Cingular is one of the largest wireless companies in the United States, with more than 50 million subscribers who use its digital voice and data network. Cingular’s learning organization, which serves up between 125,000 and 150,000 course completions a month, comprises several hundred learning professionals enterprise-wide, and has been addressing content issues since 2001.
“Content integration is something we pay attention to every day,” said Rob Lauber, executive director of learning services for Cingular. “Because we’re constantly mindful of the issue, we avoid big problems.”
Based on ongoing analysis, testing and documentation, the learning organization has developed a set of integration standards and a testing checklist that is used for all content purchasing and development decisions.
“My team has made it a priority to capture lessons learned and fine-tune processes related to content integration,” Lauber said. “We constantly think about downstream impact and have invested a lot of time driving consensus throughout the organization about key integration issues.”
Cingular has approximately 700 internally created and 200 off-the-shelf courses that cover topics such as customer service, business conduct and processes, compliance, technology and new products. All internal content at Cingular is developed using Trivantis Lectora. Given that the company has so many course completions per month, the time and resources spent on standardizing and testing content integration has been well-spent.
“Ironing out content integration issues in advance has tremendous business benefits,” Lauber said. “Once course content is finalized and approved by the relevant business unit, we can guarantee that the course is available for enterprise-wide use within five days—and typically much sooner. This helps us react quickly and meet tight time requirements. For instance, we had courses related to the AT&T Wireless acquisition the day the acquisition was closed. Not only did we have content to deploy, but we could also accurately track and report on accesses and completions.”
Cingular’s content standards, developed over approximately two years, are rigorous and cover a broad range of factors, such as file size, navigation components, quiz and other assessment requirements, elements that can be captured from outside sources and default screen size. These standards, in addition to the use of the defined standard development tool and templates created by Lauber’s team, provide detailed guidance to both internal and external developers.
Lauber explained that the company writes clauses into contracts for off-the-shelf courseware that specify the products must meet standards and pass accompanying tests, and give Cingular the right of refusal if they fail. “Because of the volume and speed in which the e-learning is accessed, we have to be serious about these standards,” Lauber said. “We have walked away from content we liked because it didn’t meet these requirements.”
Lauber’s team also has established a culture of accountability for content development. Builders of content know their materials must pass Cingular’s detailed testing checklist before it can be published to the LMS. Developers have to address any problems encountered by testers before the content is finally accepted.
There are few exceptions. “We go through a formal decision process before we accept any content not meeting our standards or testing process,” Lauber said. “We really weigh the implications. With the huge volume we handle, we just can’t afford to get it wrong.”
Lauber advises other companies to invest the time and energy up front to develop their own standards. “This is one of the most important investments any organization can make,” he said. “The time you spend now will save you big dollars and resources down the line.”
He also encourages learning executives to rely on their staff for standards initiatives. “Most learning organizations have people who are very talented and process-oriented,” he said. “They understand the nuances of systems and tools, and can think things through ‘downstream.’ Since they work with people throughout the organization every day, they know how to drive consensus and adoption through the business units, and they know how the business will measure successful execution.”
Chris Howard is a principal analyst for Bersin & Associates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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