SaaS – A “Disruptive Technology” and more (part 1 of 2)

SaaS is, according to Clayton Christensen, Harvard professor and author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, a “disruptive technology or “disruptive innovation.” In a very basic way, it is disruptive to the way software has been traditionally marketed, sold, delivered, and maintained.
As a “disruptive innovation,” there are some fundamental truths that we can’t shy away from:

  1. Like every new “disruptive technology,” SaaS is probably not as good a solution all-around as an on-premise deployment. In a lot of cases, SaaS is still challenged in terms of interactivity, flexibility to customize, ease of integration, and security. However, what matters is not whether SaaS is as good a solution as on-premise deployments (or whether it will ever be), but whether SaaS is good enough to meet the needs of most companies – and this is really the tipping point.
  2. SaaS was built on the premise of delivery of software over the internet. Five years ago, this was challenging in terms of available web application technologies, enterprise integration points, and network bandwidth. Today, this is not the case as internet bandwidth and web services have rapidly progressed. Another tipping point.
  3. SaaS offers a cost advantage over on-premise, license-based software delivery models. This cost advantage is based on virtualization and resource sharing on the vendors’ side, but it also translates into more flexible, usage-based or pay-as-you-grow models for buyers.  And this advantage is not relevant to just small companies anymore, but to enterprise and global organizations as well. Yet again, another tipping point.
  4. As with every “disruptive technology,” the leading vendors of the prior generation of the technology, which is software here (see Oracle, SAP) are not likely to lead in the new generation, and new leaders are likely to emerge (see Salesforce.com, Workday). This is because leading companies tend to focus on immediate customer needs and short-term license revenue targets. Also, fear of cannibalizing their profitable product lines prevents them from making the necessary investments on disruptive, but necessary innovations.
  5. The best way for an existing leading company to become a serious player in the new generation following the “disruptive innovation” is to set up a separate entity with a different P&L center that will invest in this “disruptive technology” without any interference from existing lines of business.  Cannibalization down the line is inevitable, but at some point, if that new entity does indeed build a business off the new “disruptive technology,” it can become a catalyst for change for the entire company and into the new generation.  It’s probably too early to say, but SAP seems to be trying to follow this approach based on their actions after the acquisition of SuccessFactors.

In part 2 of this post, we will review the definition of SaaS and how it matters for vendors and buyers at the end of day.

If your SaaS provider is just as good as LinkedIn, you’re in trouble

I have to say, recently I feel like anything but the life of the party. Security, data privacy, due care and related legal requirements — these are not fun issues. HR executives sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to avoid even talking about these things. Eyes glaze over. Subjects change. Comments like, “Let IT handle it,” or “The risk management folks will sort it out,” get bandied about.

People in the HR world generally don’t want to get up to speed on security competencies. But with LinkedIn getting hacked, things have changed. We all need to be paying attention.

Innovative Uses of LMS

When we, as high-technology vendors, refer to innovation, we usually have product innovations in mind. This means that we often overlook the amazing process innovations that our users perform day-in and day-out using our products and solutions in their lines of business. This month, in our yearly Next Steps user conferences in Chicago, London and Bangkok, we asked our customers to tell us what interesting (= unconventional = innovative) ways they use our Learning Management System (LMS). We were looking for use cases that we wouldn’t normally anticipate for an LMS, use cases that fall outside the realms of the L&D department, use cases that span functions across the enterprise.

Needless to say we were amazed! Here are some of the cases that came up.

  1. An airline is using our LMS for Dangerous Goods Handling (DGH) compliance training. When an employee fails to complete the required training on time, the LMS revokes security clearance so that the employee is automatically locked out of the airport’s goods handling areas and a manager is notified for further action.
  2. An insurance provider used our LMS to co-ordinate swine flue vaccinations for all their employees. The company created a class called “Flu Vaccination” that was available on certain dates & places, and they were able to successfully track the vaccinations of over 7,000 employees in just two weekends.
  3. An electrical equipment distributor is using our LMS to manage temporary employee transfers between their different locations. They do that by using the course enrollment policy workflow to initiate a transfer request, communicate the reason of the transfer to the respective manager, and notify transfer approvals to the HR & Finance departments.
  4. A financial services provider is using our LMS to co-ordinate their regular Investor Relations events by creating courses for the different sessions, assigning investor-related materials to these courses, and tracking registrations to these courses for all the required stakeholders.
  5. A religious organization is using our LMS to perform yearly HR audits by comparing user profile data in the LMS (from a required IT security course that takes place once a year) to HR employee records.
  6. An automotive parts provider is using our LMS o manage their franchise network, certify franchisees, collect franchise fees, and perform equipment audits.
  7. An airline is using our LMS for disaster volunteer coordination by matching people to different volunteering activities and assigning relevant workflows to take action when disaster strikes.
  8. A software company is using our LMS to manage their internal ISO 14001 environmental policy certification.
  9. A housing association is using our LMS to develop a series of Human Trafficking Awareness e-learning modules aimed at different audiences in order to educate and raise awareness of human trafficking among authorities, communities, and the general public.

To all our users … “Thank you!”

Five Lessons in Mobile Learning

Last week I attended mLearnCon 2011 in San Jose, CA.  mLearnCon is a growing and dynamic event by the eLearning Guild that’s focused on Mobile Learning with a mixed audience of technologists, educators, analysts, corporate L&D professionals, training & courseware providers, and technology vendors (typically for authoring tools, mobile delivery platforms, LCMSs, and LMSs).  This year some really good points came up that reinforce what we have learned the hard way via our own (and our clients’) experiences in implementing mobile learning.  I felt it might be worth recapping here.

  1. What is mLearning? It might sound surprising that there is no clear commonly agreed upon definition of Mobile Learning.  Does it include learning on laptops or not?  Does it imply Internet connectivity?  Does it apply if the experience is not mobile per se?  Does it have to involve some level of collaboration among learners?  Personally, I am not surprised there is no single definition for all.  Because what is becoming clear is that Mobile Learning really means different things to different people (depending on objectives, needs, scope, constraints, resources, and more).Now, as a side note, if you ask me about what definition I feel closer to, I will choose something that approaches mobility from the learner’s point of view and not from a technological perspective; for example the definition in the MOBIlearn Guidelines report that considers mobile learning “… any sort of learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technology.”
  2. mLearning is not eLearning on a smartphone. Ok, everyone seems to agree that if you take eLearning and squeeze it to fit the dimensions and resolution of a mobile device is probably not the way to go. And we know enough now to avoid the early eLearning mistakes. Yes?  Right, so why are most conversations focusing on how to make Powerpoint flash content run on iPad?  Is this even the right approach?  On the other hand, what about all this eLearning content that has (finally & successfully) been developed?  Can we port it to mobile?  Should we? According to an excellent study by Bryan Chapman, the average cost of creating an hour of interactive eLearning is $18,500 which can rise to $50,000 with more advanced interactivity. So, how do you justify the ROI moving to mobile learning while protecting this eLearning investment? I think there is a real business challenge here.
  3. It’s the learner, stupid. Maybe it’s just me, but I am seeing that most conversation revolve around devices and platforms instead of the learner.  With mobile, we have an opportunity to design technologies and solutions that put the learner in the center of the learning experience.  An experience that includes content, activities, and people, along with the ability to access and administer all these in an intuitive, if not seamless, way.  The simplest way to do this is by meeting the learners where they are, whenever they need it, and with whatever approach is most effective for the particular situation.  We also have the know-how to do all that while addressing key business drivers like supporting an increasingly mobile workforce, improving on-the-job performance, increasing the impact of corporate L&D programs, and developing a new generation of talent.
  4. mLearning is an evolution, not a revolution. This is what our clients have really taught us.  You need to think big about mobile, but start small.  Take an objective, a program, a specific group mobile and work hard to make sure the undertaking is successful.  It’s always worth listening to your own audience to see what their needs and particular situations are, and hence what makes sense to go mobile.  And always link mobile learning to your overall learning and talent strategy, because that’s where the value lies.
  5. There is no silver bullet in mLearning. No matter what vendors say, there is no single solution for all.  We are dealing with such a diverse ecosystem of technologies and business situations that we need to be thinking along the lines of multiple solution approaches.  And, I would suggest let’s not take innovation out of the way we think about mLearning.  I think there are great things to achieve in front of us, so let’s not make the mistakes of the past.