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As part of my series of thought leader interviews on learning and training within the SAP Ecosystem, I spoke to Simone Buchwald, formally with SAP and now with EPI-USE on the SAP Learning Solution, compliance and the future of the Learning Solution following the SuccessFactors acquisition.

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Simone, is it fair to call you the mother of SAP LSO?

It was an entire team – product management and development – that was involved in the initial launch of the Learning Solution and I was part of that “pioneer team”.

What is your background in learning and SAP?

I worked in learning and talent management as an SAP HCM consultant in the 1990s until I took over within Solution Management the role of Product Manager for SAP’s Learning Solution (now also called Enterprise Learning).  A few years ago, I moved  from SAP to become a Global Solution Principal at EPI-USE (an SAP partner), and I now work with customers globally in talent management and learning. My recent project was at SAP to support the development of the new “option for the extended learning community”, a new extension from SAP that is based on the Learning Solution and SAP Web Channel supporting learning management of external learners. .

What are the main business reasons customers choose LSO?

Customers get value from SAP LSO when they have a strong need for connecting learning to HR processes as the tight integration with SAP HCM comes out of the box. But not only the inbuilt integration to HCM processes is a driver for customers to choose SAP Learning Solution as the integration options go well beyond HCM like e.g. Sales and Distribution for billing, Financials and Controlling for activity allocation and cost transfer posting etc.  Customers who need compliance management also often go for LSO, as it has functionality that supports a very integrated and structured learning management process with a lot of compliance management options coming with the product. Obviously also companies who look into global rollouts, they benefit from the overall SAP advantages like global availability, languages and global support.

There’s a new external learning add-on to Learning Solution just started ramp-up. What does this add-on do?

It’s good to see that SAP has listened closely to feedback from customers. There has been a lot of feedback that SAP need to extend LSO outside the employee base.  SAP has brought experience and best business practices into this solution for external learners by interviewing clients and also their own customer – SAP Education. It is an excellent solution to open up LSO to external audiences with a lot of valuable functionalities to provide, sell and promote learning and a state-of-the-art external learning portal. This is based on the SAP WebChannel Experience management and gives customers a very appealing, easy-to use user interface including helpful e-commerce features like advertisements, vouchers or promotions.

Who is an external learner for a typical customer?

In the regulated industries, very often contractors are part of what we call the extended enterprise, and the contractors must be trained equally to internal employees, in for example health and safety procedures or in security. So a very common use case is that you use LSO to deliver Health & Safety training, and you can now open these up to external contractors, not just employees. And measure training completion in the same way as for employees.

Another strong use case for external learners comes from partners and customers, e.g. to sell training to them or to enable partners learning to deliver the best service for your products. Let me give an example: when you are a company with complex product you train your internal service and sales people but you equally need to make sure that your service and sales partners are trained in the same way to guarantee the highest service level for your clients There are many further interesting use cases in different industries and I am confident that this solution will add high value for many customers, esp. existing  LSO  ustomers.

Why do people use assessment in LSO?

Assessments play a vital role in LSO as they broadly do in every LMS, especially as a big focus for LSO use is compliance management. Assessments are a crucial part of a compliance solution because organizations have to test and document that people understand what they are supposed to learn.

I remember when I was at SAP and we made contact with Questionmark – we immediately decided that we would not extend the LSO test authoring system much, but would instead suggest Questionmark as the assessment partner tool for LSO because of its strong capabilities.  

What is the best way to document training for compliance purposes.Is it okay just to record that someone has been through training or do you need to assess to check understanding?

I see a trend both in regulated and non-regulated environments that it is not enough just to track the completion of training, you also need to validate the understanding of learning. So I think it is important to check understanding by assessments, both for tracking purposes and in case an auditor wants to see the records. It is one thing to do something, and another to prove it. This even extends nowadays outside of the core regulatory use cases to courses where the company wants to track the completion and the understanding, for example  in sales training to prove the value of the learning for the company. 

What trends do you see in compliance, how are things changing?

A lot of the compliance processes that we have seen in the past that have been mandatory in compliance driven businesses like pharmaceuticals, chemicals and mining, we are now seeing also expanding in other industries and customers. For instance we see needs for mandatory training of certain business processes, sometimes imposed by regulation, but sometimes just imposed by the business itself. For example, when organizations roll out equal opportunities training, the company may decide to implement the same process as for compliance required training – checking who has completed it, checking who has done the assessments and been validated. And often this is driven from internal business needs, not external regulators.

People are seeing the advantage of conducting learning and assessments not just when the regulator requires it, but for their own business purposes. I see this trend increasing while at the same time the learning in the workplace itself is more and more influenced by social media and collaboration – but that’s a different story.

What is the future of LSO? Is it the end of the road or is it part of the future?

With the recent acquisition of SuccessFactors and SAP now offering the SuccessFactors talent management solutions, this is a great opportunity for customers to choose from a wider array of solutions and find the optimal solution for their business need.

There is a business case for on-demand learning as well as on-premise learning LSO will continue to be the on-premise offering as SAP has also announced. So this is not the end of LSO – there is a lot of market demand for on-premise solutions and especially for the LSO with all its benefits. The business case will not go away and so an on-premise product is needed.

When should a customer choose LSO and when an on-demand learning system?

One key reason to go for an on-premise learning system is if you require a very tight integration with your SAP system. Another is if you are in a regulated environment and need to keep your data in-house for data privacy or security  reasons. Or if you have the need for a highly adapted system that you need to customize exactly for your needs. For LSO specifically a company can benefit from investments made already in HCM  or ERP and leverage these for learning. These can all be business drivers for an on-premise learning solution, and I don’t think they will go away quickly.

But I also see the need for an on-demand learning solution, which may be driven by the need to have a very fast roll-out, (fast time to value), being able to be very flexible in various ways (availability of in-house systems or resources to name just a few) and not spend the capital investments upfront. There are lots of reasons why on-demand makes sense for many companies and it is great that these companies have now also the choice from SAP and Success Factors. From what I can see at the moment, with the effort SAP is putting into the integration of SuccessFactors there will be no need to go elsewhere when customers have a business case for on-demand leaning.

Do you see there being future enhancements to LSO?

For this year, there are many innovations in LSO, including the planned mobile learning and a new learning portal coming, as well as the external learning add-on. You can see some public comments on this in the interview you did with Michael Maier of SAP (see here). (I believe this was also confirmed in his SAP Insider 2012 presentations in Las Vegas and Milan.) This is an exciting roadmap and all these innovations are not far away! SAP LSO has a lot of life still in it, with compliance and integration among the main business drivers. Customers see a lot of value in the organized training that LSO allows. With that LSO is absolutely competitive and the choice for an on-premise LMS, especially for existing SAP customers. I could even imagine that some of the valuable and cool features from SuccessFactors like the social collaboration software Jam will also be integrated and offered with LSO in the future and will support the social learning aspects with a very powerful and state-of-the-art tool.  

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