Lori Niles-Hofmann is a senior learning strategist with over 20 years of L&D experience across many industries, including international banking, management consulting, and marketing. Her specialization is large-scale digital learning transformations and she is passionate about helping companies navigate through the ambiguity of change. She is the author of Data-Driven Learning Design, How to Decode Learner Digital Body Language. 

Written by

Lori Niles-Hoffman
June 14, 2019

Digital Transformation? 4 Strategic Ways L&D and IT Should Work Together

A man using augmented reality to learn how to operate machinery

Digital learning transformations are exciting and bold initiatives. Learning and Development (L&D) teams are highly motivated to gain traction and yet, it can seem as though IT is the bouncer preventing entry at the doorway of an exclusive and exhilarating club. The truth is, IT is the best friend L&D never had. Their NO’s are protecting your projects from risk, but sometimes, it may not feel that way.

Current research shows that IT Leadership is involved in 33% of L&D projects while CTO’s are only involved in 7% of projects. The same skills required in implementing a new LMS/LXP are essential to high profile software integration projects across the company. Yet, an L&D leader perhaps experiences 2-3 large-scale platform deployments over a career. An IT manager likely has a dozen such projects on the go over the course of a fiscal year. From a pure volume perspective alone, we can clearly learn from the experts. Likewise, IT will always be far more current on topics such as cybersecurity and risk. They can see beyond a single solution and ensure your transformation integrates across the organization.

A Learning & Development Leader Building a Relationship with IT During a Digital Transformation

So how do you build the IT/Learning & Development relationship?

Begin building connections with IT long before looking at solutions. Too many L&D teams fall madly in love with a provider before they even know if the technology will pass IT requirements around risk. This is wasted time and only builds frustration.

1. Start with the Problem.

Approach IT from the perspective of the problem you are trying to solve, not just the type of platform you want. IT sees lots of different solutions and they will be able to help build your RFP requirements and think more broadly than the scope of just learning technologies. Lastly, speak their language. If you are in an enterprise, a term like ISO/IEC 27001 (relating to information security standards) will be critical. Know your terminology and integrations- from APIs and AI, to your HRCMS, to ease conversations and understanding.

2. Learn the Ground Rules.
Friendship is not a one-way street and IT does have some responsibilities to build a frictionless partnership.

  • Firstly, an updated IT requirements document is critical. This helps immediately weed out which solutions will pass testing in your environment. These specs should also include parameters for digital learning-specific technologies which may require some upskilling on the part of IT.
  • Secondly, encourage IT to be transparent about how they implement solutions. You will likely find they use different tools to project manage their own work due to their volume. Your standalone excel spreadsheets will not integrate so you will need to find ways to access and adapt to these systems.
  • Do not forget to ask IT about realistic testing timeframes. It may only take two weeks to test out a technology, but slotting this into a busy calendar amongst other IT projects may mean a real-time of six weeks or more.
  • Lastly, be familiar with the IT roadmap. Know their vision so you can align, lest your transformation becomes a digital outlier, never to be used or integrated.

3. Build an Alliance.
If we have learned anything from Game of Thrones, alliances are important (no spoilers ahead). It would be realistic, although unfortunate, to say the average L&D department has had limited bargaining power. We are often in a position of asking to be added to the budget and regularly justifying ROI to stakeholders. This is disappointing, as upskilling a workforce will mean the difference between companies which excel and those struggling to source talent. However, change takes time, L&D leaders are becoming more data-driven and meanwhile, it is critical to partner with IT to demonstrate credibility and executability when approaching the C-Suite.  Believe it or not, IT may be in a position to assist with funding parts of an L&D transformation, particularly if it is part of a larger technology upgrade. And if additional budget is required, there will be significantly more buy-in from stakeholders if they see IT has already been a part of the scoping process.

4. Develop a Business Case.

Another tip is to look at the way IT has written their business cases for their roadmap. Many L&D proposals fail because they are focused on metrics unimportant to the business. These need to be translated into demonstrable ways investment in learning will contribute to tangible goals and profit.  

For too long, L&D has seen themselves as an outlier to the greater company function. We are the underdog, often misunderstood and underappreciated. But this is not an excuse to silo instead of collaborating. IT has a wealth of experience when it comes to digital transformations and we can learn from their successes and challenges. We simply need to be open to a new type of partnership.

Additional Resources:

Lori Niles-Hofmann is a senior learning strategist with over 20 years of L&D experience across many industries, including international banking, management consulting, and marketing. Her specialization is large-scale digital learning transformations and she is passionate about helping companies navigate through the ambiguity of change. She is the author of Data-Driven Learning Design, How to Decode Learner Digital Body Language. 

Written by

Lori Niles-Hoffman

Enterprise learning and development report