How NatWest made sense of 250k+ learning titles and improved the learner experience with Content Intelligence

By Filtered

15 minute read


NatWest currently has 250,000 to 300,000 learning assets within the organisation, which comes with a common set of problems faced by enterprise businesses today like:

  • Time to curate
  • Identifying the most relevant content to learners
  • Duplication of assets
Marcus Robertson, Global Curriculum Lead outlined how Content Intelligence was able to act as a one-stop shop so he was able to improve the learner experience and reduce curation time by 20%.

You can watch the entire recording below or continue scrolling to read the full transcript. 


Host: Welcome all to the third presentation of the day. As I mentioned earlier, we are offering

SHRM credits for this event. It's available for live centre attendees only, and codes will be sent out later this week, so keep an eye on your emails. For our third session of the day, I am pleased to introduce Toby Harris, Chief Marketing Officer at Filtered, who will be your host for this session. Toby will be interviewing Marcus Robertson, Global Curriculum Lead at NatWest Group. The discussion will delve into how we contain learning content chaos with Content Intelligence. Without further ado, I will pass you over to Toby. Take it away. 


Toby: Hi everyone, thanks so much for joining today and thanks for the HR Exchange organisers for having us here. It's a real pleasure to be talking to so many people here about our topic, which is so key to our hearts at Filtered and to what our clients like Marcus at NatWest are working on.

So I'm Chief Marketing Officer at Filtered and I've been involved in the business for a long time working on this challenge of learning content and how to manage what has become almost unmanageable and a real barrier to being effective L&D organisations. We're going to tell you the story of how we contain content chaos using Content Intelligence. 

But to do so, I'm going to be interviewing one of our early adopters of this technology. I'm very excited to introduce Marcus Robertson, who's Global Curriculum Lead at NatWest and has been a pioneer in visualising and understanding and scoping and then introducing our technology into the ecosystem there. So my first question for Marcus is, can you just introduce yourself, tell us a bit about your role and the learning content challenge at NatWest? 


Marcus: Morning Toby, morning to everyone who's out there. Yeah, I'm one of the Curriculum Leads at NatWest and my team and I are responsible for partnering with the business to understand their capability needs – both for now and the future – and looking to source, commission and create learning solutions.

We're also involved in how we package learning and get it out to learners, through things like our Data Academy. `We've got a number of Curriculum Leads and teams I look after - my team look after data, digital and cyber. But one of the other areas that I'm involved in because – particularly in those areas, there are a lot of content providers – is partnering with content providers and catalogue providers

Now, the challenges that we face, I don't think, are unique to us…here is a mind-blowing amount of content out there. We've got somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000 learning assets within the organisation, which, you know, causes us some challenges.


Time to curate is a big one: being able to identify what is the most relevant piece of content to meet whatever the business and organisational needs are. There's a fair amount of duplication as well. One of the other things we want to do is improve that learner experience. 

So there's a couple of challenges, a couple of things we're moving towards, like everyone else who wants to improve that learner experience by personalizing it as much as possible. And we want to help learners to be able to identify the skills and knowledge they need. I think there's another challenge which I'll talk about probably a little bit later, which is that we're also seeing – as well as what we call traditional learning providers in the marketplace – an awful lot of providers who provide us with other services now also providing learning and, you know, the obvious ones sit within tech: Amazon, Microsoft, Google. But we've got providers who provide a service for us from a healthcare perspective: they're providing learning on mental health or the menopause, for example.

So the learning is coming from an awful lot of different places, and that's before you get into the free-to-air content that people source.

Toby: Yeah, that's a really interesting point, isn't it? Your IT service providers are going to be making available, as part of those contracts, pretty large and effective academies, but they're not necessarily coming to the table with the idea that this needs to be integrated into an LMS or an LXP and available to people. So it just creates that whole new layer of complexity – because everyone's got an academy nowadays.

Marcus: And it comes in sometimes via other routes as well from a learning perspective. So, you know, it doesn't always necessarily involve a learning discussion. So how do we join those discussions up and kind of get across it? And from a learner perspective, that's just confusing. 

If I take Python, I think we've got, you know, five to six providers for learning content. So where do you start with what's most relevant for your role? How do you package it? 

And the piece that I think is sometimes really important, actually, both the organisation, but definitely to learners, is around accreditation and certification: will I get those type of outcomes that have relevance both internally and externally?

Toby: Yeah, it's such a precious thing, in fact, when someone says, yeah, I'm going to actually complete a certification, I'm going to take a course, I'm going to use a few hours to develop my skills in an area the business is focused on, but then to be presented with three or four different methods and methodologies is really problematic because then the employee, as well as the business, worry, did they learn the right thing? Have I learned what NatWest wants me to learn?

Marcus: I think it's also becoming more important in the environment we're in now where careers are no longer linear. At some point, most people are going to have to re-skill at least once within their careers. So how do you make that decision and how do you connect to the content to help you go and where you want to go? 

Toby: So, I'm going to move on to the next big question here, which is how is it that NatWest is prioritising skills and knowledge areas? What kind of decisions and trade-offs do you need to make to understand what are the top priorities to focus on and manage all of this content?

Marcus: Yeah, I think there's probably a macro and a micro answer to this. And I think we’re very lucky within NatWest in the sense that literally from day one and her first speech as CEO, Alison Rose called out that she wanted NatWest to become a learning organisation.

So we've got sponsorship from the top in connection with a really clear idea about what the organisation wants to focus on. So I think the first piece is you start with your organisational goals and what they want to focus on. And there's probably within there three main areas that we focus on, and it's probably underpinned by a fourth:

  1. So the first one is leadership which is very key – probably across all organisations – and we have frameworks within that leadership piece that helps us to be able to do it. It's not my area of expertise, but we've just launched our Thrive Leadership Programme to help leaders focus on the uncertain world in which we operate.

  2. Secondly, and these are in no particular order, but risk and compliance is obviously a very key area from a financial institution to make sure that we're managing those risks and compliance issues effectively and efficiently both for the organisation and for our customers.

  3. And then thirdly, what we've got is a series of frameworks. We've got our critical people capability frameworks, which is 35 skill areas that we focus on. We have an in-house behavioural science team who help us to pull those together, so there's a fair bit of research that goes around that. But at the minute, we're focusing around about 10 of those skills in our Learn for the Future programme. So these are the 10 skills that we've identified and areas that we've identified as being the most important for the organisation going forward in this world. And I think many people out there will be having similar discussions about things like agile coaching, communication, digital data, expertise and creative thinking, those types of things. That helps to give us a framework. 

  4. And the thing that underpins it is – and we will discuss this – the way we are at the minute, purpose and climate are really important for all organisations. And that's probably not a separate skill, although there will be skill areas in there, but that's starting to come through into our frameworks. So if you're talking within a digital data world, an understanding about how you deploy is really important for energy use, etc.

We are currently working on pulling together technical skills frameworks as well. I think that will probably move from the 35 that we've got as our core and common skill areas up into maybe 200, 300 or some organisations that have been even higher than that. So that's the piece that we're working on. And that therefore enables us to focus on that, those areas and prioritise where we are. 

There are trade-offs about how you start to put those frameworks in place. They don't tend to be standalone, there tends to be crossover. So again, if you talk about leadership and our critical people capabilities, we need leaders to understand digital, data and how do you integrate that into their programmes. So there are some challenges about the connectivity between those frameworks and therefore the content that's going to support them as well. And probably one of the other challenges I'd mention is that absorbability for the learner.

Toby: I think it's fascinating and really useful to hear that you were prioritising as few as 10 priority skill areas across the organisation, as well as the fact that they extend to more than just what we'd see as skills, it's also values as well which are important. But could you, in the interest of time, could you also tell us about what is the kind of content and technology landscape that you're working in and that you need to filter those skills through to?

Marcus: Yeah, so we have a Workday first policy. So Workday is our LMS at the heart of that and things connecting off that. We also use a platform for some academy pages that direct people to content and they’re focused across skill areas and knowledge areas as you kind of go across. But we also have 11 catalogue providers that have got to move that content and that's what's probably driving our total of 250,000 items. What we're seeing is this explosion of learning coming from non-learning areas as well that's impacting us. We also have some partnerships: many organisations provide some of our professional qualifications, where funded programmes in the UK. There’s a number of different factors and it's quite complex and there's an awful lot of content which is hard enough for us as learning professionals to navigate … how do we use those platforms to help our learners to get to what they’re looking for?

Toby: Awesome, awesome. So that's the kind of landscape. So where does Filtered’s Content Intelligence technology fit in to understand and organise and enhance this learning content?

[Marcus shares a slide]

Marcus' example of using Content Intelligence at Natwest

Marcus: Yeah, if I share a slide around about how I see working which is I think there's three areas and some of them have their own technology kind of part to it. So how do you identify that learning need both from an organisational perspective but also from an individual perspective? 

  1. I think one of the things, and this is a term I'm using: we're seeing quite an awful lot about skills intelligence now. I know a number of the platforms out there may do some pre-tests etc enable someone to understand where they sit and therefore what's the best content and matching their content as you go forward. But internally what we're also looking to start to do asking our employees to start to register the skills that they have on Workday so that's starting to enable them and the organisation to understand where they are and that could be on their current role or on their previous roles. But also starting to think about where they want to go and therefore that starts to identify the gap as go forward.
  2. On the right hand side there, the goal as I've talked about before is about getting that personalised experience for them so therefore there needs to be a platform that enables our learners to connect with the learning, whether that be an LMS or some sort of user experience platform that sits over the top of it.
  3.  But probably the thing that's key is we've talked about 250-300,000 assets. That's really difficult to kind of map towards the skill gaps that you've got. I've got a background of working within the retail experience and I talk about our shop front and our warehouse and I think we see Content Intelligence working in our warehouse to make sure that we've got the right content to supply the user experience because the more content you put into that front end the less likely it's going to come up with a really great outcome.
    Content Intelligence is enabling us to upload our skills frameworks and to match them to content


I think that's the piece for me that – early doors – we are starting to see is going to help us to end up with a better user experience in the platform. But also that better personalised content if you match it with the skills intelligence element of it.

Toby: And I guess to think about what people might be thinking and watching this, if you have a platform like Workday which has a Skills Cloud built in and has people have the ability to self-rate against skills and to kind of map which is an exercise you're doing, why do you need something additional, why do you need an additional layer – to play devil's advocate – to add FIltered’s technology to the stack in order to get to this experience? Wouldn't we expect the HCN system or the LMS system just to do this already?

Marcus: You probably would but I think one of our examples that we've had earlier on in the year is we loaded one of our catalogues into the system from an integration and actually what it did was it swamped the outputs. So because of the amount that we were putting, what we started to do is loading content in a far more controlled manner. As I say, I'm very clear in fact that I think there's three parts to this and I think each part plays a part in it. You're right that LMS or LXP does definitely play a part in delivering learning but remember the old adage around about “data in, data out”: you've got to improve the quality of what you're putting in. 

If what you're just doing is putting everything through it, your outcomes are not good, is what we've discovered when we've tried that approach. We've not had the outcomes that we were expecting due to not being able to filter and use the nuances to filter it down to that personalized experience that we're looking to create. 

So therefore having the management of – as I say – the warehouse in the background to make sure that you've got the correct content, really helps. 

One of the other reasons for having Content Intelligence is that at the minute, in our particular case, Workday cannot integrate all of the providers that we've got. So we were having to manage assets in different spreadsheets across the system. What we’ve got now is one place where everything is: a one-stop shop to be able to look across your content assets.

It really does improve the time that curation takes, because you can go there. So I think they do different jobs, in short. The user experience definitely has a sorting element to it depending on the needs that both the organisation and the individual put in. But you do still need to have that asset to manage the warehouse in the background to get that really good personalized content outcome. 


Toby: So just to play this back to you, you've got systems that are keeping a record of skills and helping you to prioritize skills as you've managed to do. You've also got content from all over the place and as per the name Filtered’s Content Intelligence is a literal filter to make sure that that content isn't just kind of thrown into the system willy-nilly, it's actually controlled. I think this is interesting because it's almost like we have the capability with our digital LMSs and LXPs to have loads and loads of content in ways you could never do with in-person training courses. But yeah, it's not sufficient, is it? We can't actually present people with hundreds of thousands of choices when they log in, you need a filter of some kind.

Marcus: Yeah, absolutely, it's just intuitive for me. In the past I used to previous life working within retail, we used to re-lay stores and ultimately every time you re-lay a store you actually 9-10x reduce the content that's in it and the number one reply we got back from shoppers when we surveyed them afterwards was: “oh, you've got more stuff in here”, even though you've taken 20% to 30% of your stock keeping units out. And that principle, I think, comes across into this, which is the more that you put in even your algorithms are going to struggle to pull things out. 

So therefore, if you're able to filter what you've got and to feed that into the system, you're going to get a better outcome because it's searching across less, it's going to be quicker, it's going to be more personalized and it's going to enable your learner to find what they're looking for quickly.

And that's got to be the outcome here is, it's got to be thinking about the learner, thinking about the end in mind, thinking about that learner is improving that experience and therefore this shop front that they go to, whether that be your LMS or the XP, you just need to make sure that you have a far more controlled amount of content in there for it to do its magic and therefore end up with personalized content.

Toby: So it's a little bit like – to use another analogy – if you have a big tidy out in your house and you declutter loads of drawers and shelves and stuff, you suddenly realize you've got all these things that you didn't have. So actually, to give learners that sense of choice and a great experience to find what they want, you've got to remove the clutter in the first place. That's the kind of paradox here. It's not “more is more” at all. It's definitely “less is more”.

Marcus: Absolutely. I think it has some other advantages. With everything being in the same place, if you have one of those great conversations with the business and they come back saying “this is the requirement”, you can check very quickly what you've got – if I use that analogy – rather than rummaging around in the drawer, missing something and then going and buying it again, Content Intelligence enables you to really understand what you've got and whether it meets the needs. Because again, within catalogues, quite often you buy catalogues either for general purposes or you buy it for a couple of particular specific needs. Content Intelligence enables you to look across those catalogues and go actually, we may be able to use this for something that we didn't intend because there's content that's in there.

And I think one of the things in our experience over the last six months is the methodology – not even within the tool – but the methodology that you guys bring to us about how to blend the different catalogues that you've got and what that blend looks like. It's been something that's been really valuable and something we're going to go forward with next year is to really look at and go, right, how do we do that? Because it's not necessarily just about buying the biggest and the best, it's about blending different content to get those results.

Toby: That's really interesting, thanks for sharing. We want to talk about outcomes that you've seen so far and things that you might expect from working with Filtered. Initially, in this first stage, this first part of working together, we've really been focused on understanding what you have, like getting one view of it, tagging it consistently against those priority skill areas, but then the outcome of that is curation, right? It's essentially maybe learning pathways is too strong a word, but it's actually organizing things into lists so that you're not overwhelming the Workday system when you're kind of putting stuff in front of learners. Is that about right?

Marcus: Absolutely. One of the things we discovered is Filtered does make curation so much quicker and so much faster, getting you to the right content. The relevance score that the platform gives for each item enables you to do that with a degree of objectivity rather than subjectivity where sometimes it's been in the past. We reckon it's going to save us about 20% in curation time.

I've touched earlier on about how I think the benefit also is the methodology. It's going to, I think, enable us to manage our spend on content more efficiently.

There are a couple of other things I want to call out: firstly, this doesn't get rid of the need for an L&D and a curriculum team, it just enables them to spend more time on where the value add is in that conversation with the business and probably takes out, to an extent, the lower value tasks like just sifting through the content. So that's an advantage.

There's a couple of things that we've had discussions about how we work on is that you've also got to be aware that an asset could vary (and the tool does enable you to have a look at this): one asset could be a two minute, three minute video or an article, but it could also be a 13 week accreditation program. So therefore Filtered doesn't take the human out of it either – you're going to have to look and do some of that kind of critical thinking, but what it does is it rates the content in a way that enables you to do that critical thinking more efficiently and more effectively.

I think one of the features that we've enjoyed is the ability to - once you've created the playlist very quickly - just copy it, and you can either send it to an email for your contact with the business to run through, click off to the content, get your feedback on it, or potentially share it on something like a Teams platform or wherever, so there's a very quick and easy way of getting that out as well as that connection into your LMS as well.

It's also getting us to think as well around about our skills frameworks, so in the way that they connects – if I go back to that three-way slide that I had – it's starting to get us to think around about what are the skills that we want and what kind of usages we will have going forward. We are quite early in the journey. It's early this year that we started the proof of concept, so we're looking forward to seeing what it takes us in the next 12 months.

Toby: Fantastic, yeah, so again, just to play that back, in a team where you have dozens of people involved in this activity of curating, organising content, responding to requests, you're saving a lot of time in terms of curation, but I think also a lot of what you've described is really about removing all the friction, so now it's easy to make a playlist, it's easy to share it in something like Teams, it's easy to get feedback on it, so it's just actually making those people's lives easier so they can make more of an impact in the business, so it's not really about just replacing headcount of technology, it's actually about giving teams that I've seen a lot by often really struggle against some of the barriers to like doing these basic things, and it's kind of just freeing those people up so they can actually be more responsive to the business and be more impactful.

Toby: I'll just finish off just by sharing one of my tabs, which is if you are interested in looking at the tool or in the Filtered methodology, then you can just clicking this is the overall methodology that Marcus has been talking about around prioritizing needs, applying the tech and then reaching people, and then we've included some guides about how you can do that even before you talk to us in the resources area, so please get in touch and we'll be very happy to share, but thank you so much Marcus for taking us through this, it's been a really fascinating talk and yeah just really grateful for you being able to explain it in such a simple way to our audience today.

Marcus: Thank you Toby, it's been great and have a good day to those that are out there.

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