Using Customer Training To Illustrate Return On Investment In Information Services Organizations

Someone once said that if you can’t measure an activity, it’s not worth doing. Without understanding the impact of an organization’s information services, how can you set priorities for a budget? How can you and your team efficiently spend your time? Identifying metrics to measure impact — measures that are uniquely relevant to your organization — is an operational necessity. Interpreting these metrics in a way that your employers can relate to the bottom-line is a strategic necessity.

Success, survival, and sustainability for information services professionals can never be guaranteed, especially in turbulent economic times. In any employment situation, there are too many variables outside of your control. Yet proactively aligning your team with the goals of the organization and contributing to the achievement of those goals are actions within your control. Through providing training for its customers, information services makes a powerful statement that links the effective and efficient use of its services directly to an employer’s success.

Financial metrics are one of several ways to measure impact (others include: customer metrics, internal process metrics, and learning and growth metrics). Return on Investment (ROI) is a financial metric that can be applied to customer training By insuring customers are using services in which you have invested to their best advantage (i.e., towards the success of your organization), you can create an ROI that will help demonstrate the overall contribution of services.

While there are myriad ways to calculate ROI depending on each service and, in some circumstances, on provisions of contracts or licenses, below are a couple of quick tips:

• Think about how to track usage of each service and how usage relates to investments made. Training reinforces to customers how available resources can be used in their work to enhance their lives and to increase productivity. In all environments, including public libraries, the question must be asked — is the customer willing to base a decision on finding just “any answer” by doing it themselves or would they rather get the “right answer” faster instead of waiting for a professional researcher to be available? Getting to the right answer with increased speed has a financial impact at many levels.

• Think about the context to pitch an aggressive training program. Most customers will never have enough training or experience to navigate multitudes of resources and find the answers they require. Sometimes a less than ideal answer is adequate. Sometimes only a top-level piece of data is needed and the quality of the source is obvious. However, training customers to do some searches on their own frees up the time of a professional researcher. Tracking new hours made available to the information professional for sophisticated research can be characterized as a positive ROI.

• Do a training assessment. Who needs to be trained on what, by whom, when, and where? Answering these questions will help prioritize training needs and drive creativity in delivering training. Your Information Services team doesn’t have to do it by themselves. Vendors can assist (a caveat is that you help the vendor create trainings unique to your customer’s needs), or short YouTube self-help tutorials can be produced, or peer training programs can be developed. However you decide to develop and deploy your training plan, what’s important is to maximize every opportunity to relate the impact to your organization’s bottom-line.

There is no one method for creating a successful training program. The good news is that there is a significant amount of literature on the topic of instructional design, especially in academic and public library environments that can also be adapted for special libraries. If you’ve never evaluated the need for a training program or if you are beginning to develop one, I would suggest looking at Gratin and Kaplowitz’s Information Literacy Instruction: Theory and Practice, 2nd edition, and the Medical Library Association’s “Research Policy Statement,” which discusses the responsibility of information professionals to train customers. I also recommend Web of Deception: Misinformation on the Internet by Anne P. Mintz and Steve Forbes, and Web of Deceit: Misinformation and Manipulation in the Age of Social Media by Anne P. Mintz, Amber Benham, Eli Edwards and Ben Fractenberg, which will train your customers to assess the validity of information found on the Internet across a multitude of subjects.

As GSLIS Dean Emerita and Professor Jim Matarazzo and I discuss in our book, Special Libraries: A Survival Guide, there are many ways to create or control opportunities for success, survival and sustainability. Implementing an effective training program tied to your organizations’ revenue goals by demonstrating the ROI of your services is an effective one.

By Toby Pearlstein ’77LS, ’87DA, 2014 Simmons GSLIS Alumni Achievement Award Winner