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e-Learning and the enterprise

This article appears in the issue February 2002 (100 Companies) [Volume 11, Issue 2]


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With enterprise software systems reaching throughout organizations, e-learning must encompass business processes that extend beyond departmental boundaries.

Advocate Health Care is a large Chicago-based healthcare system that treats over a million people a year at its eight hospitals. All of the facilities use the same software application, IntraNexus’ Allegra, for patient registration, but surveys indicated that patients had widely varying experiences during the registration process. Once the inconsistencies in the "meet-and-greet" procedures were discovered, Advocate sought to improve both the patient experience and the data capture process.

As it turned out, the two were closely related. For example, when a patient was admitted to the emergency room and then later to the hospital, the administrative associates did not always use the same method of changing patient status. Some were discharging and readmitting the patients, while others were reassigning the patients’ status. The patients being readmitted had to go through the process of answering questions again--not a welcome experience for an emergency room patient. Moreover, the differences in processing procedures had a ripple effect throughout the enterprise-—including the billing department.

Using KnowledgeMate from Knowledge Impact , Advocate developed computer-based training for its associates to enhance their understanding of a dozen or so functions with which they were having problems. The training tool was distributed on CD-ROM. Administrative associates go through the self-paced training and then have it available as a performance support tool simply by hitting the F1 key on their computer.

"People think enterprise software is straightforward and intuitive," says Jonathan Manis, IT director at Advocate, "but the truth is, these are complex systems that reflect complex processes." Manis expects significant improvements in customer service and patient interactions, as well as greater consistency in data capture at the time of registration. In the future he intends to integrate e-learning into new software applications as they are deployed, to facilitate the learning process.

Organizations that have had difficulty in achieving goals for customer relationship management (CRM) and other enterprise software may want to adjust their attitudes toward training.

"When you use an enterprise software product," says David Stanvick, VP of marketing for Knowledge Impact, "it is not a tool but an environment. You can’t get by just using 10% of the functions as you might with Microsoft Word." Users must truly have an understanding of the business processes the application is designed to carry out.

Consistency in enterprise information is improving, thanks to the continued convergence of training with knowledge management. PRI Automation, which makes equipment for manufacturing semiconductor wafers, has developed an application called e-volution that is based on Total Knowledge Management (TKM) from Generation21 Learning Systems . It serves as both training and performance support for PRI staff who service the equipment for customers. In addition, PRI customers who opt to service their own equipment can now tap into the training and knowledgebase. TKM uses knowledge objects that can be incorporated into multiple outputs, including training courses, technical product documentation or bulletins for the marketing department.

Drawing information from a standardized knowledgebase provides not only consistency and speed in developing materials, but also economy. "The e-volution application has made our training investment much more cost-effective," says Peter Parsons, director of product knowledge and learning systems at PRI. A technician who has to perform a procedure only occasionally doesn’t need to remember all the steps if performance support is readily available. "We can direct our intensive training time to activities the technicians will be conducting on a daily basis," Parsons says.

But he adds that a knowledgebase is not a cure-all for training woes. "You can’t just push knowledge into the system and expect it to solve organizational problems," he says. "Considerable advance thought needs to be directed toward the packaging and presentation of the information, and to how it is segregated for various end users."

Generation21’s products were designed from the beginning for an integrated approach to e-learning and knowledge management. The TKM product includes a learning content management system (LCMS) and learning management system (LMS) functionality. Collaborative capability is also integrated through chat rooms and message boards. Good evidence of the value of combining learning and knowledge management is shown by another Generation21 implementation, this one by SimplexGrinnell. The company created integrated product information about a new fire detection product, TrueAlert, with a sales training program. The company reported that branch offices participating in the training program outsold non-participating branch offices by nearly a 2 to 1 margin in number of units sold.

Dr. James Li, CEO of LeadingWay Knowledge Systems, believes that the potential synergy between e-learning and knowledge management has not yet been fully exploited. "Effective training is hindered by the rapid rate of change in the business world. Knowledgebases, on the other hand, tend to include too much information that is not relevant," he points out. "Often, users don’t have the background to apply this information to their work."

LeadingWay offers a family of products that allow the integration of corporate knowledge management with the learning process. According to Li, several scenarios represent particularly good matches for LeadingWay’s KnowledgeOne software:

  • companies launching enterprise software systems, which may fail if people are not properly trained;;

  • new product introduction information and training for salespeople; and;

  • change management, such as for new processes after acquisitions and mergers.;

KnowledgeOne provides a series of escalating options for users—online help, then a brief targeted learning module, followed by either live support or access to a KM database. As an example of a new product introduction, LeadingWay worked with Toyota (toyota.com) to develop a support product for salespeople who needed basic training in features of new car models, but also needed a reference source when they wanted to verify features for a prospective customer. The two are integrated so that the reference is consistent with the training module.

A combination of knowledge management and e-learning can help enterprises make the most of their in-house expertise. Hyperwave has integrated an e-learning suite into its knowledge management product. One of the underlying principles in the Hyperwave product design is to bring content creation closer to the experts.

"Using our templates, experts can quickly create a presentation to instruct staff on how to understand a budget, for example," says Hyperwave’s John Prego, general manager of U.S. operations. "The system can help users access knowledge across the enterprise."

He cites as an example media companies that develop advertising for clients. "Users can access expertise throughout the company about the client," says Prego, "and quickly generate a course about how to build an effective ad." Hyperwave is also one of only a few multilingual knowledge management systems, making it ideal for companies that are multinational or have clients throughout the world.

Applying knowledge

The debate over whether computer-based training is more effective than classroom training has subsided, with an apparent consensus that each approach has its place. So-called "blended learning" uses a combination of instructional techniques, depending on the situation. The Socrates Learning Performance System from LearningFramework (learningframework.com) can be used to augment classroom training by providing a channel for new information and enabling a dialog among members of the learning community. The philosophy advocated by LearningFramework is that content provides the foundation for learning, but that optimal learning occurs only in the application of knowledge. The emphasis on dialog stems from the company’s belief that dialog is an important catalyst for application.

In June 2001, Socrates was selected by the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (EMRTC) at the New Mexico Institute for Mining and Technology to deliver information to first responders such as law enforcement officers and firefighters. The training, sponsored by the Department of Justice, consists of one week of classroom instruction, with subsequent follow-on information and discussions with colleagues. Over time, the dialogs become part of an up-to-date knowledgebase that is organized by subject area and builds on the shared insights of participants. Although classroom training is part of the program, Socrates can also deliver e-learning content and an associated online learning community.

A learning management system can leverage existing content and business processes to streamline training administration and also ensure achievement of training goals such as compliance with regulatory demands. Alza, a drug delivery technology company, has stringent FDA certification requirements for training staff on equipment and procedures. The company implemented the Plateau LMS from Plateau Systems more than five years ago to track qualification training.

"The system houses all our training information, including course records and each employee’s current status with respect to training requirements," says Cathy Harnett, a learning and development associate at Alza. Integrated with PeopleSoft, the system is populated with human resources (HR) data such as employee name, title and job code. The job code and training qualifications indicate the training required at any given time.

"Since the Plateau LMS is also integrated with Documentum," Harnett adds, "the system knows when a control document changes and whether the associated qualifications have also changed." If new training is required or new forms must be filled out, the Plateau LMS alerts the employee and tracks completion of the task.

Like other enterprise systems, LMS products are designed to serve needs throughout the organization, but enlightened management is essential if the system is to achieve its greatest potential.

"Parochialism can be a big obstacle," says Paul Sparta, chairman and CEO of Plateau. "A company may end up with a system that anyone can access, but if course content is limited to a few departments, the system is not serving the broader enterprise needs of sales, manufacturing and other activities."

Another potential obstacle is the technology itself. Sparta encourages companies to give careful consideration to the architecture and functionality of the system. "Don’t look just at compliance with educational technology standards, but also at broader issues such as Java standards and integration," he advises.

Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail jlamont@sprintmail.com.