One of American revolutionary Benjamin Franklin's most quoted sayings was 'An investment in knowledge pays the best interest'. Two hundred years on, Fidelity Group's Alan Shraga is issuing the same dictum to UK ICT resellers, urging them to embrace e-learning and ramp up digital revenues.
Shraga has relished being a disruptor during his 25-year career in telecoms. Fidelity, the company he set up with co-founder Simon Payne seven years ago has already demonstrated the ability to pioneer new revenue streams for channel partners through endeavours into M2M and energy. Now, Shraga has turned his sharp eye on the e-learning market, which he believes is an untapped cash resource for resellers keen to develop their trusted advisor status.
Fidelity has built a reputation for forging channel portals to simplify resellers' business processes. Anvil was one of the first telecoms billing platforms and Ambolt enables partners to simplify and manage moves into energy provision. Now, Fidelity's new education portal, developed with e-learning giant e-Careers, is helping comms and IT resellers offer customers valuable online courses across the business spectrum and boost revenues as margins in traditional services decline.
Shraga's lightbulb moment came when he was investigating sending his own managers on PRINCE 2 project management courses plus a Sage introductory course for a new account team member. "The costs were astronomical. For PRINCE 2 it was £2-3,000 for a residential five-day course with a set of exams at the end," recalled Shraga. "We were looking at a £50,000 investment in training to upskill our people and I thought there had to be a better and more cost-effective way to get our people qualified and have less impact on our business and their family life. We found out that e-learning was 10 per cent of the cost and our people could do the courses in their own time at their own pace. It was a no brainer.
"We then came across e-Careers in Slough. PRINCE 2 project management courses were a big seller for them and they had also sold thousands of other courses by partnering with educational providers in the UK namely colleges, universities and adult education groups. Because of the Government cuts and the new fees that students are facing, colleges and universities have started to offer e-learning to reduce costs. It's a combination course where you have tutor time and e-learning modules within the university or college framework."
Fidelity's e-Learning platform now gives channel partners access to over 500 business courses to sell to customers including project management, Microsoft 365, cyber security, accounting, human resources and health and safety. "Microsoft themselves have admitted there are not enough training companies to deliver the number of courses they are selling," commented Shraga.
"Selling a 365 licence carries a minimal margin and installing it is all fine, but when you are deploying it across a SME are they likely to invest £4,000 in training? No. But they will invest £150 for access to an online course for one year that educates employees on features such as OneDrive and Sharepoint for maximum benefit from that licence."
When you look at channel partners with enterprise customers wanting to train hundreds of staff, the 20 per cent margins resellers can earn from e-learning gets exciting, especially when corporates can get money back from the Government on the levies now imposed on them to train staff, as Shraga explained.
"The Government has levied a new tax on corporate companies, so if your PAYE bill is over £3 million per annum you now pay an apprenticeship levy. It is taken when corporates pay their National Insurance and you can claim that back if you invest in training. If you don't do it you lose it. Corporate reseller customers are paying that tax now so there is a huge demand for training. We have already had some enquiries for 500 training licences.
"With our data protection and cyber security courses available and providing up to 20 per cent margin for the reseller, there are huge revenue opportunities for the channel to help their customers to prepare for the GDPR and to further protect their businesses."
Fidelity piloted its e-learning initiative via a poll sent out to reseller customers in its monthly bill run and Shraga says he was astonished by the feedback. "It was the biggest response we have ever had," he commented. "Within 90 seconds we had the first enquiry for e-learning course training."
Shraga is convinced the simplicity of the Fidelity portal and the breadth of courses available will help resellers to drive new revenues into their business and improve customer stickiness. "For channel partners, the opportunity to become a customer champion is available through our e-learning portal now," said Shraga. "They can be educated on achieving sales on the phone, closing techniques, data protection and cyber security, on PRINCE 2 or AGILE, or health and safety to comply with Government regulation - the list is endless.
"It's instant access to learning. Small businesses need to invest in training their people to keep abreast of fast paced changes in technology. That's why I am so convinced that online e-learning will be of significant interest to the channel and their customers."•