Sunday, August 01, 1999

Training on the Net takes off


Clermont firm's idea saves time, money

BY JOHN ECKBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For all the potential that companies expect from the Internet, few online initiatives offer the opportunity for an immediate blast to the balance sheet like a Web-based training program for employees.

training by computer
        Studies show that North American companies spend an estimated $60 billion annually on training employees — with only 20 percent to 30 percent of that training still used by the trainee a scant month after sessions end.

        For a growing roster of firms, the interactive FieldForce program, developed by Millennium Marketing of Clermont County, is an option that promises to bring Internet-based training to employees and significant savings to the bottom line.

        Programs such as FieldForce eliminate training travel expenses and costs associated with time away from work. And because computer-based training allows an individual to proceed at a personalized pace, retention improves dramatically, said Mark Murphy, vice president of sales for Millennium.

        “We can take all of a company's content and have a Web training site in four weeks,” Mr. Murphy said. “That is a very, very quick turnaround time. But on top of that are significant long-term cost reductions because content does not have to be created and constantly reprinted.”

        Millennium officials say FieldForce delivers valuable training by projecting pods of information to dozens of computer terminals simultaneously. In that presentation, employes are given such details as:

        • Product specifications.

        • How products stack up against competitors.

        • Who benefits from products.

        • Sample sales methods.

        Computer giant Ingram Micro, which posts $23.6 billion in annual sales, was among the first to embrace FieldForce by converting it into the company's iTrain programming to offer training to Ingram's internal sales representatives.

training pie
        More than 1,600 people are trained annually with the FieldForce-derived program at Ingram, said Sally Stanton, director of strategic marketing for the company based in Santa Ana, Calif. “It keeps our sales force up-to-date. Our vendors love it because it is an easy way for them to get a message across,” she said.

        The company can also monitor usage, test trainees and easily alter content.

        “Vendors can look at quarterly reports to see how many people participated in the modules, how many hits have been on a section — and our sales reps can access a module while they are on the phone if a customer has any questions,” she said.

        Traditional corporate training has always occurred in classroom settings — a throwback to America's traditional educational systems. It is, ba sically, high school redux for balding BMW drivers and slouching account executives.

        Classes can actually inhibit learning, Mr. Murphy said, because shy people may not be willing to ask questions and advanced students are usually bored. Picture a classroom of mid-level managers sprinkled with a handful of senior executives. Few mid-level folks would raise a hand to say: I don't get it.

        Another problem with classrooms is that students retain only 10 cent of a lecture. Also, consistency in material is always a moving target as classroom approaches vary from instructor to instructor. Toss in overhead for travel, room rental, staff salaries and materials and the cost of classroom training when compared with Internet training escalates by hundreds of dollars per trainee.

        It was the possibility of getting a foot into that $60 billion training niche, a veritable Grand Canyon of cash, that led David Rippe, Millennium's president, to bring FieldForce to companies interested in employee training on the Internet. The FieldForce promise is both deep and wide: gone are the days of lunch-n-learns, week-long training programs, printed material that is obsolete before the year is out and big-time mail, hotel and restaurant expenses.

        The FieldForce initiative has already brought Millennium local and national attention and a serious bump to the balance sheet.

        In 1998, the company had $1.7 million in revenues with $1 million generated by FieldForce's customer base of 10 firms. The “conservative” goal for 2003 is $18 million in sales from FieldForce, Mr. Murphy said.

        “We want to capitalize on the growth of this industry,” he said.

        The number of corporate clients is projected to double by the end of the year.

        Colleen Schutrump, senior analyst for training markets at International Data Corp., a Framingham, Mass.-based company that researches com puter industry trends, expects explosive growth in Internet-based training in the years to come, projected at 64 percent annually.

        “Hilton Hotels purchased an Internet-based training program and trained 10,000 people on it,” she said. “Trainers' time was reduced from three days to one, trainees went from three days to one day. There was no travel-related expenses and seamless global integration.”

        She estimated that the time to competency, a measurement of how long it takes the average employee to learn a new process, was reduced by 66 percent. The average student received a grade of 88 percent on the course work, and the company saved $11 million in revenues from efficiencies.

        “Most of the savings was due to lack of travel costs and time out in field,” Ms. Schutrump said. “IDC believes that the numbers and cost savings are real.”

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