Throughout recent discussions of the level of competence in the industry, one aspect has largely been ignored. Computer literacy is a serious issue that appears to be forgotten.

Even after software developers learn what “intuitive” and “integrated” mean in practice, overcoming this issue will remain the responsibility of business. Yet training is often sacrificed when budgets are tight. Alternatively, the company principal goes on the course, even though they don't have the skills or time to instruct staff on their return.

The traditional two-hour run-through just isn't enough for computers using Windows. Staff don't only need to know how to process a motor quotation, or access a policy schedule; they need to learn how to use Windows itself, plus the applications (such as Word and Outlook) that support your business. It can take several months for some employees to become competent Windows users. They need to learn new ways of thinking as well as working; and this does not happen overnight.

Preparing an education plan is essential if you want your staff to become competent quickly. It might be that you start the process before the system arrives, installing a PC for staff to “play with” at lunch time. Perhaps you can enrol staff on courses run by local companies (or even the local school). You might even enlist the help of a local specialist to act as mentor and guide the staff as they learn.

As well as training there needs to be reassurance. Almost without exception, the people

I have encountered who “won't ever get to grips with this computer lark” have conditioned themselves to believe that if they try they will fail. Positive support and patience is required for these people.

There does come a point where not being able to use a computer becomes as much a liability as not being able to read and write.

Most companies invest a lot of money in their computer systems, then waste it by not investing in the people who will use it. Yet without a skilled user at the keyboard, all you've bought is an expensive desk ornament.

  • Ross Hall is founder of strategic consultancy Garol and can be contacted on 020 8902 0618 or at