-3. Steve Rae

Steve Rae, Worldwide Executive for IBM's Mindspan Services, specializes in applying proven business models to the world of e-learning, a perspective that helps clients implement successful distributed learning and knowledge management solutions. Steve has responsibility for a worldwide team of e-learning specialists and content-development resources deployed worldwide in over forty locations in twenty-three countries that span all the major geographies. He is responsible for the personnel that help deliver custom services for IBM's Mindspan Solutions, a premier provider of end-to-end e-learning solutions.

Question: What do you see as the impact of e-learning on companies and enterprises?

Steve Rae: I look at three impacts, and I'll start with the easiest one: cost avoidance. I believe that one of the profound impacts that e-learning has had on companies is to reduce the cost of training.

That's seen in a couple of ways. A company is able to reduce its training budget or its able to do more training with the same amount of money. IBM is a good use-case for this. If you look at our annual report last year, it says we saved over $350 million with e-learning, which takes into account all the content we have in e-learning and "What would it have cost us if we had delivered that in a traditional way?".

The second one is really about the ability to impact the performance of the organization. This one gets a little more difficult to measure and quantify, but e-learning enables us to provide environments in which we learn better (like collaborative and simulated environments), where we better prepare individuals for what they are supposed to do in the real workplace. That has an impact on the organization's ability to perform.

And the last one is a matter of speed. I hear companies talking about getting a product launch out to 30,000 people, and they need training as part of that. Again, IBM is a good example in what we did with the signature sales method (SSM). Our old method for getting everyone on board with SSM would have been to bring everyone in to two-day live workshops. Well if you look at how long that would have taken us versus our use of e-learning technology, you'll see that we compressed that tremendously.

So it's not only the ability to create better performance, but also the speed and time to performance. And to me, the last two are far more important than the straight cost avoidance I began with. Because cost avoidance doesn't take into account things like the opportunity cost associated with slow deployment of an initiative where you might get inconsistent messaging and inconsistent execution. What's most important is speed and performance, and especially "time to performance."

Question: Do you think the impact is something to look for now, or is it still in the future?

Steve Rae: I think the impacts are here today, and they are only going to get better. The things I talked about in the first question— cost avoidance, performance, and speed—are available to companies deploying these solutions today. But over time, here are some of the things I think are going to be better.

We'll see a better way to map an inventory of the skills of an organization to an aggregate training prescription that is then delivered on an individual basis. That is still something that is at a distance away from us today.

And as we go down the road, we will see much richer media. And I think we are still exploring the notion of what it means to provide structured informal learning, collaboration, and so forth, especially in an informal space. The richer media will make it better.

These things will only improve the value proposition that we have today.

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