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LINE survey shows clients value expertise

This post was written by John Helmer and first appeared on the LINE website on 17th September 2010.

John Helmer assesses the latest technology supported learning and communications trends in the wake of a recent survey prepared by LINE.

Organisations value highly, it seems, the specialised expertise they get from providers of technology-supported learning and communications, and the external perspective such companies bring on learning and communications problems. Such was the finding of recent LINE research. However, the research also indicated that suppliers sometimes fail to understand the sector, brand, values, culture, process, and project objectives of their clients.

LINE has been researching attitudes among users of technology-supported learning and communications towards the service they receive from suppliers. We have been doing this in order better to understand the needs of clients from our own point of view, and as part of our ongoing efforts to further understanding in our industry.

LINE itself came out very well from the survey, with respondents on the whole saying very favourable and in some cases flattering things about us. More of that later. First let’s look at some findings that are of general interest.

What do clients look for in a supplier (and what do they get)?

When asked what they look for in an external supplier, respondents gave a long and diverse list of requirements, the most frequently mentioned factor, cited by 10.5% of the sample, being ‘reliability’. Fairly close behind that came ‘creativity and new ideas’ and ‘knowledge of their industry & market’, both being mentioned by 9.2% of respondents. 8.6% said they looked for ‘value for money’, and in joint fifth place came ‘quality’ and ‘understanding client’s values’ both at 7.7%.

Looking at what they actually got, however, expertise was far and away the most common benefit respondents felt they had realised through using external suppliers, a benefit mentioned by 29.5% of respondents. Although the industry has seen an increased amount of in-house e-learning production in recent years, it is clear that clients still look to suppliers for the specialist skills that they can’t necessarily grow and maintain in-house. Training has always been a heavily outsourced industry, and the adoption of technology does not seem to be changing that picture.

Another significant benefit gained from use of external suppliers was provision of an external perspective (13.1%) showing that the relationship is not merely one of supply and demand of specialist expertise, but that clients expect companies to do some actual thinking about their problems for them as well(!). Time-saving was also a popular benefit mentioned (12.3%). Time-to-market and time-to-competence are clearly important factors in learning programmes, as L&D strives to match the ever-increasing tempo of today’s globalised, network-enabled business environment.

Interestingly, only 8.2% cited a higher quality product as a benefit achieved through use of external suppliers.

Where do suppliers fall down?

biggest problems with suppliers, measures of expertises

Possible cause for concern was also to be seen in responses to the question, ‘What is the biggest problem you encounter when working with suppliers of technology supported learning and communications?’

19.6% of respondents reported problems with providers not understanding their business, brand and business context sufficiently well. Technology incompatibility was mentioned by 15.6%, and the tendency to provide non-tailored solutions by 13.9%. All in all this indicates an industry that is poor on requirements capture, and not responsive enough to client needs in general.

Who’s top dog?

In an emerging industry space, which has tended to suffer from lack of analyst focus and a dearth of reliable, objective sources for client organisations seeking to discover who actually are the best-performing companies around, it is always interesting to hear who clients think of as leaders in the sector.

Our result shows a rather confused picture, with a wide range of companies of disparate sizes and types being cited as market leader. In answer to the unprompted question, ‘Name the companies you regard as the top three companies in this field (in order)’ 40% thought that LINE were in the top 3 in the industry, more than double that of its nearest competitor, and 29.1% thought that LINE were the top provider in the industry. It is salutary to compare this result with the IT Training tables sponsored by the BCS, which rank companies by turnover. There, LINE features for the second year running as clear market leader within the ‘Bespoke Content Developers’ category. We think IT training and the BCS are doing a good job in providing this information – but clearly the message hasn’t quite got completely across, to our sample group at least!

It is worth pointing out, too, that the e-learning industry is extremely difficult to define, embracing a wide range of technical, creative and consultancy skills and having semi-porous borders with several related but different areas such as knowledge management, e-communications, e-publishing, change management, etc.

Surveys such as this always tend to point up the fact that what we do can look very different at the client end from how it appears to the supplier market. We are aware, for example, that several of LINE’s clients don’t even think of us as an e-learning company. And bespoke content development is certainly not the whole of what this company does, as even a cursory glance at the rest of our website will make abundantly clear.

View of LINE

view of line amoung existing clients, a measure of expertise

Turning towards the respondents’ view of LINE, we were pleased to see that we scored well in many areas where clients indicated that, in general, the market lets them down.

We are seen by the majority of existing clients as a creative (65.5%), smart (60%) company with a high level of specialist expertise (60%), and also as highly customer-friendly; the following, unprompted response is fairly typical: ‘LINE is an honest and thoughtful business with excellent individuals who bring a mix of skills and technologies and creativity to their work. They really aim to understand the mindset of the companies they partner with.’ 40% mentioned our willingness to think beyond the brief.

Comparing the benefits that LINE clients perceive against the benefits non-LINE clients have experienced, we found that LINE scored twice as highly as the competition for expertise, and more than three times as highly for provision of a quality product.

Methodology

The research was carried out between 28th June and 31st July 2010 among those with responsibility for Learning and Development within large organisations. 157 people responded to the survey, across a wide range of industry sectors. The sample was spilt 73% / 27% between corporates and public sector organisations. 34% of these organisations were past or existing clients of LINE’s, but the majority (64%) were not. The seniority level of respondents was high, with 60% at senior manager level or above. The respondents came mostly from the US and Europe.

Conclusion

We make no bones about the fact that our primary motivation for initiating this research was to help us with continuously improving the quality of service we offer to clients, and in understanding their needs more fully. However, the general picture it presents is of importance too, we feel.

The implications of this are clear. Organisations need suppliers who possess the right specialised expertise to help them deploy new learning technologies – but they also need something more. They need suppliers who are sensitive to their individual needs, and can bring an external eye on those needs. They need help with thinking through their issues, and in designing programmes that orchestrate the best of traditional methods with the new technologies to create quality programme that drive business results. And they need it yesterday!

As the De Jure market leader in at least one of the industry segments under examination here, LINE is committed to continuing to lead this process towards more responsive, flexible and effective learning solutions.