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Trend report: extended enterprise training goes mainstream

If you’re an online banking customer, or if you use software like Salesforce.com, you’ve probably learned how to use those applications through online training. In recent years, many organizations have developed extended enterprise training (EET) programs to educate external audiences. In fact, almost half of learning organizations now deploy EET, according to a recent Elearning! magazine user study.

The State of Extended Enterprise Training
EET is the delivery of training, certification programs and knowledge assets — not only to employees — but also to customers, partners, suppliers, channel and distributor networks, franchisers and franchisees, association members, independent agents, contractors and volunteers. In other words, it extends learning to stakeholders who do not work directly for the organization.

Many companies consider EET initiatives integral to customer satisfaction. For these companies, the extended enterprise is the face of the brand. For others, the quality of the supplier-customer relationship is typically measured only through product development or distribution.

To develop a snapshot of extended enterprise training trends, Elearning! magazine recently analyzed readership responses along several key dimensions:

1) Overall Adoption Rate
Almost half of respondents (46%) have extended enterprise training initiatives in place. Of these organizations, 78% focus on their customer community, while 64% focus on supply chain and affiliate channels.Extended

2) Strategic Importance 37% indicated that their extended enterprise training initiatives are critical — a top priority for their organization.

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3) Adoption by Industry
Extended enterprise training is widely embraced within corporate and public sectors. Heavy corporate users — health care/pharma, financial services/banking/real estate, manufacturing and software/web development — account for about 40% of deployments. In the public sector, educational institutions, nonprofits and government are heavy users, accounting for 45% of deployments.

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4) Organizational Size
Organizations of all sizes offer extended enterprise training. In fact, 41% say they have fewer than 1,000 employees.

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5) Technology Infrastructure
When deploying EET, it’s important to integrate the various necessary technology elements — including a learning management system (LMS), online courseware and e-commerce. Given EET’s focus on customers, many organizations also leverage community and social networks to engage with learning audiences.

About 40% of our survey respondents use an on-demand or cloud-based LMS, where training can easily be developed and delivered to external audiences. With software-as-a-service (SaaS) models, users are required to have only internet access to complete training — a very flexible and scalable approach. However, 44% of organizations still rely upon an enterprise LMS hosted behind the firewall.

EET solutions can be simple or robust, depending upon the desired capabilities, accessibility requirements and content delivery modes. In the Elearning! user study, more than 35% of respondents said they offer video, mobile learning, collaboration and multiple content libraries to external training/certification program participants.Extended

Benefits of Extended Enterprise Training
Organizations that offer EET are experiencing numerous advantages. For example, you can:

  • Increase customer satisfaction and loyalty by building engagement and investment in products
  • Increase sales, especially among customers with strongest product knowledge
  • Promote best practices, so customers gain more value from your products and services
  • Reduce support costs by decreasing customer questions about products
  • Strengthen your organization and brand reputation by certifying partners, vendors and clients
  • Potentially increase training revenue by selling EET courses and certification programs
  • Shift training from a cost center to a self-sustaining profit center by adding e-commerce capabilities
  • Speed time-to-competency by displaying available content in an online catalog without requiring users to log in
  • Track and measure financial data, and more accurately integrate it into your business financial system
  • Reduce training costs for everyone involved, while accelerating time to market

Lessons Learned
When hosting an extended enterprise training initiative, consider three key lessons learned from others who have led the way:

  • Listen to customers: Significant emphasis must be placed on adequately understanding customers’ needs, and in building solutions that satisfy those requirements. Customer training may need to address a diverse audience, so it must be designed with user input to optimize its utility and value.
  • Keep it simple: From the LMS user interface, to the ease of content selection and progress tracking, organizations should make EET simple for customers to understand, access and use.
  • Focus on flexibility and scalability: As an EET program grows, needs will change. It pays to think ahead. For example, by working with vendors that are experienced and have a track record in delivering EET domestically and globally, you can guide your organization through e-commerce challenges that involve multiple languages, currencies and international taxes.

Conclusions
In today’s competitive environment, training programs shouldn’t stop with a company’s internal workforce. Extended enterprise learning can both increase the bottom line and improve customer satisfaction. An educated value chain is better prepared to help your company design, develop, deliver and support successful products and services.

Whether the goal is to build a new profit center from existing training programs, or to drive partner effectiveness in selling products, organizations should consider how innovative learning technology, relevant content and responsive services can work together to make extended enterprise training an integral aspect of your business strategy.

Your Turn
Does your organization offer extended enterprise training? Are you surprised by the Elearning! magazine survey results? What challenges or opportunities are you experiencing? Please share your thoughts in the comments area.

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