Brainshark’s Software-as-a-Service Presentation Capabilities Ease Communication
On-demand rich-media applications can be used for training, corporate communications, sales and marketing.
By Diann Daniel
Is your company looking for an easier way to create, share and manage online presentations that combine voice, text, graphics and business documents? A new method to train offsite employees? Brainshark may be the answer.
With PowerPoint, a computer and a telephone, anyone can create an on-demand presentation. Companies are using the Web-based Brainshark application to keep corporate communications engaging and train the sales force and other staff.
Started in 1999, the VC-backed Brainshark last year grew 52 percent in sales, and in the first half of this year the growth rate has been 84 percent, says Brainshark CEO Joe Gustafson. Brainshark is meeting the growing need of an increasingly global and scattered workforce; users find the software as a service convenient, the pricing variable and the customer service responsive, he says. Anne Caputo of Factiva agrees.
Caputo is director of learning and information at Factiva, one company that turned to Brainshark for help. In 2001, Factiva.com, a news and business information website, was five weeks away from launch. Its parent company, Factiva, which was formed as a joint venture of Dow Jones & Company and Reuters Group, needed a way to quickly finish training its workforce on the capabilities of the website, which was intended to replace Reuters business briefing and Dow Jones interactive.
When training needs had arisen in the past, the company sent training staff on a “road show” to the company’s offices across the globe. But with the deadline around the corner, face-to-face training of its global staff wasn’t possible. The company needed a way to accommodate different time zones, cultures and learning styles. “We realized almost immediately to do this we needed the ability to have on-demand residual and reinforcement training,” says Caputo. This meant turning to a Web-based teaching tool. Factiva chose Brainshark over Adobe Macromedia, which was being used in pockets within the company. Caputo cites Brainshark’s ease of use as crucial in Brainshark’s eventual triumph.
Brainshark is offered as software as a service, so the application features on-demand access through a secure URL, which can be used for marketing, sales, training and corporate communications. At its most basic, the application enables the creation of a presentation that can be viewed by staff on their computers. The application capitalizes on common desktop products like Microsoft PowerPoint and the user’s phone. A user can combine text and graphical elements into a slideshow presentation, as well as easily record a narration to the slideshow. Slides are treated separately and can be swapped in and out, so presentations can be customized for region, market, salesperson, trainer and so on. Ease of use and the ability to customize presentations are what has made Brainshark so successful, says Gustafson.
Interactivity is also key. He points to the ability to add quiz questions to reinforce learning—to test knowledge before allowing a move to the next step, or simply to involve the user as a means of increasing interactivity and engagement. Brainshark also features tracking—both in terms of who reads what and also metrics of what order recipients access slides and how long they spend on each one—a feature helpful for sales and marketing, as well as for assessing the effectiveness of training tools.
This feature proved helpful to Factiva, which found the training tool most effective when kept short and focused. “Ten minutes is the max,” says Caputo. She vouches for the product’s ease and says, “Brainshark has generally become a part of the [Factiva] culture, partly because we are global,” she says. Caputo points out that she was surprised by how the product was welcomed. Because training had previously been in person, she thought there would be resistance to this new style of teaching. The most distant offices were the most active and welcoming, she says. Up to then, they had been at the end of the training process and the last to receive personal attention. “In the world of Web-based training, they were on equal footing, and received training when everybody else did,” she says. “Brainshark was a great equalizer and countered our expectations.”