ABB’s contract with TimelyText not only fills a need, but helps launch a successful new training program
When John Hudepohl, Leader of the Software Development Improvement Program (SDIP) at ABB,decided the best way to develop uniform training for ABB’s software engineers was with webinars facilitated and designed by contractors, he needed an agency with a deep pool of experienced instructional designers. TimelyText was the perfect match.
ABB has software developers in 52 countries and has grown rapidly through acquisition. The company recognized that uniform training in effective, cost-saving processes was critical to deploying high-quality software.
Since launching SDIP in 2009, Hudepohl has come to rely on TimelyText lead Jessica Spells Thompson to coordinate a small team of designers that delivers dozens of webinars each year.
The training has been recognized inside and outside the company. Employee surveys show a 98 percent approval rate and the no-show rate for classes is half the industry average. Such compelling approval means ABB unit managers are happy to fund the program. And an SDIP paper on the program’s success was accepted by the prestigious International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) and the American Society for Training & Development, which recently rebranded itself as the Association for Talent Development (ATD), ran an article by Hudepohl on the program’s success.
“TimelyText delivers high-quality contractors who provide us outstanding content and facilitation,’’ says Hudepohl, who first worked with TimelyText at his previous job at Nortel Networks. Despite that previous connection, TimelyText competed against several companies for the ABB work. Potential contractors produced one webinar under mini-contracts. “TimelyText’s contractors immediately understood what we were looking for and delivered on it,’’ Hudepohl notes. “They blew the other contractors out of the water.’’
Deciding to Hire a Contractor
ABB sought outside help because webinar development is episodic in nature at ABB and its instructional design team focuses largely on training for ABB customers. “We wouldn’t be their first priority,’’ says Hudepohl, who also needed a contracting arrangement that included someone to lead the effort. TimelyText Vice President Adrian West recruited Spells Thompson, who has a doctorate in instructional technology and expertise in adult learning theory, for that role. She had previously worked for other TimelyText clients, including Sensus, and has run her own consulting practice.
For Spells Thompson, working through TimelyText ensures she always has three to four well-trained IDs needed to fulfill ABB’s needs. In addition, TimelyText was able to source a freelance corporate communications contractor who polished the ICSE presentation paper, edits training promotional emails, finds outlets to share ABB’s SDIP success story and writes internal case studies for ABB’s SDIP website.
“The SDIP project was not a shoo-in to succeed,’’ notes Hudepohl. “We needed to overcome internal cultural barriers, design and deploy classes rapidly and show results to keep funding. Having a strong partnership with a contract staffing agency that understands our needs has been critical to the program’s success.’’
The Right Writers, Right from the Start
Elster successfully fills technical writing positions with help from TimelyText
When Peter Kerstetter needed contract technical writers to handle the expanding workload at Elster, he heard through a colleague that TimelyText had been successfully supplying contractors to his unit for some time.
New to hiring contractors, Kerstetter wasn’t certain what to expect. Would he be able to find someone who could quickly pick up on what he needed? Would it require working through multiple firms? One call to TimelyText took care of everything. “I said I needed technical writers with strong software documentation experience and an ability to research technical design documents and pull out the needed information. If they had experience with hardware, that would be a big plus. I didn’t end up needing to look anywhere else,’’ says Kerstetter, who hired the first person TimelyText sent and the two others that have come since. “I’m very pleased with the quality of the technical writers from TimelyText. I really can’t be happier. “Their writers are well qualified, and thoroughly vetted, which saves me a lot of time that I might otherwise spend on things like checking references and training them on tool sets and how to write for my audience.”
Elster manufactures electricity meters, communications and energy management platforms for residential, commercial and industrial, and interchange metering applications. Kerstetter works in the Raleigh office, which specializes in the design of smart meter and smart grid solutions, and is responsible for product documentation for software, hardware and web-based solutions. Once the sole technical writer, he now supervises two contract writers – both from TimelyText.
The first project for which Peter needed a writer had a very tight deadline. “We had just months to produce an extensive manual from scratch,’’ he says. The first writer worked quickly and when she found a job “she couldn’t turn down,” TimelyText quickly found a replacement and the two writers transitioned the work during a three-day period. “It was seamless,’’ Kerstetter says.
“I think TimelyText really understands and appreciates writers,’’ says Kerstetter. “And since they focus on writers that makes it much simpler to work with them.” Kerstetter says he didn’t really need to explain much. “TimelyText’s staff understood the tools, the language and the topics. Being able to quickly tap a wellspring of technical writing talent just makes my job so much easier.’’
Trimming Training Costs by One-third
BCBS documents cost savings in hiring instructional designers with the necessary skills
The rules for Medicare Advantage Part D change frequently and each time Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina must design training for external agents to make sure they comply with these regulatory changes. With help from TimelyText-supplied staffers, BCBS of North Carolina reduced the cost of producing the training by one-third and cut the classroom hours needed by 25 percent without impacting effectiveness.
Brian McGrath says part of the reason is that TimelyText always supplies him with the right people for the job. “I’ve hired seven people through TimelyText over the past five years. Three have transitioned to permanent positions,” says McGrath, Director of Enterprise Learning and Development. “Ronnie Duncan and Adrian West know our business and the success of the people placed shows that.’’
McGrath has used other companies over the years without as much success. “The problem with some staffing augmentation companies is they have a large pool of people, but it feels like they are pulling people off the street and sending them on interviews based on keyword searches of their resume.’’
With TimelyText, McGrath explains what he is looking for in an instructor designer or facilitator. And not just the kinds of skills that are listed on resumes. He can specifically ask for people with soft skills, like the ability to engage with business users effectively or analytic abilities. He says this is critical because his company deals with complex material and the training must meet strict regulatory requirements. Hiring someone with a specific toolset or generic insurance or health care experience is not enough. Duncan and West understand that and deliver.
“One thing about TimelyText staff – they are all excellent writers. It’s a forgotten skill,’’ McGrath says, adding that is critical to efficiency and effectiveness. “The TimelyText contractors get across concisely what needs to be learned and they are all good at working with business users to get at the root cause of what they need their employees to be trained in and understand.’’
Creative Help In a Pinch
TimelyText secures just the right writers for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina’s challenging, deadline-driven projects
Working as a Creative Director for BCBSNC, Brigette Sullivan knew she needed good quality writers. When she turned to agencies, they would ‘find someone who could fill the slot’, but it wasn’t always a great fit. After she began working at TimelyText, she was matched with the exact type of writer she needed.
Within the world of marketing writing, individual companies (and departments) often maintain their own styles, and they look for individuals who can work within those styles. Some pieces require a formal, corporate tone. Others require the writer to translate a lot of technical material into a higher level read. Brigette needed copywriters who could translate “insurance speak” into everyday, common language for all to understand. They also needed to accomplish this under tight deadlines. “TimelyText understood what I was talking about and brought us the right kind of writers. When you have a big project coming up you don’t have a lot of time to train someone or interview a lot of people, you need a partner who understands what you are looking for.’’
Through several years of working together Sullivan said she felt she could trust TimelyText to deliver a good fit, no matter what the need. “It really made me feel relieved, and confident that I could get the work done.” She also appreciated that TimelyText didn’t disappear after the contract was signed and the writer placed. “Ronnie Duncan (President) or Adrian West (Vice President) would always follow-up and ask ‘How did that person do?’ I really appreciated that special touch.”
During the time Sullivan used TimelyText, her group won a Best of Blue award for marketing five years in a row from the national Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. The award-winning team included some of TimelyText’s writers. Sullivan has moved into a different role with BCBSNC, but she was happy to pass along TimelyText’s name to her colleagues.
One of those colleagues was Anna Rosati, who recently served as BCBSNC’s Creative Operations Manager. “It was my first experience managing a team and Ronnie was like a mentor to me,’’ says Rosati, who is now a Senior Strategic Sales and Marketing Advisor for BCBSNC. “TimelyText starts each engagement with a consultative approach. They want us to be successful and for the writers they place with us to be successful.’’
Rosati especially appreciated this during a period in her tenure when an internal client needed a large, time-consuming project completed on a tight deadline. Rosati had to secure two contract writers very quickly. “I don’t think the project would have been a success without TimelyText’s support. Ronnie brought me two talents that met my needs perfectly.’’
“With TimelyText, I’ve always felt like I could ask questions and get an honest, on target response,’’ Rosati says.