Budgets Impact Education

Enterprise clients suffer from shifting strategies.

The tightening purse strings of major telecommunications equipment vendors are straining the training and services provided to carrier and enterprise customers. This is good news—but only if youre an independent IT training provider.

Some vendors are farming out portions of their training programs to smaller manufacturers and consultants. The most likely courses to be outsourced are those that deal with "mature" products that have been around long enough to attract students. For example, Nortel Networks Corp. no longer provides training at its Raleigh, N.C., training center for some of the older, traditional switching products, having sold the training program to a third party, according to a former Nortel employee who asked not to be named.

A year ago, Nortel sold five training centers to independent IT trainer Global Knowledge Network Inc., of Burlington, Mass. Most of the training is aimed at enterprise customers and a smaller portion at Nortel employees. Nortel is focusing its training efforts at the center on newer product lines.

Vendors are also shifting more training to online and self-guided courses.

"Some companies are trying to make more information available in the form of online documentation, and I imagine that could be considered a substitute [for hands-on training]," said Jeff Kuhns, associate senior director of telecommunications at Pennsylvania State University, in University Park.

At academic institutions, self-motivated education is par for the course. But some carriers and enterprises are embracing Web-based training not only as a means of saving time and travel resources but also as a way to provide the latest information to employees as fast as possible.

"There is a gradual shifting of training options to electronic format," said Steve Mosley, director of training and employee development at Alltel Corp., of Little Rock, Ark. "Its a whole different cost dynamic, I would say as much as a 75 percent savings."

Approximately 25 percent of Alltels training is provided by companies other than the major vendors, according to Mosley. Most of the infrastructure training is funded through credits provided by manufacturers, and more generic programs, such as general network training, are procured through outside training companies, he said.

Training carriers in how to market products to users is also being curtailed and increasingly replaced by courses offered by independent companies. According to sources, Lucent Technologies Inc. has cut its Checkmate program, which provides training services to carriers, including Competitive Local Exchange Carriers. Partners that once hailed their affiliation with Checkmate now decline to discuss their participation.

In January of last year, Lynch Associates Inc., a telecom consulting company now called Broadmargin, issued a news release to tout involvement in the program, stating that the company was "very pleased and proud" to participate. Today, the company will not talk about it. "We are under a nondisclosure agreement and cant discuss the scope of the work thats being undertaken," said Paul Steidler, spokesman for the Fairfax, Va., company.

Vendors explain the training cutbacks much the way they explain layoffs and other cost reductions: Service providers are buying less, so vendors must adjust their spending patterns.

Officials at one vendor said, "When youre talking about incumbent service providers with switching gear, theres a general perception that vendors are pulling back and not doing what they used to do, but, hey, theyre not buying what they used to buy. Its a necessity."