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Ten Minutes with Bob Courteau on SAP’s Learning Evolution

Anyone interested in the field of corporate learning will be familiar with Elliott Masie:   futurist, researcher, analyst and speaker.  In preparation for the upcoming Learning2009 conference, Masie interviewed SAP North America’s Chief Operating Officer, Bob Courteau.  What he uncovered are keys to SAP’s own transformational training approach, as well as innovations in how SAP is enabling educational strategies for customers.


Why is the COO interested in employee training?  The reason is threefold: 

  • Skilled employees provide better customer service, 
  • Educated employees are more productive, motivated and innovative, and  
  • SAP’s internal transformation process has created the foundation for a better understanding of customer needs.


Below is a synopsis of the interview.  The full podcast can be found here.


The ABC’s of Learning Transformation at SAP


Acceleration and Agility

Courteau indicated that most organizations are under a huge amount of pressure due to economic risk and uncertainty, unprecedented change and increased regulation.  The acceleration of decision-making has been dramatic, necessitating rapid collection and dissemination of information.


In order to remain agile and competitive, there’s a greater immediacy around getting people up to speed.  Gone is the luxury of taking months to prepare training materials designed to arm employees with the right skills and knowledge.  Training must be timely, on demand and unique to each individual’s role.


Learning “Bursts”

How has SAP itself responded to these changing forces?  According to Courteau, “We’ve fundamentally changed the way we’re delivering learning in our organization.”  With the roll-out of Value University, SAP America has shifted to a primarily on-demand approach for many of its employees.  Educational content is conveyed in short-burst learning modules, specific to a role or opportunity area, and delivered through a Web 2.0 experience. Training is available to employees at a time and place that is convenient to the way they want to work. 

[The dean of SAP’s Value University has indicated that satisfaction levels from employee audiences are higher than the traditional live classroom session averages, and participation rates have skyrocketed.]


This approach, of course, must be married with a fast cycle intake strategy to identify priorities.  “We’re spending a lot more time as a company thinking about what the priorities of the day are, such that we can align them with the individual needs of our employees.”



As studies suggest that informal learning can comprise 50% or more of the skill and knowledge transfer in an organization, Masie asked Courteau to comment on how SAP is addressing the rise in social, collaborative and user content.


Courteau explained that SAP has a broad strategy, both internally and across the ecosystem of customers, partners and other stakeholders, to allow collaborative work groups to learn together.  He also describes “mobility” of information as the most interesting thing that’s taking place.  As all this information becomes available, it’s important to find different ways to get it into people’s hands.  Beyond the blogs, wiki’s and forum discussions enabled by the SAP Community Network (SCN), channels such as this podcast provide additional reach.

[SAP was recently named one of the top-10 “most engaged brands on the Web” for its engagement with customers and partners through SCN, as well as through Facebook, Twitter, wikis and blogs.  More on SAP’s social networking strategy can be found here.]



Partnering with the CLO


Learning from experience, SAP is now better-equipped to offer new non-traditional educational services, such as online self-paced and virtual live classroom training.  SAP also intends to include more social networking as follow-on to traditional learning environments.


As the learning paradigm shifts away from the conventional classroom model, SAP enables customers and partners with modular content and flexible delivery modalities, in order to align the right level of training with project timelines and individual career aspirations.


If he were to find himself in an elevator with a Chief Learning Officer, what would Bob Courteau say?  He would offer that the recent economic situation has highlighted the need for organizations to maximize their most significant investment:  human capital.  SAP can be an exceptional partner to the CLO in building and delivering a learning strategy that contributes to organizational effectiveness, agility and success.

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