Computer Associates International Inc.’s strategic goals center on its customers. As one of the world’s largest management software companies, Computer Associates delivers software and services to ensure optimal performance and functionality in enterprise IT environments that touch everything from ATM transactions and online sales to airport security. Therefore, it makes sense that customer satisfaction and needs, not to mention the customer’s ability to succeed, are the focal points around which all of Computer Associates’ learning and development activities revolve. The company’s learning arm, Computer Associates University, was launched in February 2003. Through the corporate university, courses are available to all of the company’s roughly 15,000 employees and several thousand partners and resellers, but learning initiatives primarily focus on the sales and pre-sales group. Why? Because sales is the first line of contact between Computer Associates and its customers.
“CA is heavily committed to educating our employees,” said Nancy Newfield, director of Computer Associates University. “They are the most important resource that a software company has. They’re certainly our most important resource. CA also understands that in the technology industry things change quickly. There are new trends, new opportunities, our customers are facing new challenges, on a month-by-month basis the landscape changes. We feel that it’s extremely important for us to have the best, most knowledgeable people that we can possibly have because the more knowledgeable they are, the more able they are going to be to help our customers solve their problems.”
All of the Computer Associates sales teams, such as security, infrastructure and storage, have individualized curriculum, and Computer Associates University provides more than 80 courses that can be taken anytime, anywhere. Sales managers may require varied combinations of courses in these individualized development plans depending on the opportunities their team members are currently involved in. Sales staff also are expected to take the initiative if they feel there is a lack of knowledge that may create a customer service gap. “For example, if they’re going to a customer site and a customer is very interested in service management, we would expect that salesperson to focus on service management solutions,” Newfield said. “Similarly, if they’re going to a customer site that’s very interested in identity and access management security, we would expect them to focus on those solutions. They can individualize learning to fit their specific needs, what’s important to them in a particular month, quarter, year.”
Newfield said that Computer Associates sales personnel must do more than understand customer needs. They must become trusted advisers who can lead less tech-savvy customers through a technology maze, help them make decisions and offer them intelligent solutions to their business challenges. “Our customers look to us for that kind of expertise, and so we need our sales people to be able to provide that at the highest level to help our customers succeed in their businesses,” she said.
The convenience and prevalence of online learning has created a wealth of opportunities for Computer Associates employees to learn on the job. Sales staff who travel frequently can access learning and educate themselves on a plane, while waiting for a train or simply refresh their knowledge at home over the weekend. “One salesperson in San Francisco told me that he comes in an hour early every day to take some parts of courses to make himself more knowledgeable about CA solutions and industry trends,” Newfield said. “We appreciate the fact that employees take ownership of their own training and education. We also like that they can refresh their information. If they’re going to speak to a customer about a specific solution and they want to refresh themselves on the market, trends or on specific product features, they can easily do that. They can take a module over and over again. They can even take the hard copy with them in the car. It’s impossible to remember everything all the time, but the great advantage of CA University is you can take little bits and pieces when you need them and as often as you need them.”
Learning and development opportunities also are available for Computer Associates employees who don’t have a certain skill set or body of knowledge, but want to acquire it. “For example, not everyone at Computer Associates has a degree in computer science,” Newfield explained. “Many do, but not everyone does. We offer a curriculum of IT knowledge courses for people who don’t have the background in computer science that perhaps they would like to have to become more knowledgeable about storage, Web services, wireless technology, whatever industry trend they want to know more about.”
Given the rapid changes that routinely occur in the technology industry, Computer Associates University has found value in partnering closely with its product marketing, management and development teams. When there is a new product release scheduled, the learning center prepares to have its courses updated prior to the launch so that salespeople are knowledgeable at the earliest possible stage. Computer Associates works closely with its content provider and partner Resource Bridge to cost-effectively create and update courses. “They work with us on our deadlines, which are often very aggressive, to make sure that the information is available when our sales people need it,” Newfield said. “Resource Bridge takes our raw content and turns it into interactive Web-based course modules. They make it interesting and interactive and creative. They have very sophisticated techniques for reinforcing the learning and for making it interesting for the student: dividing the content into small modules so it keeps their interest and reinforces what they’ve done. They understand our business, the needs of our people, and they come up with some very interesting approaches in terms of putting scenarios and real life experiences into the modules to even better meet our needs.”
“They wanted to cover things like the market strategy and how to react if you meet resistance, what the focus of the product was and how they could help their clients implement their software products,” said Kerry Kalous, president and founder, Resource Bridge. “Software products tend to change once or twice a year, so there’s a lot of updates. Think of 300 products. It’s very difficult for any given salesperson to remember everything they need to know about any given product. The purpose (of the course content) is to help that salesperson get very familiar with and very comfortable with the product, to refamiliarize him with it before he goes to the customer. Then the purpose is to help the customer understand what that product is going to do for him and also how that product fits into his overall IT scheme.”
In addition to online learning, Computer Associates University provides instructor-led courses in both technology and in soft skills. Intensive two- or three-day training boot camps often involve pre-work to provide basic, fundamental knowledge as a starting point. “We can build on that and then use the instructor-led training for what it’s best for, role play, exercises, Q&A, different scenarios. We think that the two trainings compliment each other and we work as a team to make sure that they both build off each other,” Newfield said.
The blended learning boot camps not only help candidates earn IT certifications and new skills, they also have proven to be an effective tool with which to educate newly acquired employees. “We’ve done some major acquisitions at CA this year: the Integrity acquisition and the Concord acquisition,” Newfield said. “When we have a lot of new technology that’s available to the sales force, the challenge is that you have a lot of new technology and sales forces that are being blended. You want the employees that you’ve acquired to be knowledgeable about existing CA solutions, and you want the CA employees to be knowledgeable about the solutions you’ve just acquired. We sometimes need some intensive training to get everyone up to speed very quickly.”
Continuous training events held to accommodate technological innovations offer many opportunities to gather metrics and other data to ensure that Computer Associates learning has an effect on the bottom line. “In our learning center, we can track every time somebody touches a course,” Newfield said. “We can track every time they’ve taken a test and passed it, and we can produce reports that we send to the managers so that this can be a part of an employee’s performance evaluation, and so that managers know what their employees are trained in and how successful they’ve been in that training. We also create learning paths to help them understand what they should be doing, what they should be taking first and second so they can easily prioritize their training. Recently, a security sales exec was saying to me that he’d taken some intensive training after the Integrity acquisition in the SiteMinder product. By taking the online training, he was able to reinforce the skills he’d learned from the initial training, and he’s having a lot of success in the field with that product because he feels confident that he knows it, he knows what the benefits are, and he knows how to position them to our customers.”
Computer Associates constantly works with sales managers to come up with new and creative ways to educate its salespeople. Some of these learning delivery methods include real-life scenarios and online role-playing exercises to encourage knowledge acquisition and on the job implementation. These highly interactive learning activities also optimize knowledge retention. “As technology changes, we expect to develop new courses. As our portfolio of products and solutions changes, obviously we’re always incorporating. We’re working, for example, on courses for the products that resulted from these recent acquisitions,” Newfield said. “We want to help our people develop their skills and be as knowledgeable and as helpful to our customers as they possibly can be. We also try to make the learning as creative, interactive and as fun as we possibly can. The more people enjoy learning, the more learning they’ll do.”
–Kellye Whitney, email@example.com