Xerox Corp. is one of the world’s largest public corporations, with technical, administration, and sales staff located around the globe. While providing consistent training to its 92,500 employees has always been a challenge for the document-solutions provider, shrinking budgets, a mandate for more convenient training venues, and the increasing costs of instructor-led training required a new training approach.

Although the company eventually discovered a key technology (Web conferencing) and an appropriate solution (PlaceWare Inc.’s Conference Center), mapping out a new training approach wasn’t accomplished without some lessons learned—even for a giant like Xerox.

Second in a series

This is the second of three articles describing how Web conferencing software can be used in training initiatives. The first article in this series focused on the potential benefits and limitations of using Web conferencing software in training programs.

The birth and benefits of PlaceWare
PlaceWare’s technology got its start in 1990 at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. The first product was a multiuser game, whose success led to its use as the foundation for a collaborative computing system for the U.S. Department of Defense. Realizing the potential of a multiuser, real-time collaboration medium in business applications, PlaceWare was officially formed in 1996 and spun off from Xerox that same year.

In 1997, the Mountain View, CA-based company debuted PlaceWare Auditorium, a technology that provides a Web-based presentation solution for field and customer communications. The company then became the first to introduce Web conferencing to hold meetings over the Internet.

Xerox has been using PlaceWare as its corporate Web conferencing product for four years for nearly 20 percent of all training events. According to Xerox, the technology’s big benefit is that it allows the company to share a consistent message with a much larger audience in fewer sessions than would be possible via traditional approaches, such as instructor-led training.

Another plus is that all attendees to a Web conference event are privy to the same information at the same time—a much more reliable way to disseminate information than through distributing documents that all attendees may or may not receive. And although they’re not in a face-to-face environment, attendees can still interact with facilitators and subject-matter experts.

Another big benefit of using Web conferencing for training is the cost savings that come from reduced travel needs, although long-distance telephone/connectivity charges associated with Web conferencing sessions can still be costly.

Lessons learned
Initially, Xerox used Web conferencing for all its training needs. Sessions ran in three-hour segments and were led by facilitators with the support of technical or subject-matter experts.

But experience proved that the PlaceWare training sessions did not work well with all training audiences, and Xerox realized that incorporating Web conferencing into its training programs would require some adjustments and refinements to its approach.

What follows are some tips from Xerox on how it determined the right use of Web conferencing and how the PlaceWare technology fit into the company’s training approach:

  • Position Web conferencing appropriately within the training arsenal. As Xerox discovered, all training can’t be done using Web conferencing, so the technology is one of several training tools (which include instructor-led and computer-based training tools, and even self-study) in Xerox’s blended training approach. This blended approach is also illustrated by how Xerox uses Web conferencing for various training delivery mechanisms. For example, when a new Xerox product launch occurs, PlaceWare is used to deliver marketing and positioning messages to a large audience. This is followed with centralized training for individuals new to the product or self-instruction materials for those who have already been trained on earlier versions of the product. In some instances, Xerox also uses PlaceWare for follow-up sessions to instructor-led or self-paced training.
  • Broad content is best for Web conferencing. Xerox found that Web conferencing works best for high-level, broad content. For the most part, procedure- or task-based content, technical topics, or those that benefit from hands-on activities are not conducive to Web conferencing. Xerox has conducted live demonstrations of software using PlaceWare, and those that worked best included facilitators at each site who could duplicate what the central facilitator did and answer any questions.
  • Geographical limitations may impair audience participation. While Xerox points out that PlaceWare works for any company’s employee community, participants outside the United States, Canada, and Europe encounter difficulty with Web conferencing due to connectivity problems. To work around this, Xerox tapes sessions and burns CDs for distribution to global offices.
  • Adjust the number of participants based on the type of session. There are two primary PlaceWare formats that Xerox uses: auditorium and online meetings. Xerox has found that auditorium events can handle 300 to 500 participants, and it advises you to reduce the number of attendees if you find that participants do not have time to get questions answered. When conducting online meetings, Xerox recommends a maximum of 20 to 30 participants.
  • Shorter sessions are better. Xerox suggests keeping sessions to no more than two hours.
  • Use subject-matter experts as facilitators. Xerox originally hired professional facilitators to conduct PlaceWare training sessions. But the company figured out that it was easier to train subject-matter experts to facilitate PlaceWare sessions than to ask professional facilitators to learn the content. In addition, subject-matter experts carry “natural” authority with their audience. Xerox also found that it is useful to have a “producer” assist a subject-matter expert the first time he or she conducts a PlaceWare training session.

Web conferencing is making inroads
Today, more than 2,000 leading companies, including HP, Sun, Ingram Micro, Autodesk, and Cisco, use PlaceWare for marketing seminars, product launches, press and analyst tours, customer meetings, corporate announcements, and quarterly IR/earnings calls. It’s clear that Web conferencing tools are fulfilling many corporate training and communication needs in today’s global enterprise.

In the final installment of this three-part series, I will explain how to implement informal training sessions using another tool, NetMeeting, an Internet conferencing solution for Windows users. Go to the NetMeeting home page to find out more about why leading businesses and educational institutions are using this tool to save time and money and to increase productivity.

Are you using Web conferencing?

Write to us and tell us what kind of Web conferencing tool your enterprise is using or start a discussion below about the lessons you learned while integrating this training approach.