One of the benefits touted for the network computer is that it cuts down on user training requirements. But some experts are warning companies that NCs may also create new skills problems, and that organisations buying them to increase computer usage overall must offer sound user training programmes.
Browser-based interfaces are simple to learn, say the supporters of NCs, and server applications can be altered without affecting the desktop look and feel. Because of this, and the low cost of NCs, companies can adopt them to make migration to a new application easier, to provide computers for non-users, and to bring new functionalities to those who already have desktops.
However, in all these cases, the strategy will fail if the company skimps on training. "NCs must not be seen as a cheap route to providing everyone with a certain application without the need to provide the right skills," said an analyst at researchers Aberdeen Group.
This is particularly true when NCs are being given to users who have previously had no computer, or have used a dumb terminal with a text interface. "Browsers may be simple but people still need to learn to use them productively, and to acquire the mental approach that a computer requires, or the money will be wasted," said Aberdeen.
An NC strategy may allow functions to be extended to all users, when previously this was cost prohibitive, but again training will be required. Safeway is one company that is moving from PCs to NCs, partly in order to bring decision support tools to everybody's desks rather than select managers. However, one of its IT team admits "it's a whole different ball game training hundreds of users in decision support tools than a few people and if it's not done the tools can just be time wasters."
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