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SOA Goes to School

Terry Schade, senior vice president in the Wholesale Banking Division of financial services provider National City, had a big training problem on his hands.

The company had just adopted a new payroll processing platform for its banking industry customers, many of which deliver payroll and direct deposit paychecks to employees of merchant clients large and small.

"We had to convert 15,000 employees and get our 45,000 customers trained and converted on the new payroll processing system in 60 days. We had a contractual obligation with our [former] software provider to do so," he said. "Failure was not an option."

The company decided to roll out an automated online approach for training its workers on the new system, complete with single sign-on so that they were logged in once to many different databases. The online training environment allowed workers to log into training portals anytime they needed, many of which did so after their kids were in bed.

They were able to build it using Web services , built on a service-oriented architecture that enabled different databases to talk to each other, and share data.

But National City may be the exception to many companies' training experience.

In a global study of over 300 chief human resources offices, IBM found over 60 percent of HR professionals operating in mature markets had difficulty identifying and developing the critical employee skills and talents that are vital to remain competitive.

The 2005 IBM Global Human Capital survey also said more than half of the CEOs surveyed believed their staffs do not have the skills to move into new markets and capture emerging growth opportunities.

IBM calls the trend "The Menace of Maturity." The term suggests that companies a bit long in the tooth are likely to see atrophy in their ability to train employees swiftly.

That's why Big Blue's global services group is taking its Web services and on demand road show to the education crowd, from the corporate market on through to K-12.

Enterprise Service Bus
Click to view an SOA architecture example
Enter SOA for the education sector. James Sharpe, director of e-Learning Technology in IBM's Learning Solutions group, said Service Oriented Architecture can be a foundation for building online, collaborative learning environments.

Because SOAs help different databases talk to one another, the framework becomes the foundation for rolling out Web services so that portals can access different databases for specific purposes.

Take the Cingular example. After the Department of Justice signed off on the $41 billion merger with AT&T Wireless, the company had 19 days to train 129,000 of its newly-merged work force about the new company, including retail outlets where cell phones and voice services are sold. That's on top of the 39,000 employees it had to organize under one company.

"Sleep was not an option," said Rob Lauber, executive director of learning for Cingular Wireless. He said Cingular took a balanced approach with its Web services education goals in order to blend 4,100 instructor-led sessions with the online aspect.

"This was not just because the importance of face to face teaching, but because of the importance of face time in change management," he said, referring to the largest merger (in cash terms) in U.S. corporate history.

"One of the challenges we faced, pre- and post-service, is that we needed to provide core information, procedures and services, how to handle the wireless services, legacy stores, and how to handle the customers' questions," he said.

Also critical to the task was the ability to scale up the online training as Cingular absorbed AT&T's employees and platforms. "Being able to work in a collaborative environment was critical to our ability to be successful." The portals, built on SOA architecture, rolled to the masses on time, providing tailored information to staff, employees and third-party resellers.

For Cingular, the process included building a database that helped train employees on how to up-sell customers to new data services. He said as a result, the company saw a 25 percent lift in average revenue per transaction around data sales. "At the same time, the systems are helping us reduce transaction times at the point of sale."

Today Cingular is working with 26 training modules it completed within a 60-day window.

"We realize learning transformation is a journey and we're a long way off," said Nancy DeViney, general manager of IBM Learning Solutions division. "You have to find what concepts you agree with and recognize that it will be a cultural journey."

For the most part, both companies found that some employees loved it right away. Others struggled against it mightily, added National City's Schade. "But take it away and everybody loves it."