More and more vendors in the learning space are pushing suites of products rather than singular flearning solutions such as the LCMS or LMS. Instead, the new products boast multiple capabilities, and in theory they enable senior learning executives to launch a people-development strategy directly. Some think that’s a good thfing, that it shows the marketplace is responsive to the changing needs of CLOs. But industry leaders say you should exercise caution before jumping onboard with one of the new multifaceted learning products. It’s not simply a matter of cost or even one of value — vendor management and learning strategy also are critical concerns.
Wim Wetzel, director of employee and organizational development, NEC Corp. of America, said product value often depends entirely on the company considering integration.
“We have an HRIS (human resource information system) that claims to be the answer to everything, including integrating the learning management system into the people database system,” Wetzel said. “The only problem is when you try to get them to demonstrate it to you, they can’t, No. 1, and if they do demonstrate a functionality, you only get part of the capability that they claim, but they expect you to pay literally millions of dollars for the internal system. You’ve wasted your money on a system that shows promise but cannot fulfill those promises.”
Wetzel said suites of integrated products are in demand in corporations that want to link, launch and deploy various programs through their learning management system. But when vendors come calling with wonderful learning solutions but little in the way of concrete real-time examples, it’s smart to be wary. Companies might want to consider further investigation, however — Wetzel said multi-purpose learning systems are important.
“It’s absolutely necessary for ROI purposes — a basic system is very restrictive,” Wetzel said. “For instance, we have some low-level learning systems called TMSs. The target audience, the employees, the supervisors, tend not to go to that system to get information because they know it’s such a horrible task. They look at it as a clerical, demonstrative tool that someone else is going to be working with in order to get you information. The problem is if it doesn’t integrate with an ODBC-compliant database, it takes literally weeks to get them the information they’re looking for. They don’t go back to you for that assistance. A multifaceted learning management system platform that gives you the capability to integrate with ODBC-compliant databases or other systems, they can get the information you’re looking for in real time.”
Mary Kay Vona, global learning solutions executive, IBM Global Business Services, said strategy is crucial.
“It’s all about learning strategy,” Vona said, “If a client just wants to buy tools — say hypothetically their IT organization is the only one that’s driving it, and they’re not engaged with the business units — you may not have the most appropriate selection of a suite of tools, if you go about it in a uni-dimensional fashion. It’s just like if the business went down that path and didn’t consult IT or didn’t consult finance. Any kind of major technology and business process and content purchase should involve representation from all lines of business. If your learning organization truly wants to be aligned with the business, they have to understand the future success criteria and factors of that business. If your return on investment is going to be anything past 18 months to two years, it’s probably not a good investment. You have to have a strong learning strategy. Strategy includes a deep assessment of content, process, technology, vision and governance approach. Don’t buy tools — tools don’t respond to your problem, tools are not the tipping point of your innovation strategy — your innovation and collaboration strategy should be driven by your business needs. Sometimes technology vendors will just list certain functionality that they cover, and you almost have a kind of check the box, but until you really go through a strategy, you operationalize scenarios that are unique to your business, do you really know if that technology can meet your needs?”
Vona said today’s organization faces so many different demands from so many different angles from the administrative level all the way up to the senior executive level, senior learning executives are forced to respond with integrated learning solutions no matter whether the technology is available at that moment.
“There’s only one single platform that we have in our company where we can pull that data through an ad hoc report that we can build or run at any time to give that information in real time,” she said. “Plus, we can also post that through dashboards. You can’t do that with a stand-alone system. It’s important that this multifaceted platform be able to talk to other systems and put data out to those systems. We collect all that data. We manage tuition assistance. We’re actually starting to use the system to integrate our annual performance evaluation system directly into the SumTotal system, where we can actually have employees using this skills management system to do semi-annual, quarterly, monthly performance evaluations on their employees.”
The value in a multifaceted learning system comes with its ability to integrate different information from different points in an organization. This enables the CLO to form a complete picture of an individual’s performance on day-to-day tasks, as well as a more comprehensive view, with an eye on future development.
“It’s the individuals’ prerogative how often they want to track and determine where their people are regarding goals that were set either by the employee, the manager or both together,” Wetzel said. “If you didn’t have something like this, typically an annual evaluation is done between the employee and the supervisor. There are only two points of view as to how someone performs, and it’s very subjective. With skills and learning management systems linked, you’ll be able to do an assessment not only for the employee, but anyone else you designate within the organization that works with that employee on a regular basis to get you a bigger, more objective picture of how that person performs not only as an individual but as a team employee. Ultimately, that will be linked to annual merit raises, promotions and pay raises. You can’t do that with a stand-alone system.”
Wetzel said stand-alone systems also have a negative impact on returns on investment.
“And go back to the ROI — when you have a stand-alone system that does not talk to other systems, people tend not to use it for what it was designed to be used for or to maximize its use,” Wetzel said. “You’re not getting your return on that investment because fewer people are using it. I can run a report on the return on investment of the SumTotal system that shows a 1328 percent return on investment since its inception. Since then we’ve implemented other things, and it’s probably going to be around a 1400 percent ROI. Is that bogus data? No, it’s not because it’s based on real investments, real dollars that were spent on the system, real results and real savings that we were able to experience as a result of having this multifaceted system in place. It’s based on real dollars.”
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