Banking on intranet training

Citibank's Net division delivers soft skills and technology with online training courses.
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In this article:
At a glance: Citibank, N.A.
Web-based training vendors
Lessons learned about intranet training

To Austin Zullo, it was a perfect union. As architect of training programs for Citibank's newly minted E-Citi division, part of New York City-based Citigroup Inc., which carries out the organization's e-banking and e-commerce initiatives, Zullo needed an easy, high-tech way to get learning materials and courses on professional development into the hands of the 1,200 employees of the banking giant's Internet operations. These courses included productivity software and programming as well as management training. With Web-based training programs starting to appear on the market, what could be a more natural fit for modern professionals already immersed in the dot-com world? If only it could be that simple. Zullo had tried Web-based training once before in the early 1990s for Citibank's telecommunications division. Rather than enjoying a smooth ride, though, the effect of courses distributed over the network was more like bouncing around in a jalopy: There were fits and starts followed by the screech of brakes. After stumbling over issues of bandwidth and desktop PC configuration, a couple of pilot programs had shown promise. But they eventually sputtered when the training software balked at crossing the WAN links connecting multiple locations. But Zullo continued to dream big over the pairing of education and the Net. His real goal was to run professional development programs smoothly and securely right over E-Citi's intranet--no physical telecomm connections, no breach of the firewall--so employees could improve their skill sets.

AT A GLANCE: Citibank, N.A.
The company: Citibank, part of New York City-based Citigroup Inc., provides banking services for over 200,000 people in 57 countries.

The problem: The company needed a way to get learning materials and courses to 1,200 employees of the banking giant's Internet operations without overloading the network, or compromising the network security and the firewalls.

The solution: Web-based training over the company intranet that doesn't overload the network or compromise network security. Employees access the intranet by dialing through a proxy server over the Ethernet network to trunk lines. The training software operates on a $5,000 dual-processor Pentium II running Windows NT server version 4.

No way, according to what vendors showed him. Until this spring, the software Zullo looked at couldn't meet corporate security needs (i.e., the firewall issue) and wasn't able to run effectively over the multi-site network. But Zullo held out, and last April, he unveiled E-Citi Learning and Professional Development, an all-intranet Web site with a roster of 70 online courses. Running on a simple Pentium server, the 50-course cyber-curriculum of so-called soft skills-such as team building, leadership, and interpersonal relations--comes from SkillSoft Corp., a Nashua, N.H., software company. NETg, the Naperville, Ill., subsidiary of Harcourt Inc., supplies the other 20 classes in productivity software. The site went live after a one-month implementation period and gets close to 150 site visits a month, according to Zullo, as E-Citi employees peruse three- to four-hour classes in Windows and Java, as well as primers on the fundamentals of customer service or the elements of marketing strategy. The most popular course so far? "Meetings and Negotiations," which is one of the toughest classes to get employees to sign up for because they tend to think soft skills aren't all that important, says Zullo, who is based in New York City.

Web-based training vendors
CBT Systems Ltd.
Redwood City, Calif.

Digital Think Inc.
San Francisco

KnowledgeSoft Inc.
Mechanicsburg, Pa.

NETg, a division of Harcourt Inc.
Naperville, Ill.

SkillSoft Corp.
Nashua, N.H.

WBT Systems
San Francisco

It won't be long before more companies begin adopting the intranet-style learning program that E-Citi has honed. Over the next few years, because of its cost effectiveness and easy rollout, Web training is expected to grab the lion's share of the market for Internet-based learning, edging out CD-ROM, satellite delivery, and tape, according to market-research firm International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass. But the nascent market is still a mishmash of vendor offerings, with no clear leaders in the categories of training content, delivery technologies, and support and services, according to Colleen Shutrump, senior analyst for IDC's training research group.

Shutrump expects soft-skills training to lead to more innovation in online teaching methods. "IT training is IT training: There isn't much differentiation," she says. "But when someone is learning coaching or communications, there's tremendous opportunity for innovation in course techniques, mentoring, testing, case studies, simulations--different kinds of learning tools."

A new way of work and business

After four decades in traditional employee training, Zullo knows what works and what doesn't--kind of. Classic classroom teaching will always be an important component of training. "But it's not the only one," he says. "Just as Web-based training isn't the only way. To me, they're symbiotic. You can't have one without the other." To serve a mobile workforce, training has to be available anytime, anywhere, he theorizes. As head of training for Citibank's telecom division with employees in 30 countries, Zullo's early Web-based training efforts were unsuccessful. "The system kept crashing, and a lot of people didn't have the bandwidth." He wound up handing out the training programs on CD-ROM.

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