To boldly go where no Learning System has gone before? Thought leader interview with SAPs Michael Maier
Michael Maier is Solution Manager for Enterprise Learning at SAP and responsible for all learning solutions at SAP. I interviewed him on the future of the solution and how he believes SAP can help its customers enable their employees to learn.
Michael: I have been with SAP for 5 years, and before then I worked at other large global organizations including Sony and BenQ Mobile. Initially at SAP I was managing several large scale implementation programmes and then I took responsibility for our internal education systems teams – basically I was one of SAP’s customers of Enterprise Learning (also called SAP LSO). Then I transferred about a year ago to become Solutions Manager for our learning solution. I am now responsible for our entire product from a solution perspective, including what is currently Enterprise Learning, new mobile learning initiatives and the future of the product.
John: Some people say that the Learning Management System (LMS) is changing or dying. What is your view?
Michael: It’s definitely not dying! The LMS is transforming into a less structural, more dynamic and more employee / end-user orientated tool. In the past, when we talked about a LMS, the name implies it is a management system, a tool designed to set up and manage learning, for example make sure certain employees take certain training and pass the test. One of the typical usages is in compliance management.
What we see is that this is transforming. The new generation in the labour market is demanding a tool that helps find the relevant information or source of information or piece of information. That could be learning or it could be a colleague that has the relevant know-how or anything else. And that’s what we at SAP think the LMS market is transforming into.
John: How does this fit into the 70+20+10 model where people are seeing that 70% of real-world learning is done on the job, 20% from others and only 10% from formal study?
Michael: The 70+20+10 model fits perfectly into the way we see this. With a traditional, structured LMS, you address the 10% formal learning. But you do not address or support the needs of the users in all other non-structured ways of learning, and that’s what we plan to do in the future.
John: That sounds really exciting. What can you share about the future of Enterprise Learning?
Michael: On our short term roadmap, we have two bold, big things. The first is that we want to improve the user experience of our solution, especially with the end user in mind, so we are completely re-designing the learner portal, and making it something that is exciting and fun to use, and something which really helps the employee find relevant information in a fast, efficient way.
The second area we are currently addressing is mobile learning. We have input on mobile learning from some of our biggest customers, and from interest groups and partners, and have started developing a mobile learning application. The first half of 2012 will bring some really exciting innovations from SAP in this market.
John: What do you see as the key use cases for mobile learning?
Michael: There are some central needs that every learner has, particularly finding training that is relevant for me, finding what really suits my current needs. What we mean here is a very lean learner portal that you can consume on all sorts of mobile devices, that really helps you find the information that is relevant at this point in time.
The second main use case is the consumption of all sorts of learning content on mobile devices. The way we envision this going forward, and it won’t all be there to start with, is that content is not simply transferred in a 1:1 way from the desktop to the mobile device, because that will clearly not satisfy the end user needs. But that content is produced in a way that suits the respective device. And then the content will be rendered to the appropriate device.
John: So will the LMS transform the content for the device?
Michael: Yes though it may not be the LMS directly doing this. It may be the content or assessment management software doing this in the background, but that is really a technical matter. I have a lot of experience in the mobile industry; if the content is not designed for the specific device that the employee has in his/her hands, then the consumption will be a disappointing experience. We want to make consuming learning a really enjoyable experience.
John: How do you see assessment fitting in with mobile learning?
Michael: That’s another perfect use case. A lot of organizations currently hand out paper sheets to get feedback after classroom training and then learners fill in the paper sheets, and the instructor then has to transfer the paper sheets into the system. That’s clearly not rocket science! We envisage in the future that learners will typically have an iPad, or another mobile device, and will simply fill in their feedback for the course on the mobile device. Also doing tests and exams on a mobile device makes perfect sense.
John: Is it useful for Enterprise Learning customers to look at an assessment management system like Questionmark?
Michael: For us at SAP, Questionmark is the preferred solution that we recommend to our customers when business requirements are around conducting testing and assessment. Questionmark has a successful partnership with SAP, and we are in discussions to intensify the partnership. We are also currently looking into improving the technical integration between SAP Enterprise Learning and Questionmark software. This is a partnership that we at SAP value very much, and we know that our customers value it very much as well. We are really looking forward to doing more business in favour of our customers in future. As a side note, it’s worthwhile to note that at SAP internally, we ourselves use Questionmark Perception.
John: Thank you. At Questionmark we value our partnership with SAP and admire your commitment to long term customer satisfaction. I’ve blogged about some SAP Enterprise Learning customers (see How SAP and Questionmark software promote safety at one of America’s Nuclear Power Stations and How do you combine regulatory compliance and training needs in a financial institution?) who use Enterprise Learning with Questionmark software for training and compliance and who find it very valuable. How important is compliance for you?
Michael: We see this as an increasingly hot topic in all sorts of industries. We’ve seen it in the past in the Chemical industry and in Oil & Gas, but we see this increasingly in other industries, like Financial Services. Business need to push in relevant training to certain groups of consumers in the organization. And then make sure and in a dashboard way tracking that the consumption happens in a timely fashion. Enterprise Learning lets you do all this in a very efficient way without a large overhead or project team behind it. And being able to react quickly to, for example, legal requirements in a matter of some hours … not days or weeks, that’s really crucial for organizations.
John: What would you say to people who have got the SAP Business Suite but not yet got Enterprise Learning?
Michael: Enterprise Learning isn’t licensed automatically when a customer purchases HCM. It’s something that is priced separately. If you are a customer running HCM and currently looking into what is the best way of providing your employees with the relevant education materials they need, then Enterprise Learning is likely the right answer, especially if you look at what we plan to bring with the new Learner Portal coming out next year.
John: Lastly, as you know, there are lots of new companies in Talent Management, especially SaaS ones. Why is SAP a better choice than these companies?
Michael: Obviously with our Business Suite, we cover the entire range of functionality a business could need in its operations.
If we look at our HCM suite specifically, the big differentiator is that we have one integrated solution that we offer to our customers. This integrated solution is not something we made by acquiring this or that company, it is an integrated solution that we developed completely ourselves. From the early days of this solution, our goal always was to deliver a fully integrated solution, both technically and process-wise, to our customers and we have made this happen. You can probably imagine how much more difficult it is if you start with one part of what makes an HCM solution and then you just acquire the other parts that are necessary. Obviously you end up with all sorts of integration problems. And in the end it’s the customers who have to pay for these.
Clearly we all see that in some areas of the business and in some areas of the Talent Management market, there is a high demand for On-Demand products. I believe that this demand is not a trend requiring functionality that is any different from On-Premise delivery models; we believe that this is related to factors like geography, industry, size of operations, and all these influencing factors make the decision to choose On-Demand or On-Premise delivery model. Ultimately for us at SAP, this is a delivery model, so it’s really a technical question of how the solution comes to the customer. What we envisage in the future is that SAP will be able to deliver our solutions to customers in all sorts of delivery models, and also in sorts of contracting models. We believe that is really the right answer to the trends we see out there. Nevertheless we will continue being probably the only, maybe one of the few, solutions providers that are really able to offer an integrated solution to our customers. And in the long term that is what our customers will benefit from.