Synergy 2011

We just finished our start-of-the-year meetings in Hong Kong, Synergy 2011. Our resellers, who showed up in force, came from all over the world (you can find a list of NetDimensions resellers here).

Our resellers are a powerful, variegated group with clients large and small and up to the minute insights. They had a lot to say. I’ll share a couple of points that impressed me and give you a heads up on what our community is doing today and planning to do for the rest of the year.

In no particular order of importance:

It’s a two-speed economy now

Think fast growth for some verticals and regions (much of sub-Saharan Africa and the BRIC and MIST countries) but slow growth overall and free-floating anxiety just about everywhere. The watchword is caution. In late 2008 and in 2009 HR departments laid people off by the thousands. In 2011 they’re hiring (selectively) but the memories hang on. Consequence? Money will get spent this year but cautiously. It won’t be falling like rain.

Executives are looking to make smart buys — buys that will support fast growth, slow growth, no growth or another sharp decline. This is a mental reset signaling no really big projects unless they’re urgent and mission critical and nothing that can’t pay for itself short-term.

Buyers are planning and making moves, including trading up on systems that have grown long in the tooth but only if the new systems’ benefits clearly outweigh the costs of not only the new systems themselves but also the cost of doing nothing and just holding on for the time being.

In this sense the United States is starting to look a lot more like the rest of the world: every new corporate initiative must not only be cost justified on its own merits but also benefit weighed against every other expenditure the company could make.

Implications include:

  • More SaaS (Software as a Service) hosted application offerings with the IT department acting as advisor and gatekeeper and less like a primary services provider in its own right. The new SaaS/cloud biases play into the core vs. context framework IT departments are increasingly adopting — think things that are necessary (but may or may not be considered mission critical) like email services, learning and performance management systems, customer relationship management platforms, document retention and control systems and third-party transaction processors.
  • HR systems that are faster to deploy and easier to migrate away from should a new strategy so demand (think M&A). This idea meshes nicely with SaaS offerings as long as your context is someone else’s core — suppliers for whom the provision of X system is their main concern (whatever “X” is) are going to be able to roll X out and keep it up far more cost effectively than your own folks are likely to be able to accomplish.
  • A new willingness to tolerate, even encourage the adoption of multiple point solutions for business unit pain points.

The meaning of mobile

Our African resellers are some of the most determined, creative and astute business people I’ve ever met. They struggle with problems not seen everywhere, including poor or non-existent infrastructure and extremely thin bandwidth. For them our mEKP portable LMS is a game changer, allowing users to plug in to and work on literally any computer they can find and walk away after, flash drive securely in hand.

Our U.S. reseller Intelladon demonstrated an iPad app they created for one of their clients, Hollister Wound Care. The app, which is for doctors and nurses, helps healthcare professionals diagnose wound types and severity and suggests remediation options. The app is powered on the back end by EKP, our award winning LMS. Very cool.

We also walked through the new smartphone interface we’ll be releasing in May. This mobile option will give users access to just about everything EKP does. It works equally well on iPhones, iPads and Android phones and tablets.

The take-away for me is that there isn’t going to be a single answer to the question of mobility. Instead, there are going to be a lot of answers — some appropriate for certain use cases and others appropriate for other circumstances. And this is good.

Analyze this

We introduced two compliance optimizations: support for 21 CFR Part 11 electronic security standards and Compliance Analytics, a new EKP feature set that allows compliance managers to define and report on compliance requirements in a myriad of ways.

21 CFR Part 11, though originally intended for pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, biotechnology companies and other U.S. Food and Drug Administration-regulated industries, has become a de facto standard for digital security in many highly regulated industries. We are proud to be one of the very few LMS providers that support the 21 CFR Part 11 standards. In this age of wikileaks, security has become an increasingly important concern for everyone, including learning and development professionals.

Compliance Analytics is, if you will, the other side of the security coin. The ability to tag training programs, courseware and performance support assets against regulatory requirements and slice-and-dice report on take up, exceptions and progress data is the flip side of ensuring secure acces in the first place. We’ll be demonstrating how Compliance Analytics works in March at a U.S. industry event along with our reseller eHealthcareIT.

Plays nicely with others

Last year we won a Brandon Hall Gold Award for technology innovation. We won the award for the PTK (Portal Tool Kit) a set of APIs that allow programmers to hook our EKP learning management system into just about anything. Would you like a course catalogue to appear in a commercial website? No problem with the PTK. Would you like someone to be able to register on your compliance intranet and see what s/he needs to do to meet current regulatory requirements? How about competencies? Or license and certificate management? How about letting your managers check the records of the people who report to them? Or would you like to get EKP talking to your HR or financial systems? All fast and easy integrations with the PTK.

This year we’ve gone several steps further. We’ve developed widget libraries to help non-programmers incorporate EKP functionality into websites without having to code anything.

First up is our set of plugin macros for Confluence, the world’s most popular enterprise wiki. We’ve actually done a two-way integration with Confluence. EKP courses can themselves dynamically create Confluence spaces with all the right permissions and access security. This gives instructors and administrators a way to set up knowledge sharing and community sites on the course level. At the same time, you can, with the help of a bunch of short parentheticals like {enroll: xyz course}, set up Confluence pages to incorporate EKP functionality. This gives subject matter experts an easy way to incorporate EKP functionality into websites.

EKP gives Confluence rich learning and performance management functionality. Confluence gives EKP enterprise collaboration functionality with Microsoft Sharepoint extension options.

Our second widget library is for WordPress, the world’s most popular content management system. With WordPress you get zillions of sites like Solo Practice University (there’s an awesome social network layer for WordPress), TechCrunch, Sap.Info (the information platform for the SAP community) and the Harvard Gazette. Not to mention sites for the likes of NASA and BMW.

On the WordPress dashboard you simply drag an EKP widget to where you want it and press save. Like magic, you now have an integrated LMS / content management system.

Could that be any easier?

Would you like fries with that?

Of course there’s more. Watch this space. We intend to surprise you this year.

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