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Avaya University: Open For Classes

At Avaya (www.avaya.com), finding a way to train employees and business partners was a big concern. As a result, the Basking Ridge, N.J.-based communications systems and software provider created Avaya University, the company's training arm.

Avaya University, based in Englewood and Highlands Ranch, Colo., was created when Avaya was spun off from Lucent last year. Under Lucent’s training division, which has now morphed into Avaya University, the company launched its e-learning initiative three years ago. To help create its training solution, Avaya turned to Presedia (www.presedia.com), a provider of Flash-based online presentations.

Previously, Avaya University delivered training courses and material to its constituents around the world primarily through satellite-based interactive TV (ITV) and webconferencing, but decided earlier this year that those methods alone were not sufficient to satisfy all the needs of the company. "What we didn’t have was an effective way to distribute a large portion of our training," said Dave Buehner, director iTV for Avaya University.

While both ITV and webconferencing have worked well, Avaya University needed something else to fill in the gaps when those solutions were inappropriate. Webconferencing is not designed for a large audience, and satellite transmission costs to faraway locations can be expensive when a second satellite is needed to reach the region. In addition, Avaya employs a large number of remote workers for whom it was inconvenient to travel to a facility to watch the course, said Buehner. "People want to do [the training] on their time, in their location, on their schedule," he said. Presedia’s solution allows users to view a voice and graphical presentation on their desktops. "This is anytime, anywhere training. You can view it and review it," said Buehner.

While that mission could have been accomplished for most of the company’s 24,000 employees with streaming video, a streaming solution would not have been effective in all areas, such as certain Asian locations where Internet connectivity is rather slow. "We needed something streaming or rather streaming-like," he said.

Enter Presedia. Based in Sunnyvale, Calif., the company’s Presedia Express software, first released a year ago, allows users to convert PowerPoint slides and audio into a Web-based presentation that can be delivered on-demand. PowerPoint slides are converted to Flash for Web viewing and the audio portion of the presentation is buffered before each slide is viewed. Presedia Express provides a linkable table of contents with its presentations. That sort of indexing isn’t available with streaming, said Buehner.

Presedia Express delivers the same quality regardless of the connection, so long as it is over 28.8Kbps, said Eric Vidal, director of marketing for Presedia. The software is also easy to use even for those who aren’t technical, said Buehner. In fact, Avaya University recently produced a one-and-a-half hour presentation that only took three hours total to create including set-up and editing time.

When presentations are completed, they are published on the company’s intranet and can also be saved to disks for those without Internet connections. According to Buehner, the investment in Presedia Express — which probably cost less than one tape deck in one of Avaya University’s three TV studios — was recouped after the company's first presentation.

From mid-June to early October, Avaya University captured 53 hours of PowerPoint and voice with Presedia Express. That pace should quadruple for next year, with close to 400 hours being produced in 2002, said Buehner.

While the output of Presedia Express presentations will rise in 2002, so will the number of interactive TV hours. That’s because Presedia Express is not a replacement solution for any of the other training delivery methods. Instead, it gives the school a new niche that it couldn’t offer effectively before. The training center plans to double its output of interactive shows to about 80 hours per week next year. Interactive TV is desirable because of the interactivity, but due to time constraints and satellite time it’s not always feasible, said Buehner.

Originally, training courses and seminars at Avaya were conducted on-site in a classroom, much like a traditional school. That method was inefficient and expensive. As electronic delivery through TV programs and video came into vogue earlier last decade at AT&T (Lucent's parent company), on-site classrooms still dominated the training landscape at Lucent/Avaya. That is until two years ago when true e-learning through interactive TV was launched.

Avaya currently delivers about 40 hours per week of live interactive and taped training programs in which instructors are broadcast from a classroom in Colorado and transmitted over satellite on Avaya’s in-house channel. Most of the courses are interactive, meaning participants can pick up a phone in the conference room and ask questions through a hybrid telephone/Internet connection. "It’s a compromise of having a live training session to a geographically disperse audience," said Buehner. While still cheaper than paying airfare, hotel and travel costs, Avaya University has invested in three TV studios.

The other delivery mechanism in Avaya’s toolbox is its Bit Room software instituted two years ago. The application permits about 10 students to simultaneously participate in a Web conference. Each student uses a desktop to interact with the instructor through voice and text communications. This is used primarily to teach other software programs.

Along with the rest of the market, Avaya has struggled financially in recent months. In July, it cut 5,000 jobs globally, and in early October it said that fourth quarter revenues should be about 30 percent lower than last year's due to the weak economy. Despite these problems, however, the company’s training has not been impacted or reduced, said Buehner. In fact, Avaya University is scheduled to be spun-off later this year and more money will likely be spent on training as a result. Like many companies, Avaya is finding that investing in e-learning in troubled times, makes a lot of financial sense.

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