Software systems to help manage training organisations

Training businesses are complex. The cost of each sale is high because each sale requires interaction between multiple people; administrator, participant, venue organiser, trainer, buyer etc, and there are demands from each individual.
Training businesses are complex. The cost of each sale is high because each sale requires interaction between multiple people; administrator, participant, venue organiser, trainer, buyer etc, and there are demands from each individual that often make the offering unique. The quality of administration and delivery is an important factor to ensure satisfaction and further sales.

Training is a service rather than a product. You are selling an experience, not just a thing. As a result many smaller training organisations (up to two full time trainers) run successfully thanks to the expertise of just one person who knows the uniqueness of each delivery. Reliance on one individual's expertise and knowledge is a business risk to the organisation.

Software is not required to run a training company, many training companies (even large ones) ran perfectly well before computers were around. However the capabilities of software; automated emails, sms messages, address confirmations etc, could release business experts from routine tasks like keying enrolment forms to undertake customer focused work such as pro-actively phoning enquiries that could increase sales while improving quality, meeting compliance and decreasing risk impacts.
Software however is not sufficient, you need to document your regular activities and capture expertise from those who know the business. Documenting the things you do (not just those you should do) is essential for any successful system integration. Grab a whiteboard, a few colour markers and map out the steps of interaction with each of the following roles; participant, trainer, venue organiser, customer accounts contact, person who books and course administrator. Take photographs of your whiteboard masterpiece, better yet put it in a flow diagram. Remember to add each email, sms message or system update. This will form the basis of your procedures manual.
Why would we implement a software & procedures system?
1. Improve sales, released from routine tasks, staff can focus on responding to enquiries or other customer service activities to encourage cross-selling or even up-selling.
2. Improve quality, consistent email templates and clear steps tailored to each course can be improved over time as any issues are addressed.
3. Reduce risk, the loss of any one staff member and the loss of valuable knowledge and expertise for day to day running will be minimised.
4. Compliance, audit trails demonstrate that policies and procedures are being followed, customer data and essential communication is recorded safely
Where are you now?
The following is a list of three training company management systems, see if you fit in (or between) one of these.

Level 1: Paper forms, whiteboards and emails.

This works fine for one trainer who manages their own course administration, or has a partner who they can rely upon and is prepared to take on the responsibility to know the business. Many one trainer organisations can survive quite well with this alone. pros: simple, paper audit-able system but takes huge effort once a year. cons: much double entry, paper records easily lost or misplaced, participants forgotten, follow up for payments are easily missed, large dependance on one individual.

Level 2: Spreadsheets and/or customer database and emails. 

This setup works for a one or two trainer organisation who hire an administrator to do the work. It is more automated, perhaps uses templates and allows work from a remote site. pros: database searchable, audit-able system. cons: requires technical expertise, double entry, follow up for payments takes time, requires manual intervention with compliance, spreadsheets easily duplicated or too large to work effectively.

Level 3: Integrated software system from booking to attendance

This involves having a multiple software system that takes bookings, distributes learning content, does reports and automates communication, integrates with other systems, eg. accounts and customer databases. While previously for organisations where there are 3+ trainers even one-trainer organisations see cost effective use in these systems. Workload necessitates a dedicated book keeper or accountant, and there is at least a full time, or are multiple part time, course administrators. pros: automation, customer enters data into system (minimal double entry), database searchable, reports, online (access anywhere), fully audit-able system. cons: setup costs, requires technical expertise, flexibility restricted to functions.
When should you move up a level?

Ideally you would integrate new systems when you can forecast growth but are not yet overwhelmed by additional workload, eg. when a customer is planning a purchase or a tender has been awarded to you. Do not underestimate the effort you will need to dedicate to get a new system up and running. Carefully plan the transition; don't forget about training, data migration and a proof of concept that demonstrates the system working with your data, before committing to it. If you are not yet ready something that takes time but involves no additional cost or change to business process is to capture the course administrator's expertise and knowledge. Documenting what you do and the knowledge of your expert course administrator is a step best taken immediately - don't wait for them to leave!

Will software solve our problems?
Problems may indicate a need to move from one level to the other. Before blaming the course administrator for mistakes take some time to see if processes are not clear, workload has increased too much for just one person or the complexity of your business has increased beyond one person's capability. Perhaps automation is the next step, software would help with this.
Should I use software for meeting compliance, eg. AVETMISS?

If you need to submit data for AVETMISS you will need to use a software system, be sure to get one that decreases your workload rather than increases it. There is a major deadline on 1/1/2014  regarding RTO AVETMISS reporting and obligations to clearly demonstrate how your training company meets their compliance obligations. The work to prepare for these audits and maintain accreditation are disproportionately high for smaller organisations. Having emails automatically sent when someone registers, sending invoices and joining information means you can focus on the compliance aspect of your operations, reducing the risk of non-compliance.

Taking online bookings