Time for the Training Department to be Taken Seriously

Post Type: 
Blog post

For those of you who read my blog, have seen any of my blog comments, or follow me on twitter, you’ll know that I’m a fairly big critic of training departments that still tend to disconnect themselves from the rest of the enterprise, be it stand-alone learning content development processes, and now much to my chagrin, siloed social learning initiatives. Today, I’m going to talk about learning content management (ECM) and enterprise content management (LCM).

The enterprise content management software market currently exceeds $4B, so it’s quite clear that the vast majority of organizations place strong emphasis on their ECM strategy – a strategy that the training organization unfortunately typically takes no part in. In his paper At the Intersection of Learning and Enterprise Content Management (available for download at the resource library section of our web site), Chapman Alliance analyst and Brandon Hall associate Bryan Chapman makes clear the repercussions of such a strategy:

  1. The training department cannot leverage content used in other parts of the organization,
  2. There is limited or no collaboration between training and other enterprise functions,
  3. Training have limited influence on the enterprise content strategy.

If there is any question as to why the training department has become increasingly marginalized and the CLO role quickly diminishing, this should provide some good insight.

But this blog post isn’t about why learning needs to engage with the enterprise. I’ve already written about this extensively in my Plugging Learning into ECM white paper (also available for download at the resource library section of our web site). What his blog post is about is what happens when the training function actually engages with the rest of the organization to take a leading role in the enterprise content management strategy and radically grows its sphere of influence to elevate learning from riding the bench to a star player within the enterprise.

In mid-May, along with Xyleme CEO, Mark Hellinger, I attended EMC World where one of our enterprise customers, Informa, had the opportunity to showcase their integrated Xyleme LCMS / EMC Documentum solution to the ECM community. For those of you unfamiliar with scope of this event, EMC World 2010 boasted about 8,000 attendees, filled up the entire Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for four days, and closed down Faneuil Marketplace, one of Boston’s biggest tourist destinations, for a private party for event attendees. It was very different from the typical training conferences that we regularly attend.

In front of an audience consisting of the people responsible for developing and executing on their company’s ECM strategy, Bob Hecht, Senior Vice President of Publishing Technologies at Informa, presented on how Informa’s performance improvement businesses, the groups responsible for the development of the company’s training content, transformed the company’s content-driven business through an enterprise project they dubbed “Olympus”. So how did they do it and what were the results? Read on!

Informa leveraged their existing ECM strategy and systems

In Bob Hecht’s view of the world, while there was a critical need for training-specific content management functionality such as interactivity, multi-channel publishing, and customization, as well as the need to support key learning standards such as SCORM – with the company-wide goal of implementing an enterprise content management strategy and system (EMC Documentum) already firmly in place – it made little business sense to implement a separate learning content management infrastructure that duplicated much of Documentum’s core functionality.

In ECM systems, functionality such as digital asset management, document management, and business process management are simply services of the ECM platform and not separate infrastructures. Much to his credit, Mr. Hecht recognized that learning content management needed to be just such a service that provided the functionality his team required, but within Informa’s over ECM system.

With that decision, Informa’s learning content developers were instantly elevated to the same playing field as other functional roles within the company. Training, marketing, product documentation, etc. could now all use the same tools, they can all access the same pool of content, and they can all follow the same set of standards.

If you don’t think this is a big deal, take this to heart: I was speaking with Bob after his presentation when an audience member came up to ask him a couple of questions about the Informa project. She was the person responsible for the content management strategy of a large European governmental agency. One thing she said that struck me:

“You know, we have a training department but no one really knows what they do. They kind of just sit over in the corner doing their own thing. I had no idea we could bring this into the ECM fold.”

I’m willing to bet you’d here that same sentiment at a lot of companies.

Informa set strategic goals beyond learning

One of the first slides that Mr. Hecht showed there was a list that he entitled Project Olympus scope and goals. Here it is:

Learning goals

Many of these should look familiar to any training department that is looking to purchase a learning content management solution, so I won’t elaborate on them. But then Mr. Hecht did something I’ve never seen a training organization do. He put up a slide that outlined the broader strategic goals:

Broader goals

Because Informa integrated their learning organization with the rest of the enterprise, Mr. Hecht had to look beyond training’s goals and understand how his own department’s business drivers would affect broader corporate goals.

Why is this significant? Well, when the training department makes the move integrate their systems and processes with the rest of the enterprise, they acquire something extraordinary: significant influence on the organizations corporate strategy. It’s this exact lack of influence which is the Achilles heel of CLOs today.

Informa chose to utilize best-of-breed ECM functionality for training

The training organization loves to reinvent the wheel. We as an industry dedicate vast amounts of R&D resources to general functionality such as workflow, collaboration and now social media functionality that will never get adopted past the departmental level. Why not? Well, for the simple reason that this functionality already exists with best-of-breed vendors outside of learning.

Mr. Hecht gets this and as a result, made the choice to utilize Informa’s ECM system for general functionality and utilize LCM functionality for unique, training specific requirements. Take a look:

ECM Platform LCM Services
ECM platform LCM services

Collaboration is a great example here. Instead of the learning organizations collaborating only with each other using systems sourced from training vendors, they now participate in a role-based Documentum Team Room open to all relevant participants across the enterprise. Training content developers, subject-matter experts, product managers, marketing specialists, instructional designers, technical writers, consultants, etc. all create virtual communities of practice from which they can collaboratively work on new projects.

It’s impossible to understate the significance to the training organization when they are no longer disengaged from the rest of the organization. By plugging his learning organization into the enterprise, Mr. Hecht enabled transparency and seamless communication across all functions of the enterprise.

The training organization wins big

What I think is most extraordinary about the Informa story is the recognition of the immense contributions that the training organization can make to corporate goals and objectives. In 2010, the Olympus project won the award for the most effective Business Transformation within Informa. In a company with over $2 billion in revenue, 9,200 employees worldwide, and 150 offices in 34 countries, this is no small feat.

It also underscores the training industry’s acceptance that it needs to move to a point where this type of influence on the organization is a norm for a training department. In May, Xyleme LCMS for EMC Docmentum, the solution that drove the Informa Olympus project, was honored by Brandon Hall for the Best Advance in Learning Content Management.

This is just awesome momentum but the real question is: Can the training organization as a whole finally let go of their silos or are these destined to be one-off accomplishments?

In my next blog post, I’ll have my own answer to this question, but what do you think?