This ancient philosophy applies now, in the Information Age, more than ever. In a survey of thousands of IT professionals, more than 70 percent favored live, hands-on labs over any other learning methodology. Why? Simple: IT professionals don’t live in a perfect world. Chaos theory abounds when electronic data packets cruise the Infobahn at the speed of light. And the best way to build mission-critical skills in this chaotic environment is to learn in a real, non-simulated remote laboratory—a “known good environment” (KGE).
Cisco Systems drives toward perfection as hard as anybody in the IT space. As a huge supporter of e-learning, Cisco devotes millions of dollars every year to developing the skills of its extended family—aka “ecosystem.” The Cisco ecosystem encompasses internal systems engineers (SEs), strategic partners and channel SEs. And since Cisco relies on its channel for more than 85 percent of its annual revenue, it takes ecosystem workforce development very seriously. In fact, Cisco has dedicated an entire learning portal to the goal of increasing the skill set of its extended family: the Partner E-Learning Connection (PEC).
The goal of the PEC is to increase Cisco ecosystem productivity and revenue generation with tools that enhance skills and enable better, faster service worldwide. Cisco relies on more than 40,000 channel partners and 500,000 systems engineers for billions of dollars of annual revenue. Simply stated, Cisco’s future is in the hands of the brightest propeller-heads in the industry. So, how does Cisco keep its ecosystem so smart? Easy: LiveLabs OnDemand from Toolwire and other PEC providers. These complex labs provide remote hands-on access to Cisco routers and switches via chaotic, real-world scenarios—a “known real environment” (KRE).
The results of Cisco’s groundbreaking PEC are stupendous. Since its inception almost four years ago, Cisco has delivered more than 320,000 live labs to its ecosystem in over 109 countries. Furthermore, these partners have certified more than 5,000 systems engineers and increased their revenue generation capabilities by $14,000 per person per month. And to top it all off, Cisco has consistently improved its all-important customer-satisfaction metrics due to smarter engineers and more effective implementations. Over the past four years, Cisco’s CSAT has increased from 3.78 to 4.34 on a scale of 5.
On the other side of the productivity fence, Cisco’s PEC has saved its ecosystem $7,000 in training expenses per person per month. And what about time? The PEC has saved 120 hours per person per year in the time it takes to prepare for selling Cisco solutions. The result is a win-win for Cisco and its ecosystem: Engineers are smarter, more productive and better prepared.
Kevin MacRitchie, vice president of Cisco worldwide channel operations, is the man at the very top of the propeller-head food chain. He sums up the role of live labs, “As an advocate of e-learning, we are always looking for companies who provide innovative e-learning products to enhance the value we provide to our channel partners. Working with our various lab providers, we feel confident that we are offering our channel partners the most comprehensive live-labs offering on the market today. Ultimately, hands-on experience is a win-win for us and our channel.”
And that’s not all. MacRitchie and his team are now embarking on the next great frontier of known good environments: assessment. Cisco is not satisfied with just skilling its valuable ecosystem engineers. It wants to quantitatively measure their achievements as well. The latest wrinkle in PEC labs is “grading.” Once an engineer has built, configured and troubleshot a complex Cisco topology, artificial intelligence jumps in to grade his or her performance on a variety of criteria: Is the topology configured correctly? Did the engineer find the optimal path for packet delivery? Performance-based assessment is the future of IT certification testing. Once again, Cisco is paving the on-ramp to the e-learning superhighway.
The Cisco PEC is a great example of increased productivity through workforce enhancement: Cisco pays for the training of its own employees and extended ecosystem. From the top down, Cisco believes that an investment in hands-on skills will pay off tenfold in revenue generation and customer satisfaction. For this reason, you can expect Cisco Systems to embrace the natural chaos of networking and thus lead the charge into the Perfect World.
David James Clarke IV is the co-founder and chief evangelist of Toolwire, where he developed the company’s learning methodology and originated the concept of live, hands-on learning for students in an anywhere, anytime format. Prior to Toolwire, David served as a technology professor at the University of California, Berkeley and director of systems integration at the Walt Disney Company.