As telecoms convergence expands across multiple industries, providers offer an increasing blend of fixed, mobile and IP services to their customers. As new generations of bandwidth-intensive internet services emerge, consumers are increasingly looking for more sophisticated services and solutions.
The new communications superhighway that results is supporting the flow of ideas, communication, business and learning. But as soon as it is laid down, it’s dug up again, new lanes are added, new destinations are connected and even more new users are attracted by its promise.
So how do the industry’s customers and those in their supply chain keep up with the constant pace of change? Is the industry harnessing its own innovative products to deliver skills faster and more effectively?
Over the summer, Towards Maturity conducted their fourth benchmark of the use of learning technologies in the workplace. The IT & telecoms sector has always responded well to our benchmarks (in fact almost 10 per cent of our sample of 400 were from the sector this year), but we wanted to dig a bit deeper and so we supplemented the research with a more focused benchmark with eight additional organisations in the telecoms industry to explore how they were delivering skills to their customers.
It is clear that old models of learning no longer cut it. One participant summarised the issue - ‘telecoms giants of the 90s are no longer and the monolith training programmes of the giants are not relevant in a telecoms world that has to respond rapidly, is under more competition, has to cut costs and respond more flexibly to changing customer need.’
Three out of five organisations that we spoke to provided learning to both internal staff and to customers, and across the board, users are demanding more flexible learning options - shorter, bite-size online learning interventions, more customised learning, more languages, more access and more informal learning support.
Speed is also a challenge, not in just decreasing the time to competency, but in the ability to respond faster to customer demand. Some of this is related to the need to reduce the time from launch announcement to access to learning.
Opportunities are lost when you can’t get learning to market fast enough, as Jennifer Howard, Head of Learning and Development, BT Innovation and Design points out. ‘We would rather not create interventions in-house for technology, but are forced to by lack of content on our strategic skill areas.’ So how is the sector addressing the challenges and building the skills?
More options, more flexibility
Qualifications for established technologies are still important in the sector (53 per cent of organisations in our benchmark offering IT professional learning to learners link it to qualifications) and the big providers such as Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco or Alcatel-Lucent all offer certification programmes to customers on their products, with some planning to increase it further.
But the route to these qualifications is changing with technology increasingly being used to help deliver, assess and support the process. Three in five professional skills programmes are likely to be delivered now with a technology component (up from 2008).
There are some ‘traditional’ learning technologies that are widely used across the industry and have been for some time (for example learning management systems, electronic learning content and online assessment are all in use by 80 per cent or more of the sector). Others have been increasing over the past year or so, for example:
- 8 out of 10 are using or are planning to use rapid development tools.
- 9 out of 10 are planning to use virtual classroom.
- Over 50 per cent are using video on demand and 65 per cent are using podcasts.
- 1 in 3 are using complex simulations and virtual environments for detailed practice.
Over half offer in-house social networking sites and 41 per cent plan to use them more. All of the telecoms providers in our review are using social networking to connect with customers.
These tools are paying off - 80 per cent of the sector found technology improved the ability to deliver learning faster and a third found that staff reached competency in their jobs faster. Learning technologies are also helping to reduce time to bring new learning to market by helping the rapid transfer of knowledge and skills from the product development specialists to market.
Mike Booth at Cable & Wireless Worldwide explained that the last 18 months have seen a dramatic shift in the use of web conferencing to disseminate the very latest product information.
They hold a weekly seminar aimed at commercial colleagues who need to keep up-to-date with the latest products, case studies and innovations in order to support their customers. They also work with programme managers and product experts within the lines of business to develop a series of update sessions that are now a standing appointment in the diary.
Social media in learning
The sector is not shutting the door to third party social networking sites for their staff. Generally 48 per cent of companies allow access to third party sites such as Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, and this figures rises to 75 per cent in the IT & telecoms sector. Interestingly, those that use social media report significant increases in customer satisfaction and staff impact over those that don’t.
These tools are also being used to shorten the time to disseminate the very latest updates directly to the coal face. Jennifer Howard relies on BT’s social learning tool Dare2Share to supplement learning as experts in the business are able to capture their knowledge and experience via video podcasts and share it within the system for all to see.
Dare2Share connects staff with expert knowledge in an internal YouTube-type environment, so not only do staff have access to podcast materials; they also have opportunity to comment and ask the expert. Posted resources are then reused in learning events.
Cisco already has a widely used learning network where they connect learners, channel partners and in-house company experts. For Cisco learning is part of the product experts’ remit and as a result they are expected to produce content that can be shared through multiple channels so that it travels in the fastest route possible to the user. Experts also get firsthand feedback via social media so that outputs can be made even more useful.
Mike Pilbara, VP Sales and Technical Operations at Cisco, hints that there is more to come. ‘We are currently on a journey to capture the advantages of social networking platforms and behaviours to develop and deliver a closed-loop information and expertise exchange enablement environment for customers and staff.’
Learning on the move
Unsurprisingly, the telecoms sector is also significantly ahead of the rest in terms of delivery via a range of devices including mobile devices.
Organisations are already investigating the opportunity that mobile devices are providing for individuals for assessment, immediate job aids and even location-specific advice and support as a result of GPS tracking.
Sixty per cent of telecoms companies plan to use or increase their use of mobile devices such as PDAs and mobile phones for learning, with 55 per cent using or planning to use mobile applications.
What of the future?
All of those that we spoke to are clearly focused on using the technology infrastructures that they are creating to help redefine the way that learning is delivered. The growing use of mobile and social learning and the increased acceptance of the use of technology in general are driving the industry forward.
There is still a way to go as much is still delivered in the classroom and only a third of the sector are training their learning staff in blended learning approaches, but there are clear signs that those laying down the superhighway are using it to speed up and transform our access to learning.
To find out more
Find out more about the Towards Maturity 2010 Benchmark at www.towardsmaturity.org.