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Sharpening Business Skills with Ninth House

Ninth House Network (www.ninthhouse.com), a provider of interactive business skills training, announced it was unveiling version 3.0 of its e-Learning solution. Unlike traditional e-learning initiatives, Ninth House concentrates on branded business skills, rather than customized learning programs.

The content comes from Ninth House's own library of content, in partnership with a variety of well-known leaders and thinkers such as Tom Peters, Ken Blanchard and Peter Senge. "We focus on business skills," said Chris Bond, product developer at Ninth House, including lessons on leadership skills, project management, communication skills, team building, and more.

Ninth House is different from a typical e-learning company in that it actually comes in and sets up a server at a client's location. According to Adam Nelson, senior VP at Ninth House, the company works with clients to map specific initiatives and problems. "We really help in solving the problem that each organization may have," said Nelson. "Our deployment team goes in and helps customers assess their needs. Security concerns and load impact are dealt with prior to sale."

Ninth House works as an application service provider (ASP), which provides all the courses via streaming or on a CD for off-line work. The online version comes as a Windows Media and Flash-based presentation, cut up into chunks. Primarily, the videos are 30 seconds to one minute long, and are interactive, so users can make choices that will take them to different segments. To reinforce learning, Ninth House includes a variety of interactive Flash tests that lets users put their learning to the test. "We blend Flash and video for real rich media experience," said Nelson. Ninth House streams 250Kbps video from Windows NT servers.

Aside from installing a media server, Ninth House has a second option. "We realize that not everyone has a media server, so we also have a NetCD, with all of the streaming and Flash assets on CD-ROMs," said Bond. Recently, many Ninth House customers chose NetCDs, rather than deploy streaming servers, but Bond said that's changing. "Over the last two or three months, we've had more requests for media server," he said. "Customers are motivated to create a streaming media infrastructure because of the success with Ninth House [NetCDs]."

New Version, New Changes

New in version 3.0 is the migration into a completely browser-based user experience. "This greatly reduces time to deploy as well as costs and maintenance," said Nelson. The company also migrated from Shockwave to Flash animation, and added a bunch of new content offerings. On the backend, Ninth House has implemented Java architecture, to help customers support a wide variety of platforms.

"Each organization operates its own media servers," said Bond. "We work with them to provide media servers or they may already have media servers. We don't want to come from outside the network." Bond said many companies prefer local delivery by having content on their own network, rather than having everything streamed over the Internet. There are also security concerns, admits Bond.

Bond said that the company does acquire new content, when it can, but it does not do much customized content. "We do have periodic releases and send new kits that allow [companies to] install additional media. It's still a manual [process], and we're working to resolve that as fast as we can." He said that clients must install manual updates on their servers, which loads new e-learning content.

By specifically targeting one niche e-learning area, Ninth House avoids the hassles of rapidly changing content. Since it targets business skills, Ninth House primarily sells to Human Resources professionals, since they are tasked with handling the learning responsibilities. Bond said some organizations have a CLO, or Chief Learning Officer. Other times, the IT department is the key buyer.

Bond said that the company targets small- and medium-sized companies, as well as individual departments in larger corporations. It sells subscriptions of its content, from one to three years, and up to a few thousand seats, depending on the size of the company. Bond said Ninth House has done lots of work in the federal space, working with the DOJ, the Department of Education, the FDIC and others. Other customers include British Telecommunications, First Union National Bank, and Empire BlueCross and BlueShield.

"3.0 represents the realization of a goal to make Ninth House programs as easy and quick to deploy as possible," said Jeff Snipes, president and CEO of Ninth House, in a statement. "With engaging e-learning that’s easy to deploy, organizations can really leverage cost savings in travel, expenses, and time spent out of the office, while delivering high-quality training that drives organizational success."

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