Summer is in full swing, but it’s back to school for Hudson’s Bay Co. employees.

Bell Nexxia Inc. Tuesday announced it signed a three-year deal with Canada’s oldest corporation to provide online and classroom training. Financial terms were not disclosed.

According to Derek Rickaby, vice-president for e-business solutions, Bell Nexxia, Hudson’s Bay is the first customer of its e-Learning Centre. Clients work with the Centre to create a training program which could include online courses (self-serve and live), classroom classes, and teaching material like textbooks and CD-ROMS.

Rickaby says taking on a company with about 70,000 employees as its first customer was a challenge, but not intimidating.

“We’re a large organization (and) we have a considerable amount of experience in large implementations,” says Rickaby. “I think in any implementation issues always come up and we’re used to that.”

According to the Toronto-based communications solutions company, it will provide a broadband LAN extension service for dedicated network access to the e-learning system which users will access through a browser. Bell Nexxia will also serve as the application service provider.

Moving to Web represents a significant upgrade according to Jim Campbell, senior manager of program design, Hudson’s Bay university.

“It gives us the flexibility to put more things on there than we ever could on a mainframe: things like PC skills, Word, Excel, PowerPoint can go on a Web-based system but can’t go on a mainframe,” says Campbell, adding other courses like soft management skills and product knowledge will also be available.

“Mainframe had gone as far as it could go. If we are going to continue to offer people programs that they can take at their leisure when it’s good for them, we’re going to have to go Web-based.”

As part of the deal, the e-Learning Centre was responsible for Web-enabling the Bay’s existing mainframe-based training. The content was repurposed by Bell Nexxia partner Isopia Inc., a Toronto-based e-learning company.

Rickaby says thanks to the its JavaBean capabilities students can learn from home dial-up as easily from the office network.

“That was important for us as an organization and for Hudson’s Bay as well. They have a diverse work force that’s across the country both in stores and at home,” says Rickaby. “It delivers effective training to a workforce that’s often geographically dispersed and in the time frames that are best for them.”

Campbell says he doesn’t know how many employees have PCs at home but adds he suspects they are in the minority.

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