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Annie Hayes



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Opinion: Simulation puts training in context


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Competitive pressure often dictates that the finance industry needs to bring new products and services to market as quickly as possible, with training of telemarketing agents or branch staff an essential part of the picture.

But training requirements can also be a bottleneck, with fully developed systems ready to use but understandably held over until staff training has been completed.

While this is absolutely critical on one hand, management who have invested in new systems also need to see them making a return as soon as possible. Traditionally, it has proved difficult to offer any degree of overlap between system development on one hand and accurate training on the other, so project development timetables have been structured to instigate training once the system has been completely developed.

All the processes involved in system development have received plenty of focus over the years in order to try and reduce ‘time to market’ without adversely effecting quality or service provision. The fact that there have been plenty of stories in the media revealing embarrassing examples of poor customer service through lack of training or technical issues highlights the need for businesses to balance development timescales with quality.

But developing accurate application simulations can allow organisations to radically improve the time it takes to get completed services out into the marketplace or in front of its user base.

If people can be trained while the system itself is under development, then they can be ready to use it in reality as soon as the deployment phase of the project has been concluded. This form of training can also play a role in assisting the development of products or services, with experienced customer service staff having the opportunity to provide feedback on the system before the development phase has been completed.

What is needed is a method of taking the training phase out of the critical path of Analyse-Design-Develop-Test-Deploy-Train. One way of doing this is to use simulation technology that enables the training to take place outside of this critical path.

This has historically taken place by using “Screen scrapers” to take copies of the finished application, and then add some training logic to the resultant pictures. The problem with this approach is that the screen-scraped programme does not act in precisely the same way as the real system, and can only be created when the screens are ready to scrape, and this will be right at the end of the development lifecycle.

The other issue associated with screen scraped simulators is that because they are unable to accurately simulate every aspect of the system, they tend to be essentially linear in nature – i.e. the trainee has to go from screen one to screen two and so on. The best training enables the student to approach the system from any angle, and go through the training in any order, as this most accurately replicates a call centre or branch environment, where anything can happen in any order.

Another method of training is to use the development system to act as the server for training once development is complete, but again, this approach demands that training can only start once development is complete, therefore training remains on the critical path.

Another issue is that if the new system requires new or upgraded PC’s to run on, the capital investment for those machines has to be made early on. The training machines also need full licences of all of the software that they are going to run, which can be an expensive option if CRM, specialist finance and banking or billing records need to be accessed and used.

Therefore, what is needed is a method of accurately representing the final system, and enabling that to run on any PC. By doing so, the training is de-coupled from the critical path, enabling the benefits of the new system to be brought to market quicker. This approach also de-risks project implementation as delays don’t impact training schedules.

What is needed therefore is a way to accurately simulate a complex (perhaps even a full online bank) system before that system even exists using browser technology that will run on even small PC’s. In this way training can occur at any time, at the agents’ desk using existing infrastructure.

Users can also experience complex scenarios and learn about the most challenging of operations, so training can go further than everyday tasks and prepare the user for the unexpected. It doesn’t have to be remedial and responsive, it can ensure that customer service rises to the infrequent challenges that often have a major effect on how a business is viewed.

In the finance industry, where situations can become emotionally charged, this can be a great help to users and their customers.

By their nature effective simulation solutions recreate the full functionality of the system in question – the solutions should do everything the live systems do from look and feel, to how they operate on a practical level.

In fact, all data should persist throughout the simulation solution, so the simulation does all the calculations and recreates all of the business logic of the real system.

From the users’ point of view they should be able to start at any point and navigate in any direction just like the real system – without any reliance on prescribed paths or dead ends. Without this level of accuracy, the simulation loses its integrity and the users lose the value of the experience.

So the user gets to experience formal and informal training as organised within their business, but can also participate in an environment where they can experiment and learn on their own without fear of making serious errors, damaging the system or risking customer service.

This ‘freeplay’ training can help users of all types build confidence and familiarity and do so at their own speed.

There are other benefits to this type of approach. One is that if a pixel-perfect simulation is available very early in the development cycle, this can be made available to the developers to cross check how the system should work – a real benefit if the development is outsourced. A second is that the same simulation can be used to educate users on the benefits of the new system.

So accurate and effective simulation can not only prepare users for the real thing, but can also be conducted well in advance of traditional training, helping to de-risk product development, bring the product development timetable forward, get the product or service to market quicker and help the business to start making that all important financial return.

James Anderson is the CEO of VeriSIM

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Annie Hayes


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