Vendor U.

SAP America hopes to turn its Web training into a profit center

Considering that technical courses represent the largest category in the Web-based training market, it's no surprise that high-tech vendors are turning to e-learning as a channel for their own product training offerings. What's interesting is that it's becoming a revenue stream, not just a customer service cost.

At SAP America Inc. in Newtown Square, Pa., the idea to go online first germinated about three years ago, says Ronald Berman, director of education for business development. At that time, the company noticed that customers were resisting the travel and out-of-office expenses attached to classroom training.

After choosing the e-learning model, SAP added Web-based classes - live, recorded and self-paced - to its classroom, certification and book/CD training options. The e-learning classes are aimed at experienced SAP R/3 end users and concentrate on providing upgrade information about how to use new features. These are low-cost, quick-hit classes - $200 for two hours - that provide SAP with a new revenue stream.

Because accelerated product cycles have shrunk the useful life of the information he's selling from 18 to four months, the Web is a better medium than CDs and classrooms to disseminate this fast-changing training, Berman says. Updating a Web-based course is easier and more cost-effective than burning and distributing a new round of CDs. Furthermore, a Web-based course can reach more of his customers in a shorter amount of time than a classroom-based one can, he says.

Along with fast development time, lower costs are a key component of Berman's business model. He uses courseware tools from Interwise Inc., a Tel Aviv-based company with U.S. headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., that translates PowerPoint slides into lessons enhanced with audio.

PowerPoint is a good starting point for SAP's instructional developers, Berman says, because they're familiar with the application. Also, the PowerPoint format makes it easier to get internal experts to contribute content. The translation by Interwise is straightforward and results in a fast development cycle - it takes only 40 hours to develop one hour of Web-based lesson content, according to Berman's calculations.

Since the live courses became available last September, about 700 people have registered for them, Berman says. He says he's really pleased to see that about 50% of the companies represented have returned for another course, and 20,000 people have downloaded the recorded sessions. "We've tripped onto something that's rather outstanding," he says. "Customers are buying it, and they're happy."

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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