One of e-learning’s proud boasts is that it overcomes geography, time zones
and language barriers – in theory anyway. So could a software simulator tool
provide internet service provider WorldCom with the dream global training
solution? Sue Weekes reports
Whatever the technological developments of the last 10 years, it’s still a
tall order rolling out a training programme to a busy global workforce of more
than 2,200 people, who speak different languages and work in a number of
different time zones. This was the challenge that faced the International
Finance Accounting Systems Team (iFAST) at internet service provider WorldCom,
which operates in more than 65 countries.
The sheer size of the company has the potential to slow down any process
undertaken. However, when it came to training users in a new type of software,
Sunil Narang, who heads up the international iFAST team, was determined the
experience would go smoothly and be stress-free.
Back in November 1999, WorldCom implemented an R/3 system from SAP, Europe’s
largest software vendor, to improve project management, asset management and
other financial processes.
To train its users in the new software, it undertook an intensive programme
of classroom-based training. Sixteen-hundred users, speaking six different
languages across 17 countries, were trained during a 10-week period. This was
very effective, but Narang agrees that it did have its downfalls.
"The first major issue was the cost of getting people to a fixed
location – flights, accommodation, other travel expenses. Not to mention the
time out of the office and the effort required to ensure people turned up on
the day. Training such a large number of people also involved bringing in
external trainers," says Narang.
"This proved to be far from ideal as they didn’t have the WorldCom
background knowledge, so couldn’t answer users’ questions that specifically
related to the systems used or to regular tasks."
The system went live only 26 minutes late and on budget. "The
implementation in November was good, but one thing we could have done better
was training. Expecting all our users to cope with the transition to the new
system without any hiccups was a little too much to ask," comments Narang.
The implementation may have been on time, but training delayed the expected
returns and WorldCom felt it had to find a different way of teaching people
what the system could do and showing them how it would help them do their job
better or faster. "We learned that next time, more attention had to be
paid to this area," says Narang.
That next time wasn’t far off. In March 2001, the iFAST team decided to
upgrade the SAP system from 4.0b to 4.6c. Determined to ensure training in the new
financial software was handled better this time round, Narang and his team
chose to use SAP’s Simulation Training Tool (STT). "SAP offered the
tailored solution we were looking for – a web-based system providing an
efficient and effective way of training globally dispersed employees,"
"It stood out because of its global capabilities and statistical
reporting, as well as being easily scalable and user-friendly. The system went
live one day early without any hiccups, with the added comfort of knowing the
majority of our users had accessed and successfully completed the
STT allowed WorldCom to develop a series of web-based training lessons, each
relating to a different task, such as reconciliation. These could be accessed
via the company’s intranet from any country at any time. Users could therefore
complete the training from their desk when it suited them, reducing the expense
of training and ensuring a more efficient use of time.
"We prioritised the lessons, so if users were restricted by the time
they had available, they knew which lessons were essential and had to be
completed. Surprisingly, there was a 76 per cent take-up of priority one
lessons," says Narang. "The others were chased by their line managers
to complete the training, but SAP’s STT meant we could monitor what stage
everyone was at from one central source," he says.
Rolling out this level of training required extra support. WorldCom decided
to stop calling the process a ‘technical upgrade’, as it realised this just put
users off, and then did a half-day roadshow in every country.
All of the users were invited and the organisation did all sorts of teaser
campaigns in the local offices to ensure they turned up, including the offer of
a couple of handheld computer giveaways. "On average, we got a pretty good
turnout of 75 per cent," recalls Narang.
"In the roadshow, we took them through a demo STT lesson, explaining
what they needed to do and what they would learn from doing so. We reached 20
countries in two weeks," he added.
In total, WorldCom created 246 tailored STT lessons by identifying the most
frequently used SAP transaction codes. It developed its site to be a
user-friendly interface for the training lessons with a comprehensive outline
of all the company policies and guidelines. It also included details of the
business process expert in each country (a member of staff who is an expert in
the financial processes and STT, whom local users can turn to for help).
"Setting up the site and the training itself is easy. The hardest thing is
maintaining it," says Narang.
The intranet site is in the top 10 of sites hit internally and is updated
weekly. One advantage of computer-based training and STT lessons is that users
worldwide can ‘drive’ through each module as many times as they like, 24 hours
a day, seven days a week. Lessons are stored and updated centrally, so if users
forget how to complete a financial process, they can repeat the lesson in five
to 10 minutes.
There are no time limits, so it’s a way of empowering users to help
themselves before asking others how to perform a simple task. It is also a
useful tool for training new employees at WorldCom. The STT lessons are
currently in English and to address the user language issue, WorldCom has also stored
Quick Reference Guides in five languages at the same site. "We used to
have to arrange a classroom-based session, which wasn’t an economical use of
time or money. But now we have updated lessons ready to go and it is just a
case of running through a demo and leaving them to it," said Harleen
Grover, one of Narang’s team.
WorldCom is able to set targets, so that users must complete a certain
number of training sessions and a test, ensuring people learn how the system
works. The statistics are monitored to keep track of which lessons each
individual has completed as well as their test scores. It has further developed
its STT training solution, so that it lists which SAP transactions the end
users still require training for in relation to their job roles. "We also
have a Delta Training Scheme on the site and a ‘playpen’ area where users can
experience demo STT training lessons to help familiarise themselves with the
tool," adds Narang.
Although the first stage of the project is complete, training is ongoing and
STT will be continuously developed to support users’ needs. "We found the
benefits of SAP system often come from the ‘soft’ side, for example,
understanding the processes that people work in, rather than just the
keystrokes required to get a task done.
"We believe that if staff understand the impact their actions have on
others in the process, this leads to improved quality in the work they do. This
is even more important with SAP than with old systems, as everything in SAP is
integrated and inaccurate entries on the system can have far-reaching
implications in other departments. Now we have proved that SAP’s STT is
efficient and effective, we intend to build on it as we expand into more
countries on a global basis and roll-out new systems," says Narang.
Overall, Narang sees the training as an essential part of rolling out such a
large-scale system. "We want the system to be effective immediately, so
knowing we don’t have to worry about the cost and time involved in training is
"The fact we can also track trends in the training lessons and test
results means we can spot the areas that are proving difficult. We can then
either provide additional training, or introduce another STT lesson to help
users understand the transaction."
"What we now have is a comprehensive online training tool that can be
used on an ongoing basis. Any new transactions that users need to be trained
in, or any new systems that are rolled out across the company, can have STT
lessons designed around them from now on," he says.
Introducing new training
WorldCom’s requirement: To train its
2,200 strong global workforce in an upgrade to its SAP financial software.
WorldCom opted to use SAP’s Web-based Simulation Software Tool (STT) for the
Why? Classroom-based training had become too expensive and
external trainers didn’t have the required background knowledge on WorldCom.
Training was also delaying the expected return on the new software system.
Is e-learning delivering? The first stage of the training is
complete and there was a 76 per cent take-up of the priority one lessons. Any
new systems rolled out in the company will have STT lessons designed around