Water-ski with Caesar

Caesar’s Challenge

The fictional Caesar International is based on an actual, Fortune 100 maker and retailer of consumer products. For this series, I’ll say they make socks, stockings, and other footwear under a variety of brands, sold at outlets from truck stops and grocery stores to high-end boutiques. (The company’s actual business isn’t important here.)

Why Caesar? Because the project reminded me of this story:

The captain of a Roman galley was addressing the rowers. “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, you get double rations at noon.”


“So what’s the bad news?” an oarsman asked.

“After lunch, Caesar wants to go water-skiing.”

Each Caesar sales rep called on as many as ten clients a day, completing a paper call sheet detailing sales volume, participation in Caesar promotions, and other marketing information. The rep sent the call sheets to Caesar’s data center. Every six weeks, the rep received an updated call book — 150 or more pages of profiles for the rep’s accounts, along with market analysis and a list of errors in the last six weeks’ worth of call sheets.

Caesar decided to replace the call-sheet system with Legion, a custom, sales-force-automation system running on a laptop computer. Reps would enter call data directly into Legion, uploading data every evening and downloading updates from Caesar.

GE Information Services, my employer at the time, provided the computer network for the data transmittal, along with other services. I was the Client Training group’s chief instructional designer.

Here’s what Caesar needed to do:

  • Equip some 2,400 sales reps and their supervisors with laptop computers.
  • Enable each rep to make sales calls with Legion.
  • Enable everyone to connect to and work with three mainframe-based systems.
  • Make email the standard tool for communications for Caesar’s sales force.

…and, “as long as they’re in training anyway,” teach the basics of a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation package.

90% of the target audience had never used a PC.

Caesar recognized the magnitude of the project. The plan for the third-party company developing Legion was to build an initial version, then field-test it for six months with three sales teams (a group of reps and their supervisor). Feedback from the field test would determine the final version.

When that final version was ready, we were to train everyone. The outside limit was five days of classroom-based training, broken into two sessions. The final phase alone totaled 12,500 student-days of training — delivered in just over four months.

That’s the big picture.

The next post in the series, A Computer, Not a Way of Life, talks about how we helped the sales reps master their hardware. What did they really need to do with the laptop, and how did we help them do it?