Delivering new skills

Consignia
aims to shed its parcel and letter-carrying image to become an e-business with
a multinational logistics workforce. We find out how an e-learning programme is
helping it make the transformation

Reinventing
yourself is easy if you’re Queen of Pop Madonna. Decide on your new image, get
the clothes and face to fit it, and voila, you’re there – watch the return on
your investment roll in as your new look helps rocket you to the top of the
charts, yet again.

It’s
not so easy, however, if you have 200,000-plus staff spread across the country
who need to acquire new skills before you can fully transform yourself.

It
might be too strong to say that Consignia, with its three brands – Royal Mail,
Parcel Force Worldwide and the Post Office – is going through a Madonna-scale
transformation, but it is currently busy positioning itself as a provider of
e-commerce services such as home shopping and online banking.

With
the deregulation and opening up of its services to competition, its need to do
so is pressing and it is turning to a programme of e-learning to help make it
happen.

"E-learning
is part of our e-business strategy," says Consignia e-strategist Maxine
Easey, whose very job title spells out how committed the company is to getting
in shape for the e-economy.

"We
need to transform back-office processes and systems to become an e-business and
that includes delivering the people change that goes with them. This will be
enabled by e-learning."

There
are a number of training initiatives taking place inside Consignia (which also
include coaching, mentoring and on-the-job training as well as e-learning),
aimed at a wide range of staff from business-to-business marketing departments
through to operational managers in mail delivery.

It
is also starting to look at e-learning to train senior executives such as the
heads of business unit whose jobs make it difficult for them to spare time for
training.

"We’re
trying to take a much wider view. We want to reduce formal classroom training,
because it is not always the most efficient way of learning," says head of
senior management development, Jill Garraway.

Decision
to outsource

In
common with a number of large organisations, Consignia has taken the decision
to outsource its e-learning programme. It went through a long discussion and
vetting process and eventually entered into partnership and three- to five-year
contract with UK-based Futuremedia, whose clients include Ford Motor Company
and BT.

Futuremedia
has provided a complete turnkey e-learning solution, comprising software,
platform, site-hosting, course content and future development.

Like
many outsourced solutions, it is based around Futuremedia’s learning portal
running on a server at its Internet Service Provider and is available to
Consignia staff 24 hours a day. Staff access the system from their own
terminals.

"Right
now, we have at least 44,000 people who use a computer to do their everyday job
and so can learn at their desktop or at a learning resource centre at one of
our head offices," explains Easey.

"We
are using e-learning for six foundation projects that include IT to end-users
and a marketing excellence programme."

Finding
the right content is also part of Futuremedia’s remit, and so far it has used
materials from such providers as KnowledgePool, McGraw-Hill and NETg. Bespoke
content development is undertaken by Tata Interactive Systems. When a Consignia
staff member logs on, they will see a Consignia-branded interface, which
enables them to access the course content materials.

Laying
foundations

The
first phase of the training, called the foundation project, has seen 6,000
staff successfully pass through the system, accessing a range of subjects from
customer service management and health and safety to using Windows 2000.

"We
build the core requirement and operate a kind of library service around this
and work with Consignia to source the content," says Mats Johansson, CEO
of Futuremedia.

"Once
we have this, it needs to be integrated into the learning management system. We
load it onto the servers and manage it for them," he says.

"The
e-learning system enables each member of staff to download course material when
they need to, and know they are using the latest material."

The
most difficult aspects of the job were, says Johansson’s colleague and project
manager Phil Horton, the tight deadlines and need to build relationships as
quickly as possible with the key players, which he hopes have laid the right
sort of foundations for the future relationship.

"The
future holds many challenges, not least of which is the very size of the deal,"
says Horton.

"We
are charting new territory for us in size terms and anticipate opportunities to
push the boundaries of the product up to and beyond 200,000 users."

Getting
buy-in

Johansson
says that implementing an e-learning programme is always easier when there is
buy-in from the various departments and in Consignia’s case this company-wide
support has been marked.

"Sometimes
you don’t necessarily get the back-up from IT. You can’t risk things like
server downtime and you need success early on because learners will very
quickly make their mind up about the system – it’s important that the word of
mouth is good," Johansson says.

"At
Consignia, we have a good combination of a stable foundation and the right kind
of investment on the IT side."

Potential
cost savings on training will always be a driver for an e-learning programme
and management consultant Ernst & Young claims in a recent report that it
can save 35 per cent over traditional classroom-based training.

Consignia
has 32 business units and some of these have training budgets running into tens
of millions of pounds.

"It
is better value for money for our training budgets, and it lets employees know
we are committed to being a training company.

"In
some cases, for business units with most of their employees online, e-learning
could take up three-quarters of the training budget, but in other areas with
large numbers of operational staff, it may be 10 per cent."

Meeting
targets

The
target of 6,000 staff by the end of May was met, and the aim is to raise the
total to 44,000 users between now and March 2003. It will ramp up by a maximum
of 4,000 users per month.

"Eventually
it’s possible that all 240,000 staff will use the system," explains Horton
(although no contract is in place yet involving this level of use).

"However,
in order to prepare for this possibility, we have already loaded and tested
240,000 users in our development area so that they can be ready for use as and
when requested."

Next
on the agenda for Consignia is to work with Futuremedia to develop online
courses to offer to business customers, such as small to medium-sized
enterprises in areas such as direct mail. This not only takes Consignia’s
e-learning programme one step further, but also gives them a competitive edge
over rivals.

"We
don’t yet have any e-learning content specifically targeted at customers,"
says Easey, "but the service we have is capable of it, and it is only a
matter of time."

www.consignia.com  www.easycando.com

In
summary
Key to Consignia

Consignia’s
requirement:
To train 200,000 staff in new products, services and systems
for the Internet age.

Why?
With deregulation and the opening up of its services to competition, Consignia
is transforming back-office processes and systems to position itself as an
e-business, providing e-commerce facilities such as home shopping and online
banking.

Is
e-learning delivering?
Consignia met its first target of 6,000 staff
passing through the foundation project. The aim is to raise this total to
44,000 users between now and March 2003.

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