Exec Ed On Foreign Shores

For IT professionals on assignment around the world, the pursuit of executive education for career advancement is characterized by compromise and complexity.

The task is likewise complicated for U.S.-based companies that need to deliver high-level education and training to their IT workers in offshore locations. What works in the U.S. doesn't necessarily fly in Poland, Brazil or France.

International Paper Co., which is rolling out SAP R/3 to manufacturing sites worldwide, can attest to that. The company is currently wrapping up a pilot in England to establish a European best-practices team. It will next roll out the enterprise resource planning technology to its operations in Poland and Russia, says Russell Giddings, manager of business process redesign at the Purchase, N.Y.-based manufacturer. Giddings sends project management teams from the U.S. to these countries to implement R/3.

When these top IT workers need additional SAP training abroad, they primarily turn to SAP AG's Web-based programs. Much bigger challenges come with educating these workers on country-specific requirements so they can customize R/3 to each implementation, according to Doug Turner, IT director at International Paper's European operations.

"Across Europe, reports that have to be generated for one country are completely different than the country next door," says Turner. "To develop European best practices, our American team of business/ IT people have to get educated on different regulations." That means localized training on fiscal, payroll, tax and reporting requirements for each country in which International Paper has facilities.

In addition to educating what it calls its business/ IT workers on high-level foreign business practices, International Paper increasingly requires these workers to attend executive meetings, such as the electronic summit that the company hosted in December in Europe. That summit brought together senior business and IT professionals working in the area to educate them on the company's plans for e-commerce.

"It's critical when establishing best practices for worldwide initiatives that we educate our business IT people on our business processes and strategy moving forward," says Turner.

Time is Money

Finding the time to complete any kind of training under an R/3 implementation schedule can be a tall order. That's the challenge for IT executives working abroad, regardless of the projects they're managing. They're typically overtaxed with the projects at hand, and continuing their education isn't usually a high priority.

"There are real challenges for multinationals trying to deliver education globally," says Rachel Cheeseman, president of the Information Technology Training Association in Austin, Texas. "On one hand, local programs don't usually work because it's not worth a provider's time to customize its whole program to one person who might not speak the language."

In addition, "there's no time to take courses because most IT executives working abroad are already working far beyond what is the local norm, and when they're not, they're often connecting with the mother ship over the ocean to get updates," she says.

These realities are just some of the many reasons that e-learning is gaining ground, says David Von Zurmuehlen, a director at Dallas-based Southern Methodist University's School of Engineering, which helps numerous IT professionals earn master's degrees using video- and Web-based media.

"When IT professionals are working abroad, they're focused on the task at hand. When they get to breathe, they're more focused on integrating family time," says Von Zurmuehlen. "From the cultural standpoint, they're outsiders, and as a project lead, everyone is making demands of them, so it can be overwhelming to try to continue their education. The Internet has had a positive impact, because they can log on and purchase a short class or self-paced tutorial when they have time."

A Blend Works Best

Global companies will increasingly offer so-called blended programs (which supplement classroom training with distance learning, videoconferencing, videotape and other delivery methods) to meet the needs of IT professionals at home and abroad.

That's the approach taken by Lockheed-Martin Corp.'s Enterprise Information Systems (EIS) organization in Orlando, which provides IT services to the defense contractor's 145,000 employees worldwide.

"We'll be leveraging as many different media as possible as we go forward," says Dwight Weaver, EIS's manager of international IT services. "We're incorporating Web-based training, videoconferencing, PowerPoint presentations and classroom training."

Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed's foreign training challenges are exacerbated by U.S. export control laws. "As a government contractor, we're very aware of our requirements to protect U.S. technical data in compliance with U.S. export laws," says Weaver. "So, while we're developing capabilities for network-delivered training, what we're able to share isn't hindered so much by technology but by data protection compliance. Data protection technology will allow us to share data across boundaries."

Gilhooly is a freelance writer in Falmouth, Maine.

Electronic-Learning Revenues

Electronic learning is becoming a key component of corporate education and training initiatives at global companies, according to analyst Michael Brennan at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. Revenues in distance learning are expected to nearly double this year from last year, he says.

U.S. Total U.S. IT segment
2000 $2.2B $1.66B
2001 $4.1B $2.7B

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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