Cisco Systems, 2003 ASTD Excellence in Practice Citation winner, created an innovative training program called E-Service Training (EST), which capitalizes on the potential of existing Internet capabilities and technologies. Here’s the story.
Cisco Systems’s E-Service Training (EST) program provides technical training to a global audience of field engineers (FEs) that perform on-site equipment maintenance services. By incorporating processes, templates, and Web-based tools, content developers create a training program and deliver it to a worldwide audience in a short amount of time. The learning audience benefits by a modular step-by-step approach because the EST program achieves what classroom training offers: learning, practicing, testing, and assessing. In addition, the EST program allows students to participate in training when they need it and where they need it.
Cisco’s EST program was established in early 2001, and implementation began soon after. The program started with a group of 14 developers in a company of about 40,000 employees. The EST program was designed to replace instructor-led training (ILT) and provide an improved training model to a worldwide audience of more than 7,000 field engineers.
The goal of the EST program is to ensure that FEs are ready to repair and maintain new products as soon as they’re released to customers. Due to the rapid nature of new product deployment, the increasing number of products, and the global location of customers, training all of the FEs in the time required becomes very difficult.
In an ILT model, FEs spend three to five days in a classroom. They learn technology and product concepts, and practice such hands-on tasks as replacing and configuring hardware components. This model does not work for the audience for the following reasons:
• It takes too long to train FEs, therefore, they are not ready when new products are installed at customer sites.
• It is very expensive.
• It causes loss of productivity because FEs are away from their service duties while attending a class.
• It cannot be updated with new material as the new material becomes available.
• It is not available when the FE needs it most—just before going to a customer site.
The E-Service Training approach to technical product training encompasses most aspects of classroom training, but uses a Web-enabled, modular design. E-Service Training provides instruction via five program components:
• E-Learning – Presentations which provide conceptual and product overview
• E-Lab – Lab exercises which provide access to real, physical equipment for
skills training and refresh.
• Visual Hands-on (VHO) – VHO provides product illustrations and step-bystep
procedures for maintenance tasks.
• Qualification Exam – Assess students on their skill set and capacity to
provide quality services.
• Virtual Talk Sessions (VTS) – Real-time, interactive sessions, over the
Internet, with video, audio and chat.
In the development of E-Service Training, content developers or subject matter experts do not start with a blank slate. The team surveyed and interviewed trainers, content developers, support engineers, field engineers and technical writers to gather information. Using the insight gained from this information, the team defined a training development process consisting of four stages: engagement, planning, implementing, and delivery.
In addition to the process, the team created templates to facilitate faster and easier content development to the extent that it almost becomes plug-and-play. The processes and templates substantially reduced the time needed to develop and deliver training to a worldwide audience.
As expected, the E-Service Training program has changed the behavior of both the people who create training, as well as those who receive it. Training developers were accustomed to using a very structured process to create training for a classroom setting. In the process of developing the E-Service Training content, trainers had to learn how to create content on a variety of file formats outside of PowerPoint®. Tools such as HTML editors, image editors, multimedia applications or animation programs are now included in the toolbox for trainers.
Not only did the trainers learn and use new tools, but they also developed a new mind set. Trainers realized that content development was not just about slides, but it was about creating training that was engaging, educational, and even fun.
Currently, the EST program is a mature model and is overwhelmingly accepted by our global FE partner organizations. The EST program is not static, though. The team constantly reviews the needs of the training audience to devise changes and additions to the program. Most recently, online dynamic assessment modules for the E-lab were added. Also, tracking and metrics tools have been created so that we can monitor the success of the EST program, and gain insight into areas which need improvement.
By late 2003, there were 13 employees involved in designing and maintaining this program. Of the 13, three are Web programmers who maintain the E-Lab hardware and network, external and internal Websites, and tracking and metrics tools. Two of the team members are technical writers and process engineers who perform technical edits of the content and help organize and maintain the templates, tools, and processes used to create content. The remaining eight engineers are SMEs who create the actual content of the training offerings. In addition to creating content, several of these engineers seek out and evaluate new tools. Each one is also an expert in one or more of the tools that are used and they act as mentors to other members of the team.
Without question, the EST program reduces time to market for services, improves developer productivity, reduces costs to both developers and learners, and improves field engineer confidence. The result is increased value and satisfaction for customers. The implementation of the EST program reduced training expenditures (excluding personnel) by more than 80 percent while the number of people needed to create it shrank by 35 percent. In addition, the number of training courses that were delivered increased by 60 percent. The initial expenditure for the EST program infrastructure (hardware, software, and so forth) was less than US$10,000.
Two of the key components of the organization’s strategic focus are to accelerate customer success and to focus on the customer in everything we do. Inherent to this focus is the commitment to providing world-class on-site service to support our products. The EST program supports the company’s strategic focus by providing highly qualified field engineers who provide better service to customers.
By exploiting the Internet, and by providing modular, targeted training, the EST program has been proven to support product deployments faster and better than traditional training methods. The program is a showcase for the ability of an effective tool (the EST program) to reduce time to market for services and minimize the cycles customers expend in supporting our products at their sites.
The net impact of the EST program for customers is an increase in their productivity, profits, and cash—three pillars of customer loyalty.
This article is adapted from Cisco's original award submission. ASTD Members can get more details in Cisco’s complete entry submission.
Published: December 2004