How Avaya Built Its Own Version of Khan Academy

This post originally appeared on the Avaya blog on May 15, 2013 by Carl Knerr.

995 videos, 2,750 subscribers, 356,476 video views – all in just 20 months. Those are the key stats around the Avaya Mentor program, our fast-growing set of how-to YouTube videos for Avaya products that my team and I have been producing.

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the semi-annual Technology Services World (TSW) Conference, hosted by the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) on the Avaya Mentor program, which I had also written about last August. This was a conference focused on services transformation and TSIA asked that I talk about how we at Avaya put together this video knowledge base, including challenges we faced. The breakout session was well attended and so I thought I would share this presentation with you here. Below is a YouTube video of me doing the presentation (not at TSW), which I’ve also summarized, along with more success metrics, for those who prefer to read.


Can’t see the video? Click here.

As most of you have heard, the best example of using video to share knowledge is the Khan Academy. This non-profit’s website has a free collection of over 4,000 educational YouTube videos, surrounded by curriculum, quizzes, and incentives like points and badges. The topics range from simple addition, which has 1.7 million views, to the French Revolution with 400,000 views.

Khan makes a point of having its contributors avoid a teacher-at-a-whiteboard approach, opting instead for a style that feels like you’re sitting at a table with a tutor, working through the topic on a piece of paper. This better aligns with the many of us for whom learning is a visual experience. Being able to see how to do something taps into something different in the brain than just reading about it. The intuitive simplicity of this approach has allowed the Khan Academy to eclipse MIT’s own online education system with a total of 260 million views.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Another good example is Jove, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which helps speed up academic research through online video. When an academic team publishes a research paper, they include instructions so that peers can reproduce their experimental results and thus verify the research. Even to experienced lab researchers, understanding exactly what the authors of the research were trying to convey can be difficult, sometimes delaying the peer review process by months. Jove allows them to more easily include videos to demonstrate the procedure.

Specific instructions are easier to give through visualsLearn more at Jove.com.

By this point, I hope you are asking yourself why you aren’t already using video for your knowledge base. Wouldn’t your employees and customers benefit from your company’s own Khan Academy? At Avaya, we found ourselves facing this question in the fall of 2011.

The President of Services challenged those of us in his extended leadership team to make our organization not just be successful in the market, but to be an organization that the analysts would write about. Put another way, it was no longer good enough to be lean and efficient; we needed to take the lead.

Going All In

My proposal was to put together an Avaya version of Khan Academy. We would use video to expand on the company’s existing knowledge-base-focused-support-model. We limited our scope to basic how-to videos designed to help those that install, maintain, and support Avaya products, be they customers, partners, or Avaya employees. These were to be short how-to videos, not anything that would replace the training that Avaya Learning develops.

Like Khan, we would focus on videos that were more live screen capture than talking heads. Additionally, I proposed that unlike Avaya’s existing knowledge base which is only available to our customers with a maintenance agreement, we would make the vast majority of our videos available for free on YouTube. By doing so, search engines like Google would be aware of this content, making it much easier for an engineer to find the answer to an Avaya-related question.

As we got started, getting buy-in from leadership was obviously important. A big part of that was that my team of engineers would need to reprioritize some of our work in order to make time for generating 800 videos in only 9 months. We had great support from Mike Runda, the leader of Avaya Client Services, who gave us the green light to move forward.

The Gear We Got

We evaluated a number of video production software suites and settled on Camtasia Studio. Camtasia gave us great features like the ability to use templates, splice video and audio in, as well as special editing features to highlight or zoom to certain parts of the screen. These licenses ran ~$150. Adding Camtasia required that we upgrade a number of our engineers’ laptops to meet the minimum specs, an upgrade that everyone was excited to have a good reason for.

We also went with a high-quality $80 USB microphone called the Blue Yeti. All in all, that’s about $230 per engineer. We felt it was important to maintain a common look and feel to these videos, so we built a template for Camtasia with legal and branding-approved intros and outros as well as standardizing on things like transitions. Due to our high quality standards, after reviewing the first handful of videos, Avaya’s branding team gave us carte blanche to publish to YouTube without further oversight.

Getting Started

For topic selection, I was lucky to be starting with an amazing team of subject matter experts. Most had no trouble coming up with topics for videos. For those that did get stuck, the engineer would talk with the support engineers to determine the most common repeat scenarios that they encounter and find a way to use these videos to speed up resolution and/or prevent the tickets from being opened in the first place.

As word got out about our videos, we also started receiving requests from internal and external users. We set a limit of 15 minutes for all the videos and encouraged them to be under the 5 minute mark. The length would really depend on the topic, and I would challenge the author of anything over 10 minutes to see if they could break it into more than one smaller video. To give you a feel for our topics, here are six that show off the variety covering hardware, software, different product portfolios, even our own customer-facing tools:

Quality Control

As the lead for this effort, the most time-consuming part for me was the review and approval process. It was very important to me that we have a very high quality product and thus I personally reviewed each and every one, sending back to the author a list of changes that I wanted to see. The bar was set high and a single review could easily take me half an hour.

To help reduce the number of errors, I would frequently share an updated list of common problems I was encountering. This was important as some had a harder time with the learning curve than others, encountering more than 20 issues per submittal, and multiple submittals of the same video. It is worth noting though that while everyone got much better at it with time; some were submitting perfect videos on day 1 while others never quite got there. Some of my engineers were frustrated with me as they felt the bar was set too high for quality. If I heard any extra noise in the background, or if a transition wasn’t crisp, I’d send it back.

But our users noticed that quality and complimented us on it. I feel it was important to our success. After three months, I delegated the approval process to one of my top engineers, Bhavya Reddy. She was one of the best at producing error-free videos and thus I knew she could maintain our quality. Here’s her video on setting up Avaya Aura Session Manager, which has garnered more than 6,200 views.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

After six more months, Bhavya transitioned this role to the company’s formal knowledge management team where it could be better integrated into the other KM processes. This is important as we made sure we always dual-published all YouTube videos to the standard knowledge base by embedding the YouTube video in an article. This helped us ensure that our users could trust that a search of http://support.avaya.com would return everything. The videos that were deemed proprietary were uploaded to an internal server instead of YouTube and published as internal-only articles in the existing knowledgebase.

Getting the Word Out

Building a knowledge base, or any tools, is pointless if you can’t get user adoption. I felt it important to delay the initial announcement until we had the first 100 videos published. I was concerned if someone came to the site and only saw 5 videos, they might never return.

So once we reached 100 videos, I had the President of Services announce the program internally, followed by similar announcements in external communications to our partners and customers. To reinforce this in a more detailed way, I blogged about it on our corporate site as well as created a Twitter account for Avaya Mentor, allowing people to receive tweets when new videos are uploaded.

At last year’s Avaya’s User’s Conference in Boston, myself and others passed out materials to all the customers and partners we met with, be it at the conference center itself, or in a bar later in the evening. The IAUG group was actually so impressed with the program that they helped with advertising on all the plasma screens throughout the conference center. We’ve also partnered with the product documentation teams to include references to our program directly in the product documentation.

Our Results

With 16 months now under our belt, I thought I would share with you some of the measurable success we have had with the program. As I mentioned earlier, we have published nearly 1,000 videos on YouTube which have been watched more than 270,000 times.

While the U.S. provides our largest set of viewers, I’m happy to say that we are in 196 distinct geographies. What our support folks are most excited about is that we’re at 1,100 hours of video viewing per month which equates to about 10 full-time equivalents of people, which we figure equates to at least 3 FTE of labor avoidance.

But perhaps the most interesting metric is that we are seeing significantly more views per article than Avaya’s text-based articles. Now, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison given that we used some of the company’s most knowledgeable resources and posted our content publicly. However, I still think it is clear that video-enabled content is that much more compelling than text alone.

Three Unexpected Benefits

There are many surprising results from the Avaya Mentor project. The most exciting one for me as a manager was the impact to my employees. At first, I had some resistance from some of my engineers. They were not yet convinced of the value of these videos and combined with the steep learning curve and high quality expectations, some folks just weren’t interested. However, after the good press started, with people directly contacting these authors thanking them for their videos, they came around to its value.

I also saw increase in their self-confidence, which is typical after demonstrating how-to do something to others.  Having those people publicly thank you helps a ton, too. Our most popular video is actually about setting up an interface on an HP server - it has gotten more than 19,000 views! This video was created because many of our applications are sold with this server and this configuration is important. What we didn’t expect is that non-Avaya people would find it valuable to their usage of the same HP servers. I’ve found our video embedded in a variety of websites out there, having nothing to do with Avaya.

The last surprise was discovering that a business partner pirated a few of our videos and re-uploaded them to YouTube and other sites, touting them as their own. This is something Avaya typically doesn’t care about as our videos tend to be marketing-based. The upside of this is that the message is getting out to more and more people. What makes me nervous is that if we find a problem with a video and need to take it down and re-release it, this partner likely won’t see that and bad information will continue to float around.

We’ve received great feedback from our users of the program. We get these comments on YouTube, Twitter, and via email. Sometimes we get suggestions for new videos to create, product support questions, or just encouraging statements like the ones shown here. As mentioned previously, feedback like this is very encouraging to our engineers.

I want to thank my team who helped make this program a success. We dedicated at least a third of our time for nine months building this program up and it was no small feat. I’m proud to say that Avaya has recognized all of them with well-deserved awards.

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Carl Knerr is a Services Director responsible for offer management. Carl has 12 years’ experience with Avaya in R&D, Professional Services, and Support, mostly focused in the Contact Center portfolio. He has a BA in Computer Science from Duke University and is pursuing a MBA from WPI.

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Will Verchereau is the Customer Content Coordinator for the Marketing Team at TechSmith.

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