As one of the nation’s leading mortgage and financial-services companies, Countrywide Financial Corp.’s overall success is greatly reliant on the knowledge and proficiency of its 4,500-plus IT professionals. In fact, Countrywide uses more than 1,400 different business-critical technologies and applications on a day-to-day basis. That’s why Countrywide Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Learning Officer Joe DiDonato continuously strives to shorten the time to working proficiency for IT professionals through education.
However, in an industry where security and compliance are obligatory, and in a field where applications and technologies constantly evolve, education requires an exceptional learning and development model. “The world of IT practically renews itself every 12 to 18 months, and for us to go to the outside to staff positions for a new technology isn’t really something that we want to do because our intellectual property lies in the heads of our IT professionals. In fact, IT is one of our strongest differentiators from all of our competitors,” DiDonato explained. “The challenge in education has become how can we — if it takes on average a year to train people on new technologies — shorten the learning path? How can we train more specifically?”
Within the IT organization, DiDonato employs a 20-30-50 model (20 percent classroom training, 30 percent non-classroom training and 50 percent performance support). “We want to give employees a working competency. So, we are shifting much of the burden of training into the work environment by identifying the 20 percent of a specific application or technology that will drive 80 percent of their jobs on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
According to DiDonato, the performance-support area is where much of his current efforts are. So far, he has developed a search engine modeled after Google, presently called the Learner’s Guide. The search engine is available through the company’s intranet, but DiDonato’s goal is for every IT staff member to have access to the search engine through his or her taskbar. “We are actually imbedding the training inside the system,” Didonato said. “So all of classroom training plus what we don’t cover during classroom training is made available through the search engine, so employees can obtain instantaneous answers and information on the job while performing the task. So anytime employees have a question or are in need of additional information, they can simply conduct a search as though they were on Google.”
DiDonato said the search engine, like Google, would encompass selectable entities including the Wizard Directory, courses, books and more. According to DiDonato, the Wizard Directory will allow employees to find and contact fellow IT colleagues for information regarding a specific application, technology, command, etc. “We are building a Wizard Directory that will basically identify the strengths of the 4,500 technologists and allow users to capture their knowledge by identifying the top people from within to call upon or instant message through Lotus Sametime,” he explained. “So we have taken the 4,500 employees and have made them kind of like a virtual ‘digital tribe.’”
DiDonato said the challenge would be how to measure the success of these performance-support tools. “The traditional metrics of measuring the effectiveness of education usually includes the quality, employee satisfaction, course completion rates and cost savings. So deploying learning opportunities away from the classroom does, in fact, save money because the instructor disappears, the facility cost disappears and so forth. In fact, as much as 40 percent of the budget has been saved from moving those out of the classroom. However, when you are looking at search engines and continuous education, we know innately it’s the speed of obtaining information, but we don’t know how to measure that as far as quality and so forth. Those are things that we are focused on solving next. We have to prove that the Web sites that we have selected for job expertise are the best of the best. We have to prove that the Wizards are giving good advice,” he explained.
“From a quality standpoint, for the Wizards, we are thinking about algorithms that take a person’s view of their experience and knowledge and somehow index that or rate that with the number of years they have in specific technologies and applications. I have always favored movie ratings, the one-star, two-star, three-star ratings. These types of ratings would be excellent for our online books and courses. The star ratings, however, would not be suitable for Wizards because there may be external factors affecting the quality of a response.”
Although DiDonato is in the process of implementing the performance-support tools, he said the ability to understand new technologies more rapidly would have impact on the business. “We have a strong technical lead over all of our competitors, and being able to shorten the learning curve from an average of a year in the classroom to a couple of months allows us to take advantage of new technology faster than our competitors, allows us to deploy cost-saving solutions faster, brings products to market faster. These are the things that keep us in the lead as an organization. There’s a definite relationship between the speed of deploying people back into their jobs with new knowledge and the company’s revenues.”
– Cari McLean, firstname.lastname@example.org