Training is a critical initiative for most insurance companies. The ability to educate customers and partners about changing regulations and new legislation, as well as a company's products and services, is key to ensuring a long-term relationship with these constituencies.Failure to maintain an aggressive training program can harm a company's competitive position in the marketplace. To avoid falling into this trap, the most progressive insurance companies are moving to training programs comprising almost entirely Web-based courses.

A convergence of business and technology trends has provided the impetus for this transition. Large enterprises are beginning to steer away from third-party events toward more proprietary functions, such as customer and partner events. And, because Web conferencing is now an established medium for proprietary events, insurance companies have become intensely focused on how to optimize the return on investment for these activities.

For most insurers, Web-based training has all of the benefits of in-person classes and at a fraction of the cost. Companies can save money on facility reservations, materials printing and travel costs for their own speakers. Moreover, "students" don't have to fly across the country to attend a one-day course, or leave the office for a half-day session.

Event management

An increasing number of insurers are deploying enterprise event management solutions to automate management of the training program business process. Enterprise event management solutions enable event managers to quickly and easily schedule training classes, monitor registration and attendance, secure payment, communicate with customers and partners, and perform post-event reporting and analysis.

And, because non-technical staff using an enterprise event management solution can perform these activities, the management of Web-based training can be handled by any number of insurance company personnel.

Many advanced enterprise event management solutions are integrated with Web and audio conferencing services, which serve as the vehicle for delivering presentation materials to training class attendees. Insurance companies using this technology can reserve "seats" and minutes by accessing a drop-down menu in the solution's event set-up page.

By enabling event producers to use enterprise event management solutions and Web/audio conferencing services together, training management for Web-based events is more streamlined and efficient.

One benefit of a Web-based training program is the content it generates. For example, a Web seminar aimed at introducing insurance customers to a series of new products typically requires that a marketing or education services executive create a slide presentation for use in the Web conference.

But what happens to the presentation after the conference? Some insurance companies post recorded materials from Web conferences to their Web sites, but many more do nothing at all with the presentations.

The most innovative software companies post the presentation material to their Web sites and charge for access to that information, in effect re-marketing it as a recorded event.

According to IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based research and consulting firm, 28% of firms use conferencing directly to make money-selling streaming content, repackaging existing presentations for resale, reselling hosted conferencing services, and generating prospects from Web casts.

Untapped revenue source

The truly strategic firms go one step further: These companies treat recorded events as they would a live conference by keeping track of registrations, sending electronic confirmations and reminders to registrants, automating payment, and performing post-event reporting and analysis.

As with a live event, information about customers attending recorded events can be fed into back-end customer relationship management applications and other enterprise systems. By charging for access to recorded events-just as they would for a live, in-person event or Web conference-insurance companies have access to a previously untapped source of revenue.

Though Web-based training for the insurance industry is a relatively new phenomenon, thus far the results are very impressive.

According to IDC, 30% of insurance companies responding to a survey noted they planned to use Web conferencing products twice as much in 2003 than the previous year, and only 1% said they would use them less in 2003 than the year before.

In most cases, the decision to switch to a Web-based training program and manage it with an enterprise event management solution results in a significant increase in customer and partner registrations at the classes.

Subsequently, revenue for an insurance company's education services department may go up and the cost of goods sold (as measured by the time it takes to produce the events) are likely to decrease substantially.

Paul Gustafson is vice president of business development at ViewCentral, Inc., Mountain View, Calif.

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