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Manufacturing Leader NI Showcases Epic Productivity Gains with Thought Industries

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post ni webinar recap
Rachel Rheinhart
November 3, 2022
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Customer education is making waves across so many different industries, but forgive us for playing favorites — we think customer education (and digital transformation) in manufacturing is one of the most exciting.

In our recent webinar, our rockstar Learning Strategists, Monika Patel and Karen Swindells spoke with Gretchen Edelmon, Principal Product Owner for the Digital Learning Experience at NI (formerly National Instruments) to discuss how they added hours to the day and dollars to their bottom line with the help of customer education. 

You can watch the whole event here, or keep reading for our top takeaways! 

A Growing Need for Digital Tools & Automation for Manufacturing

In our 2022 State of Customer Education survey, we found a large uptick on spending for technology in customer education, with customers who invest in a training program seeing cumulative returns that grow over time. In 2021, revenue increase from customer education was 12%, and in 2022, we’re seeing 19% expected revenue increase, a growth of 58% year on year.

This is the industry more broadly, but what about manufacturing more specifically? 

The truth is that many stakeholders in the manufacturing space might already be working in customer education, but they call it something else. It could be hidden under the guise of product training, product documentation, or even client enablement. Bottom line? If you’re training the customer on the right way to do their work, you’re already engaged with customer education. 

Karen Swindells highlights the top concerns for manufacturers today

In our research, we’ve found four common characteristics of customer education manufacturing programs: 

  1. They’re relatively low in maturity, according to our maturity model.
  2. They have a unique buying team, unlike SaaS. Buying power is spread between multiple teams. 
  3. They aren’t monetizing training, and most are spread thin, only breaking even.
  4. They focus heavily on live sessions, and may not realize that virtual can mean live, too. 

This is mostly indicative of where NI were at before they found Thought Industries. They were a profit center, but spread very thinly, with mostly live training, and relatively low in their maturity. 

Tackling Digital Transformation with Customer Education for Manufacturing

Gretchen jumped in to talk about the NI Learning Center, and how digital transformation has been a goal for the business for the past decade and beyond. 

Gretchen Edelmon reflects on the history of NI

In 2019, NI had two distinct goals. First, the customer education team wanted to support sales and profitability goals, ensuring teams were running efficiently. At the same time, they also needed to deliver content that supported their customers’ own manufacturing goals, too. 

Edelmon highlights the key decisions that went into NI’s massive digital transformation

We love how Gretchen talked about how “they had to make a start!” Time and time again we hear customer education leaders discuss taking that first step. It might feel small, but whatever you do, start with something. 

Gretchen commented on how it was hard to keep priorities the same across a distributed team, and relive the anxiety around their digital shift. They had a lean team, and were already some months into their progress towards greater digitization, when COVID-19 hit the headlines. 

Suddenly, people were staying home, and not going to work. NI decided to make all of their online training available on-demand from home. Moreover, they added over 50,000 new users from making that decision, attracting users who had never engaged with learning before. They canceled all public classroom courses and transitioned students over to virtual learning, to support users who were stuck at home, unable to work or learn in person. However, they wanted to do more than they could achieve with their existing technology.

Investing in the Technology to Meet Future Needs 

NI invested in and expanded customer education by onboarding the Thought Industries Learning Cloud. This was a new platform that would support their future learning strategy, enabling a richer, on-demand experience for their customers. Consequently, NI implemented hands-on experiences, more immersive virtual learning, and made a move away from slide-based learning that was less engaging than it could be. 

Edelmon provides an overview of the digital transformation strategy at NI

After a year, NI felt they had succeeded in overhauling their systems. They migrated their technology platform and created a new brand-aligned UI alongside new, focused, sections for specific audiences. Gretchen called out the ability to create learning paths, access intuitive reporting, and bring their integration partner for the journey. 

Now, 2 years later, the global markets are still uncertain. NI is continuing to see an evolution in their customer education journey. They’ve focused heavily on transforming VILT delivery, and automating manual processes, which involves not just moving more training to virtual, but also improving the training experience. Users now have one place to go for training, including checking network settings, accessing digital materials and logging in.

By investing in a learning platform with built-in reporting, webhooks and back-end systems, NI could suddenly achieve so much more. As a result, the team can get greater visibility over essential metrics such as attendance, completion, and engagement. 

NI’s Digital Transformation in Customer Education Brings Serious Results

The results speak for themselves. NI has held 600 learning events with Thought Industries, co-locating these virtual events with on-demand delivery. 4,000 students have experienced an improved and enhanced virtual training experience. The education team can now focus the new time gained through efficiency improvements on more proactive business efforts.

What’s next for NI? Gretchen is excited to be working toward more self-service capabilities across the learning experience. She’s planning for real-time registration, course flexibility, and a mix of instructor-led and on-demand education. 

Watch the full webinar to uncover: 

  • From 90 days to 12 months: NI’s timeline of phased development from launching their Beta site to specialized user content. 
  • Insight into peer programs: See poll results to understand how other manufacturing education teams are running their programs.
  • A sneak peek at the platform: A quick glance at the NI Learning Center.

Watch on-demand here.

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