GeoLearning and SaaS Grow Up Together

February 26th, 2007 |
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When Frank Russell founded GeoLearning ten years ago, the landscape for delivering corporate training materials was quite different from what it is today. As the network became more and more vital for business, and as software-as-a-service began to mature, Frank saw GeoLearning’s business grow and change in dramatic ways. In this podcast Frank relates his experience as CEO of GeoLearning, and talks about how SaaS plays a vital role in their success.

Transcript:

Host: Paul Lancour – PodTech

Guest: Frank Russell – GeoLearning

Paul Lancour – PodTech

Welcome to Connecting with Revolutionary Minds, conversations with IT and business leaders from WebEx. In this series of Podcast, you will hear from IT and business pioneers working on the leading edge of the on demand business. I am Paul Lancour with Podtech.net, and for this Podcast, I met with Frank Russell, President and CEO of GeoLearning. I started by asking him to tell us what GeoLearning does.

Frank Russell – GeoLearning

Well, actually what GeoLearning does, there is an acronym in our name, Geo really stands for global education online. So, what we do is provide the tools and the content for organizations to basically train online, and some of those tools would include things like an LMS, which is Learning Management System, an LCMS, which is a Learning Content Management System, Talent Management tools and Virtual Classroom tools.

Paul Lancour – PodTech

So, if an organization is looking to do some training, you provide them with the tools to put a training program together essentially?

Frank Russell – GeoLearning

That’s correct. In the old way or the traditional model, they might have done this in a classroom environment, what we have done is brought all of that to the Web. So, if they still use classroom, people can register online to participate in classes it manages, the instructors, the facilities, the equipment that needs to be there. It also can deliver content online, whether it is self paste, and lets the computer manage that instruction, or it could by synchronous, which is like a WebEx session, where basically you can have a live instructor sitting, as I am here in Des Moines today, and you can have students all over the world participating in the class.

Paul Lancour – PodTech

So tell me, I am in an organization and I want to utilize your services, I have some training needs here within my organization, so what is it like from a user experience, what is the process once I get in touch with you to create some learning materials for my organization.

Frank Russell – GeoLearning

Well, typically what we do is we work with a client organization and try to discover what their needs are, what their business challenges are. Then what we do is, then configure a system or a capability based on their needs, and it could be any number of things. They could want to use this for internal training, mandatory training like sexual harassment or Sarbanes-Oxley, those kinds of things, they may also have a need to maybe communicate more effectively with their distribution channels so they could use this for dealer training or whatever, or they may even want to use it for customer training.

So, they may have created a new software package and they want to get that information out in a more efficient way than they have in the past. So, typical clients have a number of different needs out there and we try to assess what those are and then configure our system to meet their (Inaudible) needs.

Paul Lancour – PodTech

How long have you been in business?

Frank Russell – GeoLearning

We started in 1997, so we have been in business this year for 10 years.

Paul Lancour – PodTech

That would put you 10 years ago at the very forefront of this kind of delivery of training tools, I would imagine.

Frank Russell – GeoLearning

That is correct, we were I think the pioneer or one of the pioneers in this particular area, just as companies like SuccessFactors in the Performance Management area, and WebEx in the Virtual Meeting area, GeoLearning was a pioneer in the Learning Management System area, delivered software-as-a-service.

Paul Lancour – PodTech

Software-as-a-service is really blossoming all over these days, but I would imagine from your vantage point, you would be able to talk particularly about the early history of software-as-a-service and how you have seen it change overtime.

Frank Russell – GeoLearning

Well, I think the change has been rather dramatic Paul, obviously before Y2K in year 2000, this market was a little lonely because people were worried about planes falling from the sky and what would happen to the Internet, but we have certainly seen tremendous change. Today, when organizations look at the real value proposition of not having to own tremendous amount of hardware, not having to worry about updates to software continually, those kinds of things, they can really focus on their prime business drivers and let the companies like GeoLearning allow them to leverage things that we do well.

So, we are big believers in software-as-a-service, so much in fact that we use tools in our own marketing like WebEx and other software-as-a-service providers like SuccessFactors and also salesforce.com, some of those kinds of tools.

Paul Lancour – PodTech

I would imagine that some of your customers who have been particularly successful with this, and some of the real value that you bring to the marketplace is that a smaller organization can leverage tools such as yours to do presentations and to do training that in another time they would never have been able to create.

Frank Russell – GeoLearning

It really does leverage. So, you can have companies as small as a 100 employees utilize technology that was only available to some of the largest companies in the world. We do service companies as small as a 100 employees all the way up to gigantic companies like Dell and United Technologies and others that have worldwide operations. We actually operate in over 60 countries in the world, by that I mean we deliver content into those countries and we offer our system in multiple languages to service that.

Paul Lancour – PodTech

So, from your vantage point again of having been in the early days of software-as-a-service and see how it has developed overtime and how it has been a great advantage for a lot of organizations, where do you see it going in the future?

Frank Russell – GeoLearning

Well, I think obviously the market and the outlook is very bright for companies that use software-as-a-service. When you look at the demographics of the world and you see the way things are changing, when you look at the workforce, it is becoming less traditional in the sense that I go to work from eight to five and I drive in or whatever. We have a world that is changing and the workforce is changing and the software-as-a-service model fits that new direction, if you will. So, we are excited about it, we have been growing at the lowest double digit growth rate and at the highest triple digit, and we think that will continue into the foreseeable future.

Paul Lancour – PodTech

Tell me a little bit about mashups and composite applications and what kind of role they play in your organization’s work?

Frank Russell – GeoLearning

Well, I think this is another growing trend, what you are seeing now are strategic partnerships that are developing with organizations that have particular kinds of expertise. So, I have been mentioning this idea that we partner with WebEx and companies like SuccessFactors, each one of those companies has invested millions and millions and of dollars in their software-as-a-service solutions, just as GeoLearning has done. Now, with the evolution of Web 2.0 and all the other technologies, we can create seamless systems, seamless capabilities that allow you to select what is called the best of breed.

So, I can take WebEx, which is the best Web conferencing system that’s available out there that may have upwards of 60-80% market share. I can go out and do another partner like SuccessFactors, and conversely they can use GeoLearning’s Learning Management System and Learning Content Management System technology. There is no single provider out there that could come close to matching the investment, the feature function set and the capabilities. This wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago, but now with the latest technologies that bring all of these together in sort of a seamless integration, it really provides a tremendous boost to customers who want to take advantage of this software-as-a-service capability.

Paul Lancour – PodTech

So, given that this wasn’t even foreseeable or in the cards a few years ago, what was it that you saw at the beginning of your organization’s life, the need in the marketplace, are you just incredibly prescient that you knew that everything was going to be headed this way, or did you kind of start at just the right time when the technology caught up with the sort of services you were offering, how did that work out for you?

Frank Russell – GeoLearning

Well, I think with any organization, any entrepreneur will tell you, oh absolutely, it was great vision and great luck. We looked at it, and quite frankly, early on in our history, we had some fairly sizeable organizations that had gotten a lot of venture capital, and what they had done is gone with the solution that’s more traditional software solution behind the firewall. So, when we looked at that and we entered the market back in the late 1990s, there were over 200 companies that were competitors in our space, what we wanted to do is say, what could we do differently, we cannot be another fish in this gigantic pond that’s already out there.

So, if we create another pond or go after another part of the market, and in the early days we looked at this and it was sort of a leap of faith in the dark thing. We really believed that the Internet is not going to go away. We really believed that this idea of providing the centralized hosted service is going to be a wave of the future. So, we took a gamble and said, we would rather be a big fish in a small pond and hope that that pond grows. It just so happened that that’s the way the market progressed, we did guess right and that leap of faith did have that safety net out there and we made the right choice.

Paul Lancour – PodTech

Anything else you want to share with our listeners here on this Podcast about your experiences with software-as-a-service and the growth of GeoLearning over the years.

Frank Russell – GeoLearning

Well, if I were an any size company out there, small, medium or even large enterprise company, I would certainly be looking at this very, very carefully, because I think the days of having the massive IT departments all operating independently, when you look at the power of what is happening with the Web and Web 2.0, and those kinds of things, software-as-a-service I think will be a very growing opportunity for many organizations. I think you leverage those kinds of opportunities and I think it will allow small companies to compete on a global marketplace, and large companies to become much more efficient in what they do. So, I am a big believer in the software-as-a-service concept.

Paul Lancour – PodTech

Frank, thank you very much for taking time out to speak with us today.

Frank Russell – GeoLearning

Thank you, Paul.

Paul Lancour – PodTech

Frank Russell is President and CEO of GeoLearning.

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