The HM Prison Service Phoenix programme is one of the most ambitious modernisation programmes in the public sector, rolling out shared services for finance HR and procurement, all underpinned by Oracle. Training manager Jacquie Rayner, who is heading up the accompanying training programme, explains how the staff are being equipped with the necessary IT skills.

It was only back in 2000 when there was hardly any IT connectivity in prisons. The governor was the only staff member with an external link to the Prison Service headquarters and that was only via text-based email. Each jail had Wyse terminals, but the only electronic files were for prisoner, financial and personnel information, all held locally.

This began to change in 2001 when EDS was awarded the contract to provide IT infrastructure and services. The company installed a WAN, 19,000 PCs, and put IT classrooms in 13 off-site learning centres, which are used for staff to learn basic IT skills and systems.

I worked with EDS to produce the training strategy for the first part of the contract - installation of new IT and telephony infrastructure for 38,000 staff across England and Wales.

EDS provided initial basic IT skills training to prison staff and continue to do so. They taught all prison staff how to log on, use email and the intranet. They trained staff six weeks in advance of installation, and used a mini training suite on a LAN which EDS took around with them. I assessed and evaluated the training that EDS delivered.

In 2004, the Prison Service together with EDS began our current programme, the largest Oracle implementation in Europe - introducing an IT solution to move transactional work (finance, procurement, HR, inventory) from the prison to shared service centres. I moved roles to become training manager for the programme, called Phoenix.

We are now half way through the Phoenix Programme. Finance and procurement training has been completed. Next is training on HR, which we have just started delivering. We have just developed training for the rollout of Oracle Inventory to all stores managers and supervisors.

Before the programme began, each prison did its own work in each of the transactional areas. Now regional units carry out procurement; finance has moved to shared services and HR will follow. The centralisation of these transactional services will generate savings of £30 million a year once fully implemented because fewer staff are needed in each prison to conduct these tasks. The cuts were mainly made through natural wastage and some staff moved into other jobs in the Prison Service. No-one has been made redundant.

For the finance roll-out, as we had no knowledge of Oracle in-house we contracted with Oracle University to develop and deliver the training. As part of the training, they transferred their knowledge to our finance trainers, so that they could conduct training for ‘business as usual’ after the implementation.

For the iProcurement programme, which began in early 2006 (and for which we won the silver medal in the IITT Training Department of the Year Award), we managed the training ourselves. The rollout and training for 8,000 members of staff took 18 months end to end, finishing July 2007. In that time, we set up work instructions and spoke to subject matter experts and prepared materials. We then delivered the pilot and carried out the training, reviewing and adapting the delivery process according to feedback. Lastly, we conducted an evaluation.

I was supported by two internal administrative staff and a team of 25 contractors (at the project's peak). Managing the contractors was in some ways a challenge as they were not used to the Prison Service. We recruited them from agencies from the government catalogue of trainers and ensured they received a robust induction, both to the Prison Service and the task at hand.

I assessed the trainers and had to be strict if there were not up to speed, as it was essential they could support the roll-out. We also needed trainers who were flexible as training was across the country. I had to make sure distances to travel were reasonable for the trainers and plan the logistics. They also had to be prepared to floor-walk in the jails as the staff work on the landing with prisoners around them.

Prison staff received one day of training in a training centre, whether they were an approver or a requisitioner. Then deskside support was available for two weeks in each jail - there are 130 of them. Two weeks of floor-walking allowed prison staff to identify the need for a purchase, to order it and log its receipt. Where possible, the same trainers were used for the staff in the centre and floor-walking.

I think the training worked well because of our empathy for the users, and the right location and right dedication. We always supported the end users, for instance with the deskside support. Governors gave us recommendations in their feedback.

For the self service HR module, which we have just begun to roll out, we are taking a different approach to training. We are adopting an e-learning solution because of the number of people it will impact - 20,000 - and the short time required to complete the training. Staff can do the two hours of HR e-learning in the learning suite which has been set up in every jail - through Steria, the Probation Service IT providers, so that staff do not have to leave their site for long periods to go to a training centre.

We are using the OnDemand e-learning package from Oracle. It's a Global Knowledge product. We are using three modes - see it (watch the process), try it (have a go and see if you can do it without being tested) - and know it (assessment). A jail or HQ unit can only go live with the HR system once all the necessary staff have successfully completed the learning unit and we get results of the learning from the Learning Management System.

So far, we have found that many staff go directly into 'know it', but then went to back to 'try it', so they could improve their score when they take the assessment again. The system tracks how many goes they have, so we can have some idea how difficult it is.

If they get called away, the learning package bookmarks where they are. We have had fabulous feedback so far. The sessions are facilitated so that staff who are less 'comfortable' using IT feel supported.

Now that we've had good feedback for the HR training, the e-learning package can be adapted for other projects, or used to explain simple changes in systems or packages, or even for communication.

We are just starting to rollout the inventory module which will be delivered via a mixture of tutor led training and on-line learning to 1,500 staff from June to September 2009. We are just piloting the training and will then start the delivery programme moving across the estate, using the learning centres.

One of my next tasks may be sharing with other government departments about lessons learned from our experiences from our Oracle implementation.