IBM and Thomson expand e-learning partnership

IBM Corp. and Thomson Corp. have agreed to widen their collaboration in electronic learning to offer government agencies and private-sector companies worldwide an extensive menu of products and services, officials from both companies said Monday.

Clients can’t find a wide-ranging offering of e-learning products and services today because the e-learning market is very fragmented, officials said. IBM and Thomson hope that their joint offerings will set them apart and attract clients, officials said.

However, at this point, the IBM-Thomson offering isn’t as broad as the two companies would like to think it is, an analyst said.

Their offering will be ideal for clients with extensive e-learning needs centered on IT topics, but not so much for those clients with very specific non-IT content needs such as healthcare or legal topics, said Cushing Anderson, an IDC analyst who covers the e-learning market.

IBM and Thomson, however, could extend their partnership to address specific vertical areas as they move forward, Anderson said.

The two companies complement each other well, because the biggest IBM weakness is content, which is a Thomson strong point, while Thomson’s biggest weakness is infrastructure, where IBM is strong, he said.

Demand for e-learning is increasing among companies and government agencies because they have found that e-learning can lower training costs and increase its efficacy, the officials said. E-learning refers to the use of IT products and technologies for educational purposes.

IDC forecasts confirm that this is a high-growth area. The market researcher expects revenue from e-learning software, services and content bought by private-sector companies to grow at a compound annual rate of 68.8 per cent between 1999 and 2004, Anderson said. Revenue hit US$6.3 billion in 2001, and is expected to grow to $11.1 billion this year, he said. Sales to the government sector adds about 15 per cent more to that market’s revenue, he said.

Armonk, New York-based IBM and Thomson, in Toronto, have collaborated for years in e-learning, but the agreement intensifies the relationship, officials said.

The non-exclusive agreement, announced Tuesday, calls for the companies to:

— integrate e-learning products from each other;

— co-market and resell each other’s products and services;

— beef-up the e-learning library for IBM products and services;

— and develop new e-learning products and services, such as software-based teaching material and online courses.