My formal work assignment was to prepare a Users' Manual to accompany the BP Photocom system, as it was then known, a Data Base Storage and Retrieval system of full colour photographs stored on silver platter optical storage disks running under the control of an IBM AT microcomputer and the British Telecom Image Capturing software package.
This database was being developed for the BP Public Relations Department which has a colour photographic file of some 50,000 scenes of BP sites and installations around the world. These are used, as required, for illustrations of brochures, magazines, seminar presentations and the like. It had become exceedingly inefficient to search manually for the required illustration and a plan had been drawn up to transfer them to an electronic medium and make use of the available technology. It was also planned to explore the possibility of marketing the system for other visual data base uses, such as criminal identification, or for personnel in a security establishment.
To enable this storage a colour video camera was used to capture the illustration and convert it to a digital coding medium. This was accomplished by a hardware/software equipment developed by British Telecom at a cost of some 3 million pounds. BP had customised this in two ways - firstly by storing descriptive text made up of keywords to describe the salient features and details of the colour illustrations, and then storing text and the code number of the illustration on a high speed hard disk running on an IBM AT microcomputer, finally storing the digitised illustrations on a 12 inch video disk using laser beam write/read technology. This enabled quick, computer based searching of the database, using a retrieval package written in dBase III by external consultants to BP. Searches for such keywords as "rig", "BP", "fire", "night", "Alaska", "North Sea" were enabled and give some idea of the uses for the system.
Construction of the handbook required my undertaking an extensive grounding in the operation of the hardware and software. This was compounded by the continual changes made to specifications. It needed to be written in a very elementary style, to be used by clerical staff from the Public Relations area who had scant knowledge or experience of such technology. These staff were required to key in the text and capture the illustrations and store them in the digitised medium, a task then estimated to take one staff-year to accomplish. They were also required to be able to operate the retrieval of illustrations described by the entered keywords as supplied by customer users of the scheme.
The Handbook was finally completed after three months of multiple re-writes. These rewrites were necessitated by the changes in standards of operating procedures during the on-going trials of the system. The final production of the complete system was still impending when the time came for my return to Australia.
I have kept in touch with subsequent developments by maintaining contacts with the BP staff involved with the process. Initially my manager, Tony Smith, who has subsequently retired, then with his manager, Vinod Mehta, until he was subsequently restationed following the disbandment of the Office Distributed Systems section due to financial cutbacks. This left the BP Photocom system very much up in the air and it was not resurrected until recently by a previous member of the section, Dick Ellison, who was by this time stationed at Sunbury. At this stage the system underwent some major refurbishing.
Using this new system, the Manager of the Public Relations Division, Colin Underhill, organised the task of loading the 50,000 illustrations with their associated keyword text, his staff completing it in considerably less time than would have been possible under the original system. The new system was then tested locally and, having proved satisfactory, a remote station was set up at Harlow and an online link was established from Sunbury. After successful trials over this distance, it was then ready for testing over the international BP data communications line. The first international testing is to be a remote query-retrieval station at Singapore, Colin Underhill to be on hand in Singapore to officially launch the system. The next stage is to be a link to BP Australia at Melbourne, and then a link to New Zealand. It is anticipated that, ultimately, there will be 20 online query-retrieval sites world-wide.
In the late 1970s several Computer Based Learning systems were assessed by British Telecom for their suitability for use in technical training. The WICAT system was selected and by the 1980s two learning centres were established in the technical training centre in Stone in Staffordshire. This centrally delivered system allowed computer based training to be integrated with training on large scale equipment available only at the training centre. The computer based teaching courseware was developed by British Telecom staff using the WISE authoring system. In the mid 1980s local WICAT delivery systems were installed to allow technical training to be delivered closer to the workplace where the use of major equipment is not required.
1984 saw the early work with Interactive Video. The added features of sound and moving pictures opened up the possibility of applying this type of Distance Learning to Management training within British Telecom. 5 Interactive Video disks designed to train managers were produced in 1984 to assess the effectiveness of Distance Learning in this area. The results were positive and in 1985 a manager of Management Distance Learning was appointed, a team was gradually developed to exploit the use of Distance Learning in management and commercial training. Although the design of these materials was developed by British Telecom staff, the production of the video material and the software was invariably contracted from outside. Ultimately, in 1990, a manager was appointed to coordinate all the Distance Learning activities across the Training Department.
British Telecom has applied Distance Learning, particularly Interactive Video, to areas once thought unsuitable for this method of training delivery, for example, interpersonal skills. It has also addressed issues such as attitudinise change and securing commitment to new procedures.
The Distance Learning packages have been integrated with other forms of training provision and care has been taken to position them within the individual training plans. The aim has been to establish Distance Learning as "Business as Usual" method of training for both trainers and trainees.
Distance Learning has been found particularly effective when applied to the core skill elements of areas such as interpersonal communications and data communications. These Distance Learning packages have then become prerequisites for a number of courses which would otherwise have overlapping elements. It has also been shown to be very effective in rolling out training throughout the company; it has provided consistent, high quality training to all. A form of Distance Learning has been used to support line managers when they constitute the mechanism through which training is extended.
There are a large number of Distance Learning packages produced outside British Telecom and their policy is to use such materials whenever possible. However, to date there has been no major use of any externally produced package. One reason for this is that British Telecom expect Distance Learning products to be fully integrated into the training provision and this has been difficult with packages not designed specifically for training in British Telecom. To make full use of this resource the materials need to be tailored for integration by producing supplementary material which positions them in British Telecom standards. They have now employed a specialist to work in this area to benefit from the huge investment made in Distance Learning in the United Kingdom generally.
In the first 18 months of the roll out of this locally delivered course it was estimated that 6,000 managers completed the training. This is the equivalent of running eight centrally delivered events every week over the same period. A cost comparison of the two methods of training showed a saving of some £1.4 million pounds even when the full development costs of the new course (£300,000) and the delivery equipment costs (£126,000) had been taken into account. These would be of course "one off" costs. The course is expected to be used at least two more years with an estimated saving of £300 per student.
The Open University has conducted a study into the acceptability and effectiveness of the course and has found:
One reason why the materials are suitable for a wide market is that they do not use British Telecom as the context for the training. It has been found to be more effective when using context outside the normal working place, for example, settings in a journalist's office, or Columbus seeking funds for his voyage from Spain. The learner will not then spend time criticising the context with "We never do it that way!" or "We don't make them in that colour any more!" and can concentrate on the learning. The lessons we can learn from the British Telecom experience are:
At the most superficial level, the Interactive Video provides the student with a video case study of business management planning in action within a large publishing organisation analogous to British Telecom, along with the opportunity to gather information and use it to complete case related exercises.
At the deepest level, the Interactive Video provides the student with a video treatment of the case study, backup computer generated information, specific Computer Based Training plus a link into a resource of Computer Based Training covering the theory of and giving practice with standard business planning models.
The design means that trainers can guide students to the depth of training information appropriate to the course objectives and time available while students can learn and explore at their own pace.
In addition, the student can stop the video and interrogate an object or person to acquire information at almost any time.
There is a progressive structure intrinsic to the subject matter as represented by the flow of the Business Management Planning model. This means that the student will be presented with the three stages - analysis, choice and implementation - in order; and that order within each section will be maintained where possible.
The following table shows the natural chronology of the different types of material:
|Video material||Case related tutorial||Case related exercise||CD-ROM module|
|SWOT Analysis||SWOT Analysis||SWOT Analysis|
|Generic Strategies||Generic Strategies||Generic Strategies|
|Culture & Evolution||Stage of Growth
|Stage of Growth
|Stage of Growth & Culture|
Management Styles & Change
|Risk and Feasibility Analysis||Risk Analysis
Feasibility (Acceptability & Suitability)
Feasibility (Acceptability & Suitability & Financial)
Feasibility (Acceptability & Suitability)
|Selection of Optimum Strategy||Choice of Growth or Decline|
(Blockages & Enablers)
Management of Change
Physical & Technical
Creating New Norms
|Skills||Critical Success Factors||Critical Success Factors||Critical Success Factors|
These courses are used by BT managers participating in the BT course leading to MB or similar qualifications. The Interactive Video takes one hour and is divided into approximately:
35 minutes dramaThe Interactive Video makes use of the CD-ROM resource for CBT exercises dealing with the key exercises common to both Growth and Decline case studies. The time taken by the student in using the CD-ROM resources is not included within the hour's course.
25 minutes gathering information-understanding theory
The student will gain an understanding of the BMP model in theory and how it can be used in practice in a similar culture to that which exists in BT. The student will also be able to practice using the analytical tools available for Business Management Planning with a case study.
The drama follows the action of a management team in a division of a large company making electromechanical components in an industry moving towards electronic components. The company has a new chairman looking to rationalise his product portfolio and make his mark. The student will be able to interrogate objects and people during the action in order to build a comprehensive picture of the company and the division and to plug any holes in their grasp of the theory. At key points during the story which is following the BMP model, the student is invited to complete some of the analysis that the management team are doing in parallel. Comparison and assessment can be made to ideal answers. The types of information that the student will see are:
|Please cite as: Condon, D. J. (1992). The applications of interactive video at British Petroleum and British Telecom. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 321-329. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/condon.html|