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How training empowers a successful extended enterprise strategy

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15th Jul 2015
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Supply chain? Business partners? Extended enterprise? Tobias Blickle talks training across the whole business and further afield.

The concept of the extended enterprise, recognising that success is dependent on partner relationships outside your own workforce, is increasingly becoming an agenda item for many corporates who are challenged with upskilling their external frontline staff on the latest products or services. The sheer scale of training, updating and monitoring staff in the extended enterprise is daunting and often encompasses thousands of people, so automating that process is a necessity for many businesses to make it financially viable and practical. Getting the process right across a wide range of stakeholders such as suppliers, distributors, partners and technical support is not an easy task.   

The goal of extended enterprise learning is to enable external sales or partners to sell or market the company’s products or services and to improve the customer relationship. As the organisation gets to know external partners better and they understand your products better, opportunities open up for deeper collaboration, perhaps designing future products or marketing strategies together. Frequent product innovations make it even more important to train people in them efficiently. Organisations that train the extended enterprise most effectively will have a competitive advantage.

Creating a skilled workforce

For example, the market for glasses is characterised by commoditisation, service and price. One major European supplier, with tens of thousands of staff globally, wanted to train the extended enterprise to differentiate itself as a business partner by providing value for its B2B customers. The aim of offering training to the extended enterprise was to achieve more sales revenues through higher value sales and higher average selling prices and to push more consistent consumer messaging through better-educated partners and their employees. 

It has introduced training to a number of customer groups. These include external optician customers worldwide including dispensing opticians, shop owners and employees, optometrists, chains, distributors, buying groups and hospitals. A successful pilot programme took three months and the elearning project is now ongoing, providing efficient training in real time, worldwide, in up to nine languages and taking account of different knowledge levels. Its training services enable sales representatives to spend less time providing simple training in optics products to opticians’ employees so that they can focus instead on business consulting targeted at owner and manager-level staff.

CPD in the extended enterprise

Continuing professional development (CPD) is also a focus for extended enterprise learning. Many professionals such as accountants, doctors, insurance agents or brokers are required to take a certain amount of development training every year in order to maintain their qualification or comply with regulations. As most of this type of training is standard, insurance companies have started to offer the training they were providing for their own workforce to external users. This makes sense when the training is based on standard, replicable content such as training on car insurance policies. This way, the insurance company develops a new revenue stream and becomes a training organisation.

As the target trainees are external to the organisation it differs from mandated training for internal staff. There is now a requirement to demonstrate the value of the training you are offering to provide. Be prepared to answer the question 'what’s in for me?', in particular if you are expecting external trainees to pay for content and learning. These trainees will expect the training to cover all the requirements – that is a given. How you deliver the training is key and a different approach may be required from internal training which might rely on classroom lessons or simply handing out sales brochures to staff and expecting them to get up to speed on the latest products and services.

More emphasis must be on the presentation and pedagogical approach of extended enterprise training, not least to ensure elective learners are engaged, complete their learning and come back for more. Elearning, used with a learning management system, might work best for extended enterprise training where learners are typically dispersed across a number of organisations and locations. Elearning enables time and location-independent learning, interactivity and new forms of game-based learning. It is important to offer appealing content and easy access to the content via a modern and crisp user interface and, ideally, enable trainees to learn on tablet computers or smartphones as well as desktop PCs. 

Training impact analysis

Another important benefit of offering extended enterprise learning based on elearning is the ability to track outcomes and return on investment. By analysing usage of the training platform, collecting feedback from learners and correlating this with revenue per partner, evidence may be collected about the impact of training that can be used to improve the quality of the training and identify emerging trends and topics. 

Offering partner training across the extended enterprise opens up completely new business and partner models for organisations. Individuals and organisations benefit from increased workforce competency and higher levels of professionalism and quality. Extended enterprise learning strengthens the supply chain and empowers a successful extended enterprise strategy.

Tobias Blickle is an Executive Board Member at IMC. He has a doctorate in computer engineering and oversees product management, research and development at IMC AG

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