CBT Has Edge in Meeting Office 97 Training Needs

Microsoft Office 97 has become the hottest selling application software suite the software market has seen in years A whopping 8+ million copies were sold in the first four months following its release last November, and site licenses have been selling at three times the rate of any previous version of Office. According to Microsoft, as many as three quarters of Fortune 1,000 companies in the U.S. are either implementing Office 97 or seriously evaluating the product.

This rapid acceptance will drive demand for training products and services for Office 97 -- as large groups of employees will require training when upgrading from Office 95 or other Windows-based applications.

Some of the most intense demand for training products will be generated by the growing number of large organizations switching from UNIX and other computing platforms to Windows 95 and NT.

Industry Trends Drive Demand

There are several fundamental factors behind Office 97's success. Timing for one.

The November launch happened at a critical time in the PC market when several major trends emerged. Most notable was the start of a long-awaited wave of corporate PC hardware upgrade purchasing, sparked by the release of Windows NT 4.0. Many corporate organizations are using the occasion of upgrading desktop hardware and operating software to install the latest versions of key office applications.

Also, after a slow start, momentum behind Windows NT is building rapidly in corporate America. An example was provided in March when Hewlett-Packard announced it would throw its mighty weight behind a new strategy built around Windows NT and Intel-based hardware. HP said the program is designed to offer customers more flexible, non-proprietary, and more cost-effective network solutions.

Finally, Office 97 has, itself, been a catalyst in furthering these trends -- an incentive for some companies to upgrade to Pentium-level desktop systems or switch to NT.

CBT Provides a Solution

Computer-based training (CBT) tools are emerging as the training solution of choice, particularly in large organizations where corporate training departments can best leverage some of CBT's inherent advantages over more traditional instructor-based training methods.

CBT training in applications such as Word 97 and Outlook 97 are expected to emerge as the most popular among the Office 97 application modules, due in part to the corporate trend towards intranets for e-mail and other forms of corporate communications.

Intranets are drawing vastly more employees into the pool of networked computer users, many of them first-time desktop system users requiring both basic computer operation and application skills training.

Detroit automaker Chrysler Corp., for example, is gravitating towards the Office 97 platform. Chrysler has a network of 25,000 PCs in facilities around the world, & recently switched to Office 97. Chrysler cited the growing requirement for workers in all area of the company to be able to easily collaborate on projects over its intranet as a major factor for switching..

An upgrade to new software usually means a short-term drop in productivity as workers struggle to get used to the quirk and perks of the new tools. To minimize the effects on operations during the adjustment period, CBT tools are one solution.

CBT and Economies of Scale

Cost effectiveness, for one, is always a key consideration, one that becomes a bigger issue the larger the institution. Per-employee training costs using traditional classroom techniques vary little, in large part due to the limitation of class sizes and a number of major fixed cost items such as instructor compensation, materials, equipment, facilities, etc.

CBT on the other hand offers tremendous "economy of scale" advantages, particularly when the training is delivered directly to the employee's desktop as is now possible with intranets. This often reduces per employee training costs by a factor 20 or greater.

CBT Offers Flexibility & Automated Management

CBT training can be performed in classroom settings where each student works at his or her own speed under supervision of an instructor. But increasingly, CBT is being delivered right over the intranet to an employee's desktop. This minimizes disruption of one's work schedule as one can fit training sessions into voids on the calendar..

Many CBT programs are also flexible in their methods of teaching. Instead of forcing employees to go through it linearly (wasting their time with features they already know), CBT tools allow the student to advance past such sections.

Skill-assessment features built into many CBT programs also allow students to quickly and easily determine their performance level, in order to customize it for an optimum, personal learning environment.

CBT integrates computer-assisted training management functions that vastly reduce corporate overhead. It also enables managers to keep accurate, up-to-date records on the skill set levels of vast numbers of employees. Such features often add less than a dollar per employee to the cost of CBT training in site license cases.

CBT is Internet/Intranet Deliverable

Finally, CBT products are now commonly deliverable over the Internet. One can to now compare competitive offerings of various suppliers right on their Web sites. Then you can download the solution that best meets your specific requirements.

Even more compelling, CBT vendors can let their customers download as much as an entire training program, or as little as a single operating feature of a particular application at a fraction of the cost. Being able to selectively choose such training applets offers both tremendous savings, and allows one to build custom training programs.

Clearly, the future of CBT holds nothing but good news. Internet/intranet-based CBT will also encourage users to play a more active role in their professional development, reinforcing one of the founding principles of CBT -- user-driven learning.

Mark Haswell is Product Manager - Corporate Training Products for Individual Software Inc., Pleasanton, Calif., which makes CBT and educational products.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.