Making it work for you

Investing
in e-learning is a big step and one that requires careful planning. Procter
& Gamble faced a number of challenges in creating an efficient e-learning
system for staff around the world. By Stephen Overell.

In
many ways, Procter & Gamble was a classic customer site for e-learning
vendors to target. Operating in the fast-moving consumer goods market, it
needed to distribute information rapidly around the 70 countries it operates in
to bring its 100,000 employees up to speed on new product launches. The fact
that it had already invested in a range of disparate learning management
systems in recent years demonstrated that it understood the benefits of
e-learning – but it clearly wasn’t enjoying the efficiencies.

Today,
however, after embarking on a year-long global e-learning implementation,
P&G’s experiences demonstrate that in this relatively immature market no such
thing as a "classic" site really exists. While it enjoyed all the
fundamental cost savings that typically come from replacing classroom-based
training with Web-based learning, some of the benefits it enjoyed – and some of
the difficulties it encountered – weren’t foreseen at the outset.

Challenging
preconceptions

And
as the e-learning market develops further into areas such as knowledge and
performance management, the experiences of organisations like P&G will
change yet more preconceptions about what the technology really delivers.

When
it embarked on a selection process to find a suitable vendor of a learning
management system, P&G had a firm grip on its short-term goals. According
to Pierre Alexis Bonneau, systems manager at the company’s Brussels offices,
its top priority was to centralise its existing learning material, deploy it
worldwide on a solid e-learning platform and overcome what he describes as
"the mess" caused by the different e-learning projects that had been
carried out at a regional level within P&G.

At
a more detailed level, input from representatives of each function and region
within the group helped to refine a requirements list for the system, and from
a shortlist of five vendors, the company settled for a system from Saba, one of
the LMS market leaders.

Standardising
systems

For
the company’s HR community, implementation would mean big changes to its
working practices, primarily through standardising incompatible systems and
methodologies. While P&G had a central system in the US to manage training
course reservations, for example, different European regions were using a
variety of methods for the same task, ranging from Excel spreadsheets to
whiteboards.

"The
initial work to enter all that information and train people was quite tough,"
says Bonneau. "But now they are all using the same system, it is
definitely simplifying their work."

For
the end-users, the changes were twofold. Fundamentally, the P&G project was
designed wherever possible to move users from classroom-based training to the
Web, a process that generated tangible financial returns by slashing the costs
of classroom training, travel, and lost productivity.

Softer
benefits for employees came in the shape of training flexibility, with
self-paced courses allowing employees to train an hour at a time rather than
block out entire days from their calendars. That alone has increased the volume
of training undertaken – in the past, many employees’ workloads simply
prevented them from attending courses.

Knowledge
management

Having
implemented the application, however, P&G has found that the system extends
beyond these initial training-based criteria into the field of knowledge
management, giving employees instant access to chunks of information that help
resolve day-to-day tasks. Bonneau gives the example of a new brand manager
looking to change a particular product’s packaging, and not knowing all the
details about the colour separation process. Now, the information can be
extracted from the desktop within minutes.

"Initially,
this was not planned," he says. "But as soon as we started, we
realised this second important benefit." That application has led to
tighter demands on the way courses are created – they now have to be clearly
structured and modular to ensure that users can access self-contained
information about specific individual tasks.

Hurdles

While
implementation of the system has thrown forward unexpected benefits, P&G
has also had to overcome a number of hurdles. For one thing, it’s found that
the process of converting classroom-based training material into a Web format
is a challenge – not so much from a technical perspective, but more because of
cultural difficulties.

"We’re
working with the people who give the training, and it’s quite difficult to
bring them to the concept of Web-based training," says Bonneau. "You
can’t just take their slides and put them into the system, it’s something
completely different."

Typically,
he adds, creating one course takes the company from three to six months to complete,
although P&G has also purchased ready-prepared content in the form of
pre-packaged courses, video and university material.

Fundamental
challenges

From
a system perspective, meanwhile, the challenges have been more fundamental.
Although the features and functionality provided by the top LMS vendors are
broadly similar, vendors take a different approach to the way their software is
rolled out. Docent, for example, has a highly-customisable system, which
encourages users to adjust the software to their favoured working practices.
The benefits of being able to tailor the system have to be balanced against the
time and resource expended and the fact that modifications can complicate the
upgrade process further down the line.

The
Saba system, meanwhile, has more pre-packaged elements, providing users with
functionality "out-of-the-box", but sometimes requiring compromise on
the shape of the final application.

P&G,
facing a major global rollout, looked hard at finding a balance between
enjoying flexibility and reducing the amount of development work.

"Saba
is probably not the most flexible tool on the market, but even with this, it’s
a big and long job implementing it for a big global company like P&G. We
felt Saba offered enough flexibility that we could meet all our requirements
without having a big impact on the learning processes," says Bonneau.

Synchronising
systems

Even
after leaning towards pre-coded applications, the implementation task was huge
as the company integrated the Saba system with its private intranet, working
through technical incompatibilities in areas such as authentication.
"You’ve got tons of stuff like that to ensure the system will work
properly on our intranet," says Bonneau. "You have to synchronise
with other systems – that’s a very long process."

But
despite the scale of the project, it anticipates a significant payback. Over
five years, the combination of content consolidation and Web-based training is
forecast to deliver post-tax savings of around $14m.

In
the longer-term, meanwhile, the company will be turning its attention to some
of the more sophisticated functionality now emerging on the e-learning market,
particularly in areas such as employee competency management. In the first
instance, its priority in terms of performance measurement is to evaluate how
effective its training tools are. Only then will it progress to measuring
people competency, primarily by building user queries into the training
modules.

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