By putting knowledge transfer front and center, the Commonwealth of Virginia is leading the nation’s states in training and development.
Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine’s motto for his administration is “Virginia Leading the Way.” And the governor’s rallying cry seems to be netting results, especially when it comes to educating state workers.
In a report by The Pew Center on the States titled “Government Performance Project: Grading the States,” Virginia was the only state in the United States to receive an “A” for its training and development initiatives in 2008.
According to Governing magazine, “Virginia … put together a knowledge transfer system that … agencies could share. Each has software that allows it to map the specific skills and knowledge that are needed for various jobs and then tailor training programs to those specifications.”
The Pew report card evaluated each state government’s performance in serving the public, and Virginia’s overall score for how it handled money, people, infrastructure and information was an “A-.” Getting top marks for its training and development programs, which are a subset of its people score, didn’t happen overnight for Virginia, though. The process began more than five years ago.
Envisioning a Change
In 2003, government training professionals from across Virginia met to discuss ways to put all of the Commonwealth’s learning and training into one system. Before that time, each government agency had its own system for procuring, delivering and supporting training.
With more than 230 government agencies across Virginia, some officials saw the drawbacks to relying on independent systems for managing learning. Virginia was paying higher costs for training because agencies didn’t coordinate the way they purchased content or software. In one case, two Virginia government agencies were unknowingly paying full price for the same training system.
With each agency procuring and managing training independently, employees rarely shared resources. And when an initiative was handed down by the governor, many agencies would duplicate training efforts without knowing it.
“When you have hundreds of thousands of employees, all of these challenges grow in complexity,” said Belchior Mira, chief information technology officer for the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management. “It’s not enough to just automate the purchase and delivery of learning in a coordinated way; although that can spell savings. Virginia’s goal was to create a singular approach to sharing knowledge and developing employees’ careers.”
In the spring of 2004, eight Virginia government agencies came together with the intent to purchase technology for managing and developing know-how. The eight agencies formed a group whose representatives gathered requirements through surveys and focus groups aimed at potential users of the system. Other members of the group analyzed the findings and researched available solutions.
Identifying Technology and Getting Started
After reviewing a number of proposals, Virginia settled on software from Meridian Knowledge Solutions that allowed the agencies to build and deliver online and classroom training programs, enable conversations between employees and their supervisors, collect knowledge and chart career paths.
State employees dubbed the system the Commonwealth of Virginia Knowledge Center (CoVKC). It is accessible to any state employee via PC, laptop or mobile device as long as the person has a username and password.
Three of the eight Virginia government agencies that created the plan to buy the Knowledge Center began using the system in March 2005. By January 2006, 50,000 state employees were registered users of the system. Since that time, 93 other Virginia agencies — including the Department of Corrections and its facilities, the departments of Education, Motor Vehicles, Taxation, Mental Health and its facilities, and the Virginia State Police — have signed on to manage and deliver training and share knowledge via the Knowledge Center.
As the number of users of the Knowledge Center has grown, so have its capabilities. For example, the Knowledge Center initially allowed state agencies to share courses, but it has since grown to allow sharing with Virginia’s business partners, which may be private employers, citizens or other government entities.
“The Knowledge Center makes it possible to conduct statewide training,” said Brooke Schepker, Virginia’s Knowledge Center systems administrator. “The system also integrates with the Commonwealth’s human resource management systems, so we can automatically provide updates to users’ training profiles.”
Building on a Foundation of Learning
Schepker also said the Knowledge Center supports Virginia’s need for succession planning, cross training and knowledge transfer.
The Pew report noted that, “The Commonwealth builds training programs for future employees based on the practices and skills of current employees. Employees may register for training sessions and discuss strategic training — often linked to employee career paths — with teams or with supervisors through the state’s Commonwealth of Virginia Knowledge Center.”
“We feel the Knowledge Center goes beyond what a traditional learning management system can offer administrators, managers and employees,” Mira said. “The system facilitates the development and implementation of enterprise knowledge management programs for state employees.”
For example, Mira said the Virginia Department of Taxation has tapped the Knowledge Center to provide online training for its local commissioners of the revenue and treasurers. The Knowledge Center delivers online training just as many learning management systems do, but it also collects and disseminates legislative updates that tax professionals must know about.
Along with the benefits described by Schepker and Mira, Virginia also has been able to trim its expenditures as more and more of the Old Dominion’s agencies have adopted the Knowledge Center. For example, when one large Virginia agency moved from its learning management system to the Virginia Knowledge Center, the commonwealth saved $139,000 per year in hosting fees and $725,000 per year by trimming five contractors from the budget.
According to Virginia officials, two smaller agencies realized more than $17,000 in savings per year when they cut their hosting fees for another LMS and opted instead for the Knowledge Center. As the benefits and savings of the Knowledge Center have risen, so have the kudos from onlookers.
Praise for the Approach
In 2008, Virginia earned a spot as a finalist in the coveted National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) awards for its Knowledge Center. Among the reasons Virginia earned this recognition was the fact that the Knowledge Center gathers a comprehensive set of training metrics, which any Virginia agency — including the Governor’s Office — can access with the click of a mouse.
“The collaborative features of the Knowledge Center make it simple for agencies to share anything related to professional development,” said Roy Haythorn, vice president of Meridian Operations. “And to some extent, the ease with which employees and training administrators can use the Knowledge Center belies its power.”
Marketing the Success
According to executives at the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, there’s still work to be done to make the Knowledge Center ubiquitous.
“Currently, we have over 96 Virginia agencies using the Knowledge Center,” Schepker said. “But we have a potential audience of 238 agencies, which includes circuit courts and other legislative entities, community colleges and other institutions of higher education.”
Although all state employees have access to the Knowledge Center, Schepker said agencies that implement the system are able to customize the training their employees receive and brand their sites accordingly.
Schepker and her colleagues have engaged in a marketing blitz aimed at the state agencies that have not yet signed on to use the Knowledge Center. “Our marketing efforts tout the economic, as well as technological, benefits of adopting the Knowledge Center,” Schepker said.
Schepker underscored her marketing pitch with the savings stemming from the Knowledge Center. When the Virginia Department of Taxation switched from its LMS to the Knowledge Center, the department reduced its hosting fees from $18,000 per year to less than $1,000.
As for the technological benefits that Schepker and her colleagues pitch, one in particular stands out. When an agency opts to use the Knowledge Center, it is assigned a portal that is connected to the Knowledge Center’s home page. This allows each agency to brand its piece of the Knowledge Center in the way its employees would be accustomed to. The unique portals also give each agency’s Knowledge Center administrator a way to control the type of training and functions available to users.
With the benefits of adopting the Knowledge Center, it seems ironic that Schepker and her co-workers would have to market the system to bring the remaining agencies on-board.
“We have probably spent more time making the system better than getting word out about it,” she said. “But that’s changing, and we’ve seen exponential growth in adoption during the last year.”Filed under: Leadership Development, Measurement, Technology