Thought leader interview Prashanth Padmanabhan plans to revolutionize SAPs learning and talent management
I recently spoke to Prashanth, once product manager for SAP’s Enterprise Learning product and now designing SAP’s new Career OnDemand talent management software. I thought SCN readers would like to see what the future holds for SAP in enterprise learning and talent management.
John : Prashanth, I enjoy following you on Twitter (@sprabu) and I’m very pleased to have a chance to speak with you in person. Can you tell me about your background at SAP?
Prashanth : I managed SAP Enterprise Learning, which is SAP’s Learning Management System for a little over 3 years. It is a product with about 700+ customers and I managed two main releases. I also wrote a book on SAP Enterprise Learning with some colleagues.
For the past year and a half, I have been researching the area of Enterprise 2.0 and its impact on Learning, Talent Management and People Management. In 2010, along with several other colleagues, I have been designing a product called Career OnDemand.
John : Can you tell me how SAP Enterprise Learning helps make a difference for organizations using it?
Prashanth : Enterprise Learning facilitates formal training and learning management, which is how 20% of learning happens in an organization. Customers who use Enterprise Learning use it mainly for compliance driven training and event specific training. For example, companies in the pharmaceuticals, mining and utilities industries often require employees to have certain skills and training by law. Companies use SAP Enterprise Learning to ensure that they keep their employees fully trained, stay compliant with industry laws and reduce safety incidents. They also use it for preparing their workforce to perform specific tasks.
John : There is a lot of consolidation happen in the Learning Management System (LMS) industry, for example SumTotal have just bought GeoLearning. How does this impact SAP?
Prashanth : I believe that consolidation is expected. LMSs, were not conceived as people centric software. They were not really built for the learner. LMSs were designed by administrators for people who sign the check, rather than for people who use the software. Now-a-days, there is a shift of power from administrators to learners. Learners are taking charge of what they want to do. In general people are taking charge of their performance and development in an Enterprise and the tools they use to achieve their goals.
The LMS consolidation illustrates the overall trend of people centricity. Any software system, which is not people-centric, will become less valuable. So it doesn’t surprise me that LMSs are consolidating and probably will shrink more and more going forward.
John : So when people say that the LMS is dead, would you agree with this?
Prashanth : The LMS as it exists today will always be relevant, because compliance requirements, compliance related training and planned, event driven training will always be there. For example if there is a group of technicians who need to be trained, or if there is a major software implementation or change effort happening in the company, then that needs to be managed in a very structured way. That training is not going to go away.
However the unaddressed part of learning, the 80% of learning which happens on the job, which happens by pull not by push, which happens on demand, which happens away from the desk – that learning – there is no software today to effectively enable this. I know Questionmark is addressing this to some extent with mobile delivery of your assessments. I think this is a huge opportunity, a bigger market than the current LMS market.
John : How do you see mobile and cloud will change how people learn?
Prashanth : When we both went to school, the focus was on knowing and recalling things. That need is going away, as with computers, everyone can access knowledge over the Internet. With mobile devices, you can access knowledge even when away from your computer. So there is no real need to memorize everything, you just need to know where things are. More importantly, people expect information to be available from a credible source, say a person they trust, when they need it, in the way they need it. The cloud is enabling this.
For example, using a tool called Quora, you can ask the CEO of Netflix, how much Netflix spends on mailing every year and get an answer without going through a middleman.
In the next 2 years, 4.5 billion people will have mobile phones. So you can reach pretty much everyone in the world. And it’s only a matter of time before the remaining population gets hold of some sort of device that can access the Internet. I think that is going to profoundly change learning as we know it today. I travelled across India and China and observed this mobile adoption personally.
Mobile devices are significantly changing the world, and learning is just part of this. It’s going to impact not just the elite, the rich, the people who can afford education, but also the people who need to learn to survive. Not just the people who need to learn to get ahead, or to stay in their job, but the people who need to get information, need to learn to have a basic livelihood.
John : How do you see assessment fit into mobile learning?
Prashanth : You and your colleagues are experts in this, but here are my thoughts.
Firstly making assessments available on a cell phone (which you’ve already done and there are several tools to do). Those kinds of assessments are simple and easy, and they can and are being built.
Then I think assessments are also going to be broken down into smaller chunks. Just in time, just enough assessments; for example just before going to a room or operating a machine or before attempting a larger test. The way people study, the way people take a test need not be a very stressful affair, need not to be a 3 hour affair, it can be broken down and even turned into fun.
If I can share a personal experience with you, some time back, my wife and I were required to take a quiz for US Citizenship. We didn’t grow up learning American history. So my wife who’s a mobile entrepreneur, wrote a simple mobile assessment for US Civics, a simple quiz program selecting questions at random, even the distractors at random, and put it on her Android phone. And when we were taking a vacation to Southern California, while we were driving down, we used the program to learn American history. It was a fun activity. When we went to take the official quiz, we were so confident about what we knew that there was no pressure at all. I think mobile phones and mobile devices and the tools that are available to quickly turn any content into a fun learning experience can change learning from a “you have to learn this” kind of thing to a fun and engaging activity. And an activity you can do when you want, wherever you are.
It is also possible to bring in the social element into it. Even if you are taking a small quiz, it’s possible to let the person taking the quiz know that “50 of your friends have already scored 8 out of 10 in this?”. That ought to motivate someone. “If John can do it, I can do it. We are pretty similar, he is my friend.” Maybe if I do not know something, I can even ask him, how he did it? So there is a social aspect to assessments and learning that will emerge. That will motivate people. It will also let them know who knows things well, maybe you can ask the person who has done well to be your mentor for a while. That’s how people learned in the past, before the Industrial Revolution, we learned from experts. So there are wonderful opportunities available to bring the cloud, mobility and social networking together for life long learning.
For example, you and I got to know each other via Twitter. I don’t think we’d be having this conversation without Twitter. I knew you were a soccer fan, and I think simple things outside the formal context can do wonders for how people connect and learn, and how they work together.
John : What about Career OnDemand?
Prashanth : Career OnDemand is part of SAP’s On Demand people management suite. In a recent analyst summit, our executives announced that it will be one of SAP’s key Line of Business initiatives in OnDemand.
John : The world is moving quite rapidly to the cloud and to mobile devices, but almost all SAP customers are On Premise, will SAP move fast enough in this world?
Prashanth : SAP has always maintained that its software will be On Premise, On Demand and On Device. As a member of the SAP HCM OnDemand team, I am betting my career on the success of OnDemand software.