LifeSize Looks To Next Gen E-Learning With Partner Training Revamp

As Wayne McCulloch sees it, partner training and enablement platforms have gotten pretty staid over the years.

Every partner knows the drill: some combination of shapeless PowerPoint, or 3D avatars, or limited e-learning modules from which partner sales, marketing and engineering reps are intended to draw job-critical training materials and gain up-to-the-minute information on certain vendor product lines. But the reality, McCulloch said, is a lot of frustration with the model, he said, or at least a lot of boredom.

Count LifeSize, for which McCulloch is global director of education services, among the vendors looking specifically to spice up how it trains, educates and interfaces with its partner community -- the belief being that better-trained, more easily adaptable solution provider partners translate to more sales of LifeSize's video endpoint and infrastructure products.

Earlier this week, LifeSize went live with its LifeSize Enablement Network (LEN), an online social learning platform designed for sales professionals and installers as well as administrators and video system support personnel. LEN houses the full range of LifeSize e-learning materials, from sales assistance and personalized newscasts of relevant industry content.

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Partners can access training modules, from product information to channel program updates, in video newscast format -- accessible via any PC browser or mobile device -- and also gain access to the LifeSize Learning Exchange (LLX), an online community where LifeSize partners and developers can share, upload and download product, service and industry information, as well as get questions answered and talk directly to their peers.

According to McCulloch, who spent four years at HP as global education services director for software before joining LifeSize in 2011, LEN spent about eight months in development, and went through extensive beta testing with LifeSize partners.

"The old way of training is bad, and traditional e-learning is a challenge because it's one-way," said McCulloch in a recent interview with CRN at LifeSize's Austin, Texas headquarters. "We rebuilt all of our training for high definition video, with everything from a personalized news service to the community for the people in need of the important answers."

McCulloch said it was important for the LEN to be as granular as possible when meeting partner training needs. Partners can access training materials, from video to coursework, and have the LEN automatically track their progress toward certain certifications, keeping track of their badges and the exams they've taken and passed. The LEN will also automatically alert partners in instances where, say, it's time to re-certiify, and automatically provide exam links. The LEN also includes partner incentives -- points that can be traded in for prizes, for example -- for completing certification early and performing other functions.

Use of the LEN by LifeSize partners is free, which McCulloch said was important to encouraging its use.

"Don't make me pay for something that's going to inhibit me being a partner with you," he said. "If you're a LifeSize partner, this is immediately available to you via the partner portal, at no cost."

LifeSize offered LEN up for beta testing to about 50 of its global partners, the majority based in the U.S. The LLX community portion of the LEN is divided into two communities, one for technical people and one for sales representatives. Overall access to LLX is gated to partners with higher LifeSize certifications; McCulloch said the feedback from partners was to make sure the other members of the community had a certain knowledge level when it came to video, to the industry, and to LifeSize so as not to dilute the quality of discussions and feedback found in it.

"You need a baseline of knowledge before you can get in," he said.

LifeSize is also actively encouraging partners to use the LEN for their customers as a way to monetize professional services around the training.

"The smarter ones figured out that they can build services around these assets as a way to get additional revenue," McCulloch explained.

Next: LifeSize VAR Urges Continuous Update To Platform

Rob Janssen, a programmer and engineer with McMillan Media Systems, a San Francisco-based solution provider, was among LifeSize partners that tested the LEN beta. He highlighted ease-of-use and the ability to find specific information as key to the LEN's appeal.

"It's a very interesting and pretty helpful system, and it works a little bit like a social network and a little bit like a user group, but also more organized and easier to use," Janssen said. "I rely a lot, for example, on the Crestron user group on Yahoo, but it's unorganized and you don't really ever know what you're going to get -- just a regular user group, nothing fancy about it. LEN has this nice, streamlined user interface and what you get is that it makes it a lot easier to find what you're looking for."

"Plus, my field guys don't have time, and my sales guys don't have time, to do a lot of the [vendor] training, so they can take these modules at their own pace, and they're concise, they get the point across," he added. "That's not all that different [from other training programs] but like a lot of stuff, it comes down to the interface and how the whole look and feel of it is streamlined. It's very appealing when you enter it for the first time."

On the community side, Janssen said he appreciated the ability to pose questions, get them answered, and also embed video in responses -- as in to demonstrate an installation technique -- and receive quick turnaround on responses from peers and LifeSize technical staff.

"I've been doing this forever, so not a lot of it is new to me, but for people who are new to it and asking questions I can see it being really useful," he said. "It also makes it a lot easier to explain."

Key to the LEN's regular use by partners will be keeping its information as current as possible, Janssen said.

"The product information changes month to month sometimes, and they'll need a nice, concise area of documents," he said. "They have an area like that now, but it's totally organized well and it's hard to tell if it's completely up to date. But that's going to be really important when we're spec-ing this stuff and trying to do a job that might go on six or seven months as we're installing the units."