IBM Officially Launches Online Learning

BOSTON (05/15/2000) - IBM Corp. today officially launched a business unit called IBM Mindspan Solutions that's aimed at helping corporate customers plan, develop and deploy distance-learning capabilities for their employees.

Although the unit was ushered in at an IBM executive conference center here, Big Blue and its Lotus Development Corp. subsidiary have been developing and deploying distance-learning systems and services to customers such as Saab and MetLife since late last year.

Now, through the Mindspan unit, IBM is delivering a "blended" electronic-learning product line that lets users provide collaborative or self-paced instruction for employees and distributors via the Internet and groupware technologies such as Lotus Notes, said Michael Zisman, chief knowledge officer at IBM.

One of the new technologies introduced today is called Lotus LearningSpace 4.0, a distance-learning software package that includes built-in tracking and management capabilities. IBM officials didn't disclose detailed pricing, but they said the software will cost less than $100 per end user.

The highly fragmented distance-learning market is expected to reach $15 billion worldwide by the end of 2002, according to International Data Corp. in Framingham, Massachusetts.

None of the top 10 players controls more than a small market share now, IBM officials said. But if IBM "can get 10% of this market, I'd be absolutely delighted, earn my compensation and keep Lou happy," Zisman said, referring to IBM CEO Louis Gerstner .

Several early customers gave live and taped testimonials to support the notion that collaborative and self-learning tools are able to deliver substantial benefits to companies by reducing the amount of time and money it takes to train employees.

For example, Southwestern Bell, one of IBM's earliest electronic-learning customers, has invested roughly $3 million in distance-learning systems to train its customer service personnel. Service improvements and other efficiency gains are expected to help the telecommunications firm generate $5.4 million in annual savings, said John Fox, a manager in Southwestern Bell's customer service division.

By using distributed education tools, Unipart Group of Companies expects to "reduce the cycle time it takes people to learn . . . which will help us improve faster than our competition," said Frank Nigriello, corporate director at the U.K.-based automotive supplier.

Herman Miller Inc., a $2 billion Zeeland, Michigan-based office furniture manufacturer, is another early customer.

The company has been using an IBM electronic-learning system since November and already has 2,000 registered users - mostly furniture distributors - who can choose from more than 60 virtual classes about its products, said Mabel Casey, director of customer care and training at Herman Miller. The system already has gained "tremendous acceptance within our dealership community," she added.

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