A multitude of subcontractors helps BAA operate Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport. When BAA set out to install IP telephony, it needed to devise a training programme that took into account the complex environment and diverse communities, as Helen Wilcox reports.

Baggage handlers, check-in staff, shop workers, security guards, airline staff, passport control and immigration police are among the many communities who work at Heathrow.

Although these communities operate independently, BAA supplies a telephony system to many of them. Last year, it began to upgrade the system from analogue to IP telephony, which included making sure users knew how to use the new handsets.

'Moving to IP telephony is part of a sizeable investment to upgrade BAA's voice and data networks, which was mostly about cost-saving,' explained Andy Clarke, Project Manager at BAA Networks. 'The legacy estate was also at the end of its life. It was costly to maintain, inflexible, and due for investment. Investing in IP telephony will reduce telephony costs by a third, thereby more than paying for the cost of the change project.'

The data side of the project is already complete, and BAA has moved over to Cisco platforms, which included installing over 800 network switches in Heathrow. BAA is now half way through the main deployment of IP telephony, which began in September 2008 and is on schedule to finish in September 2009.

BAA has already installed over 2,000 new IP telephony handsets in Heathrow out of an estimated 7,000. The training programme for users is running alongside the equipment roll-out with 2e2 contracted to deliver communications, training, and the first phase of support.

BAA put out an invitation to tender for the contract via the Official Journal of the EU. 'We were looking for a supplier who was a Cisco gold partner and who had experience of large-scale deployments and complex environments,' said Clarke. '2e2 came top of the selection process. We put a lot of effort in to get the right partner and I'm glad to say that has paid off.'

BAA worked on the initial strategy and definition of how to carry out the training. It ran workshops with 2e2 where BAA brought knowledge of the community and 2e2 added its training expertise and on site experience gained from a previous deployment project with British Airways.

In devising the training strategy, BAA had to accommodate the particular circumstances of its users.Clarke said: 'The first thing to consider was the scale of Heathrow, it covers 11 square miles. It's like a town.'

The BAA phone system covers the whole campus, although some companies do supply their own telephone systems. BAA's systems are typically used by smaller airlines and shops as a cost effective option.

'The customer base is also special,' pointed out Clarke. 'BAA has a fairly small number of permanent staff. Most are managers of outsourced contracts. There are 70,000 people on site at Heathrow. As most are outsourced, BAA cannot force them to do the training, nor tell them when to do it. We can only offer them the training and encourage them to take it up.

We also have to ask permission to go into their locations. 'The user base is also made up of some transient workers, and the airport is a 24/7 operation. There's therefore a lot of shift working, which means training needs to be spread over a long day.

Training also had to cover the year-long deployment. 'Only 1 per cent of staff at Heathrow is office based, but everyone needs to know about the new IP telephony. Most people just need to know what is different about the new phones and don't necessarily need classroom training.'

The training programme therefore had to run for a year, be flexible, be available across the whole site and offer different levels of training. Once BAA had signed off the initial strategy, 2e2 took charge of running the programme.

'We are using a sort of train-the-trainer scenario,' explained Emma Henry, Project Manager for Training at 2e2. 'We try and target expert users with ILT - airline supervisors and people who rely on telephony all the time or people who others naturally gravitate to for help. The expert users then cascade their learning down to others. We also offer an e-Help solution and floorwalking, giving us three prongs of attack.'

Training detail

2e2 runs two-hour ILT sessions for super users with up to 10 people, as close to the deployment date of the handsets as possible - usually within a week - so that users don't forget the training before putting it into practice.

'One of the challenges is that to train on the phones they need to be connected into the IPT network, which often isn't in the location before roll-out,' said Henry. 'So we've created a mobile training kit - with switch, laptop, back-end software, and 12 handsets. We can wheel it round in a flight case to where the training is being held.'

Clarke said: 'It's not a controlled project environment, so deployment dates can move. With 2e2's approach we have the flexibility to meet changing deadlines.'

The aim of the second prong, the e-Help solution, is to help cover the thousands of workers who use phones but don't need in-depth knowledge. The solution is a customised version of 2e2's own e-learning package.

Samantha Kinstrey, Managing Director at 2e2 Training, said: 'A few years ago we set out to make e-learning more interactive and engaging for users. Our software can be adapted to reflect the phone set-up, which wouldn't be the case if an off-the-shelf e-learning package was used.'

The e-Help offers modular and task-based e-learning. On the BAA intranet or extranet, the user chooses their phone model (one of two), and is presented with a list of activities. They can do all of them, or pick one task, such as learning about conference calls, or simply refer to it for help when needed.

As many Heathrow workers don't have continual access to a PC, BAA provides PCs in kiosks in staff canteens, so staff can then use their breaks to do some training on the e-Help.

'The 2e2 product has been customised to have a BAA look and feel. It's been well received,' said Clarke.

'The legacy from the project will be the e-learning, as well as the key users in each area. The e-Help can also be adapted for any additions to the system,' said Kinstrey.

The third element of the training programme is floorwalking. Trainers are available in communities going live on handset roll-out days from 5am-11pm. They offer familiarisation sessions, as well as advice at workstations.

'It's both a training and PR activity - making sure that everyone is happy with the system,' said Clarke. 'The handsets have usually gone in overnight. The floor walker is the shop window of the project for the users. It's been very successful and adds lots of value.'

Floorwalking and training is delivered by 2e2 associate trainers, who have freelanced for the company for a long time. 'Most of them are ex-switchboard operators, so understand the issues in context,' said Henry.

To date, 160 super users have been through ILT, and floorwalkers have given 450 familiarisation sessions. The programme will continue in this format until September. From 2e2's point of view, several elements help the training go smoothly. Kinstrey said: 'Having a dedicated project manager on training for the deployment has been key to its success.'

Henry is based down in BAA's project office once a week. Plus she meets once a week with the remainder of the project team incorporating communications, support and deployment.

Henry also stressed the importance of ensuring the quality of the training. '2e2 is accredited to gold standard by the Institute of IT Training,' she said. 'Although we typically train for the PC environment, we were keen to incorporate those standards too in the IP telephony environment. The challenge is that this training is not a full day, and, for instance, reiterating objectives is quite a challenge in the space of two hours. We therefore involved 2e2's Training Manager in course design, who fed information to our lead trainer.'

The training's success is measured via questionnaires after ILT sessions, plus Clarke conducts a more general survey about satisfaction with handset deployment - on service and quality. Overall the new services are scoring an average of 4 (where 5 is excellent from 1-5) with the training element also averaging 4.

Other success measures of the BAA project as a whole include cost savings, technical completeness and quality of how it's done, covering handsets, infrastructure, power, firewall, and the telephony network.

How important is training to the project's overall success? 'Having seen other IT projects, I'd say you can't underestimate the importance of training to a project,' said Clarke. 'Training is absolutely fundamental to our project's success.'