How McDonald’s and Medtronic Teach (and Reach) Employees

February 2, 2016, 11:06 AM UTC

Matt MacInnis, founder and CEO of six-year-old software company Inkling, was intrigued when coffee company Starbucks (SBUX) started requesting new features for its digital publishing platform. After all, Inkling’s main customer prospects—at least originally—were traditional textbook publishers like Pearson and McGraw Hill.

But while Inkling’s sales team was busy building those relationships, businesses like Starbucks began experimenting with Inkling’s technology as a replacement for paper training manuals, training curriculum, process guides and other corporate communications. The motivation: These living, interactive training materials could be shared more easily with its 10,000 or so district managers—and updated far more efficiently than printed manuals.

Two years later, more than a dozen other companies have followed Starbucks’ lead—Accenture (ACN), Gap (GPS), KPMG, Medtronic, Princess Cruises, Roche, and (in matter of months) McDonald’s. All of them view Inkling’s electronic publishing platform as a way of sharing information more readily with employees in a centralized location. This makes information easier to access and easier to keep current, MacInnis said.

“Existing tools are inadequate at meeting the needs of the modern enterprise where mobile adoption is essential to business success,” noted MacInnis, a former Apple business development manager with a background in education technology.

San Francisco-based Inkling has responded by releasing an edition of its platform designed for large companies that need to maintain huge libraries for technical reference guides, sales brochures, and employee and customer training. Documents created with the software, called “InkDocs” can be viewed by logging in with a tablet computer or through web browsers. That makes it possible for more employees to see them when they really need them for their job.

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For example, medical device manufacturer Medtronic (MDT) uses the Inkling service to get new sales representatives up to speed on dozens of different products. In so doing, the company cut at least $430,000 annually in paper and shipping costs while reducing the amount of time it takes for recruits to become productive, according to an Inkling case study.

McDonald’s (MCD), meanwhile, is transforming all of its existing process guides and manuals into an electronic format that can be accessed through the Inkling service. The system, which should be available several months from now, will be used to share “how-to” guides for fixing problems on the spot—such as repairing a food frying station while watching a step-by-step video, said McDonald’s chief learning officer Rob Lauber.

McDonald’s will also use the system to share key internal messages with employees, such as information about new work procedures or company policies. McDonald’s store owners and managers can keep tabs on which documents are being consulted most frequently, Lauber noted. “This was a pretty easy business case, looking at shipping and printing costs alone,” he said. “Then you can talk about the intangibles, about what it enables. It’s hard to put a value on that data.”

Since McDonald’s is still in the process of migrating its training and procedures information to Inkling, Lauber couldn’t share specific productivity or cost-cutting metrics.

Inkling doesn’t disclose its revenue, but MacInnis estimates annual subscription revenue at “tens of millions of dollars.” Pricing is based on how many people are reading the information, as well as the sheer volume of presentations, brochures, videos, and other corporate information shared, he said.

So far, Inkling has raised more than $74 million in venture backing, including multiple rounds led by Sequoia Capital. Long term, Inkling’s new business direction will put the company in closer competition with companies more explicitly focused on content and document management. That includes the likes of Box (BOX), Documentum (an EMC division with 7,000 corporate customers) and OpenText. There’s also the matter of the time it takes to convert content: McDonald’s has been working on its installation for four months and counting, Lauber said. That’s not an insignificant commitment.

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