highlights the need and the value of just-in-time training. We try and encourage people all the time to train like they’re doing their job and to make sure the training resources are available on-demand and not necessarily just in formal learning pathways. So do you see some opportunities to maybe drive some of those training interventions, especially in a mobile format where something is following someone into the field to do their job? Do you think that there are opportunities to tie some of these operational metrics back to those interventions?
What Are Some Opportunities to Tie Operational Metrics to Training Interventions?
Liz Benson: Yes. So, let me move from the operational metrics into the actual data that you can use within your systems, and tie that back to how you can use that on-demand in the field from a training perspective.
So let’s say that you have people in the field processing claims right now because it’s hurricane season, and you could have a veteran out there who’s processed claims for 20 years, and he knows exactly what to do, but there has been a policy change, and maybe he doesn’t know how to do that. Well, he’s on his mobile device, he’s on his iPad, and the real-time information of what’s been updated is there at his fingertips. He’s not just depending on what he knows in his head or that muscle memory, but it’s— it’s active and it’s there.
And then, you tie in the real-time data with that that you’re getting from your different systems or through pulling it out of documents, and you’re not only giving him the process that he needs to follow with the training that’s kind of wrapped around it so he knows exactly the appropriate steps to take, but you’re providing him with actual, actionable information to work with, to interact with, to complete his job in the field. And I think that’s really powerful, especially when you think about the different experiences that your workforce can provide.
It’s going to depend a lot, but if you provide that standard data, that standard information, and deliver it to them on-demand in their hand, you’re not going to get so much variance from what the policy and operations should be.
Colin Forward: So that makes good sense. It leads me to wonder: you could maybe look at just job performance, the different ways that someone demonstrates competency on the job. But:
What Are Some of the Ways that You Can Measure the Return on These Investments in Technology and Data for Training?
Liz Benson: Yeah, so I think that whether it’s a training application, a training platform, or really any technology, there’s kind of a framework that you can think of. And what I’ve seen sometimes with certain clients or customers is they may be a little myopic and short focused, and they may just focus on one area, like the financial yield of, “Are they making this investment in this technology, and are they receiving the financial payback? The cost savings; the cost savings over five years—are they getting that payback?” But because they’re only taking that one small look at a quantitative factor, it doesn’t really paint the broader picture for the organization to measure the ROI.
So if you combine the financial impacts with the operational value, are people able to do things more effectively? Are they able to do their jobs better because they’ve been trained? Are they able to improve, or can you improve your training because you have this information and you’re using this technology?
Third, if you look at the workforce impact, like the number of employees using it or the number of employees who’ve been reallocated to kind of higher-value tasks because they’re using technology to do those menial, very labor-intensive tasks. And then, you also have the experience standpoint.
And lastly—and this is a qualitative one, and it’s very important, I think—it’s the strategic alignment to the organization’s larger digital transformation strategy. So is this technology, or learning technology, really tied back into that broader agency or organization mission to transform and serve people better without having to call out digital transformation?
So when you take into account all of these different factors and the total cost of ownership, even if it is residing across many different groups, you have a really balanced approach to try to measure and articulate your ROI.
Colin Forward: That seems like there’s a wide range of ways that people could go about that, and you know levels of effectiveness with being able to adopt these technologies, measure outcomes.
Do You See that Some Agencies or Some Governments Are Better than Others, and What Sets Them Apart?
Liz Benson: Yeah, I think it’s useful to understand what differentiates those organizations who are truly winning with technology and digital solutions and those who are only seeing small pockets of success. So some patterns, I think, are very clear when an organization is taking a winning approach, and that provides a valuable lesson for the other organizations that are less mature.
One of those common threads that successful organizations seem to be taking is really an integrated approach. So they’re taking into account the combination of people, processes, and technologies. So, they’re looking at the balance between the technology itself as well as the talent who’s using it, who’s implementing it, the change management that’s wrapped around that change to use the technology, and then the leadership to drive the technology adoption. And organizations successfully take various steps to ensure that they’re bringing technology successfully into their organization.
But it’s really a good marriage between the people and the technology, and I think that if you think about re-engineering your processes after you implement a technology, and you don’t include the stakeholders, you don’t think about the citizen user, the customers, then you’ve missed. You really need to take that perspective and involve the right people and the right talent, even from a training standpoint, very early on in the conversations, and something should not just be led by IT. This needs to be led from the business, from those organizations that are delivering the learning, delivering the training because they have the policies of the stakeholders and what the needs are.
Colin Forward: So, maybe we can get a little bit more specific where someone who is maybe in that position on the government side, looking to adopt this new technology, and they want to be able to communicate that success up. So, going into an acquisition thinking about making an investment in something like this:
How Do You Successfully Advocate for New Technology Within Your Organization?
Liz Benson: Yeah, so buy-in is very important. And I mean buy-in from not only leadership but those around you who are going to be using the technology. So if you’re implementing a learning management system or a training solution or automation, you need to be getting the buy-in from those people who are going to be using it and be your champions because it’s positively affecting and driving their everyday lives.
So when you think about getting that early buy-in, you need to be able to move very quickly and agilely to get something into their hands so they can start to use it and experience it. And that’s something that we’ve seen across the board. You get a proof of concept pushed out in 12 weeks, and it doesn’t have to boil the ocean, but it can have those key things that someone needs to do their job. And if you have those key factors, and you clearly communicate, “This is a proof of concept. We want you to test it, try it, try to break it, tell us what you think,” that really helps get the buy-in, get the feedback, and then they can be your champions to push it along. And then, you can make incremental changes and incremental continued scalability to really see success.
Colin Forward: Okay. So I’m going to get a little bit more specific because I’ve personally seen some examples of this going well and going poorly in private and in public organizations recently. Sometimes, you have the conversation where someone says, “Well, you know, we already have a website with all of our training, so why would we need a more advanced system? Why would we need an LMS? Why would we need an app? Why would we need any of these things that, you know, get that content to the point of need, that help you drive insights into what’s working and what’s not?”
So, I want to ask about the skill gap in these organizations and what kind of educating that someone who is interested in adopting this technology for themselves needs to do to get that buy-in. So, I guess my more specific question is:
What Types of Skills Gaps or Knowledge Gaps Might Someone Who’s Looking to Adopt this Kind of Technology Need to Overcome Within Their Own Agency?
Liz Benson: Yeah, so I think the short term answer—and it’s not really, I think, a skill gap—as you’re thinking about getting buy-in for your technology implementation—especially to maybe the distractors who were saying, “Oh, we have a website. Why would we need this great on-demand mobile application who proliferates data the same way,” which would blow my mind—you really need to just have a cross-collaborative mindset. So if you build something and design it in a silo, and you only get buy-in from your direct boss or the three people sitting next to you, you could have the best idea on the planet, but it’s going to get shot down because you will have that distractor.
So I would say you really need to get people involved from the get-go. You need to get buy-in early on. And I’ll quote Jeff Bezos because I recently read an article where when he brings people to a meeting, he says that you don’t have to agree with him, but you have to disagree and commit, meaning you have to acknowledge what may work, what may not work, but everyone needs to be committed to making it work.
And I think that some technology implementations can be daunting. Some can be really easy, but you do need to have that level of commitment across organizations. So that could be your own division or office, and it could be directly in learning, but you also need to have IT at the table because they’re going to be the ones who are standing up your offer and standing up your services, the infrastructure, whatever it be.
You may need to have acquisitions involved because they’re going to be the ones rubber-stamping the procurement and helping you get the funds. You need to have the people who are going to be using it involved to get some feedback to ensure that that experience is adaptable and works for you. So all of these factors really just go back to having that cross-collaborative approach from day one, over-communicate, have frequent checkpoints.
And I see the organizations that do that have more success because people are being brought along on the journey. If you’re not brought along on the journey and someone just plops a great idea down in front of you, you could probably poke holes in it all day. But if I’ve been part of that journey the whole time, I’m invested, and I want to see it come to fruition.
Colin Forward: And in my experience, everything you’re saying rings really true. I mean, I’ve seen different rules of thumb, but these larger organizations might need eight to 12 people just to buy-in in the first place and get some traction. So I think I want to leave the naysayers behind for a second and look ahead. There are some really exciting new technologies that are being adopted to improve training and operational performance, and I want to talk about some of those.
So we’re seeing a lot of automation. We’ve talked about machine learning and data a little bit already. We’re seeing the rise of chatbots. We started out today talking about customer service and how that is a mandate across the government. We’re also starting to see bots become a big part of training, providing automated coaching to help someone understand what the most important thing is for them to know at that moment. So I want to hear your perspective:
What Are the Big Trends in Emerging Technology that You Think Are Really Going to Play a Big Role in Improving Training and Improving Operational Performance?
Liz Benson: So you actually set up that question perfectly because you mentioned chatbots and training and automation. You mentioned all these different technologies. And when you think about the way that the digital landscape is working today, it’s all about platforms. So you think about those big global platforms, such as Facebook, and those allow a range of digital products to be built on top of them and connect into them.
And you think about an ecosystem. That often starts with the customer need or a user need—like the ride-sharing app, Uber or Lyft, or even the music experience like Spotify—and what you see is this trend is taking hold. And most of those major companies with the largest market caps today, they actually are platform companies.
So they’re a one-stop shop. They have technology that’s integrated in an ecosystem that can connect out to other systems, and they’re creating this really sticky experience. And that’s something that customers and users of technology come to be loyal to, they come to enjoy. And then, from an operational standpoint, having a platform or something that is interoperable with other technologies is very important because you don’t know what your organization is going to look like tomorrow. You may need to buy a whole new technology to meet a different need. But you want to know that the application and the technology is built in such a way and architected that it can talk with other technologies, that it can receive data, can receive updates, and can push through different channels because the digital landscape is always changing.
Colin Forward: So first, I want to commend your focus with the dog barking in the background because if it wasn’t yours, then it would have been mine.
Liz Benson: I was hoping you didn’t hear that. Haha sorry.
Colin Forward: No, no. I think that’s a great reminder of why things like distance learning technology becomes so relevant this year because everyone’s working from home, dealing with a lot of the same circumstances. But your answer was great, and I think really spot on. I think that’s kind of just a good baseline for someone who is exploring something that is more emerging, willing to take a risk, willing to make an investment that’s going to pay off in automation and in chatbots and in this sort of thing that can really help kind of grease the gears in these organizations that depend on people interacting with each other and interacting with their customer, if you will, the person on the other end of the service that they’re providing.
So, with that, I kind of want to just see if there are any little nuggets of knowledge that you think are essential for someone going into this technology adoption phase, as a lot of people are, and what they should keep in mind when they’re evaluating the investments that they can make in technology in general and specifically training technology.
What Trends in Emerging Technology Will Greatly Improve Training and Operational Performance?
Liz Benson: Yeah, I think that you really want to consider that experience when you’re procuring technology and you’re thinking about implementing it. You want something that’s effortless. You generally are like, “Get me there ahead of schedule or, at worst, on time.” I mean, that’s the feeling that I think most organizations get when they’re starting to implement a technology because there are expectations that have been set.
So when you think about platforms, when you think about infrastructure as a service or just technology, you want to be able to spin it up quickly, get it out there for people to use, and make it really easy to just deploy. And there are some aspects of configuration and customization, but you can approach that all quickly, effectively, efficiently if you’re taking a very agile approach and you’ve really focused on those technologies that allow you to implement quickly.
Colin Forward: Great. Well, I want to thank you again for joining us today. It has been really informative. I think that this would be helpful to anyone that’s considering making an investment in training technology but also in IT at any sort of federal level. So, thank you very much for spending the time with us today.
Liz Benson: Thank you.
Adam Wagner: Thanks, everyone. This was Training the Modern Workforce Live, presented by Allogy. Remember to join us every week for more discussions on all things training and continued learning. If you’d like to explore previous episodes, subscribe to our YouTube channel or like us on LinkedIn and Facebook. And if you’d like to connect with one of our learning specialists to see how Allogy could help improve your training, head to allogy.com and schedule a demo.