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Former Member

By John Mayerhofer and Alex Zhu

The landscape in all sectors of Education is in flux, and in some sectors, it’s changing fast.   What might the trends and consequences predicted in the report Education 2022:  A 360 Degree View mean for SAP as an enterprise that delivers technology based products and services to enable learning?  

The answer to this question may have been obvious to some reading our Education 2022 report, but it’s worth exploring further.

When considering this question, it makes sense to first level set with a little context.

(Please note that the following is the opinion of the authors.)

What SAP Offers Today (Context)

SAP offers an amazing suite of technology (in-memory data management, mobile, cloud, social) that could power the revolution in K-Gray Education.

SAP provides technology, used to build applications (e.g. Student Lifecycle Management, Learning Management, Jam), which are then bundled and sold into solutions organized by line of business (e.g. HR) and by Industry (e.g. Public Sector).

Solution categories include, but are not limited to:

  1. Enterprise social learning, a cloud based solution from SuccessFactors, which includes both Jam and SuccessFactors Learning Management System products. Social learning is currently a driving use case for social media in the enterprise.  Institutions of higher learning are also starting to ask for social learning solutions.
  2. SAP for Education (Industry Business Unit): It’s perhaps telling that the industry business unit responsible for packaging SAP’s education solutions and bringing them to market has changed it’s name from SAP for Higher Education and Research to SAP for Education & Research:
    • The Education IBU now draws from the SuccessFactors solutions, and are not just focusing on the rich suite of products that SAP has traditionally offered.
    • The traditional solutions include those to help institutions of higher education
    • The solutions also include core applications to run universities, and primary, and secondary school districts
    • Solutions include SAP Enterprise Learning Solution
  3. SAP AppHaus, an SAP innovation vehicle, which produces apps like CareCircles (with an initial focus on children with Individualized Education Programs). AppHaus has the mandate to boldly innovate, reach new markets, and reach new buying centers.
  4. SAP Education : SAP Education is the second largest corporate IT training business in the world.  SAP Education offers education, certification, and software solutions within the context of helping our customers and partners become more effective with SAP software.  These solutions come in many forms including classroom training, e-learning, games, and simulations.
  5. A rich set of programs from SAP University Alliances to engage with professors and students at the content, curriculum, and awareness levels to help ensure that the next generation of leaders and workers will run better together with SAP.
  6. SAP Ventures is working with theexternal community of entrepreneurs to enable solutions for K-Gray education via investment and the opportunity to engage with SAP companies and organizations.

Often, many organizations at SAP work together to bring the above solutions to market.  These organizations include, but are not limited to:

    • SuccessFactors
    • The SAP Education Industry Business Unit
    • SAP Education
    • SAP AppHaus
    • Certain SAP Partners
    • SAP University Alliances

There are those who might reasonably put forth, that SAP has an opportunity to simplify our messaging, solution offerings, and delivery in the domain of education enablement.  There are those who say that it’s clear and simple already.   Form your own opinion.

Many passionate folks in the SAP Community (customers, employees, partners and beyond) are excited about what the future could bring for education.  Many of them have great ideas that they would like to bring to life.   The Future of Education research initiative was undertaken, largely with them in mind.  Indeed, many of them collaborated, and contributed content and guidance for the effort.


So what do the trends and consequences articulated in Education 2022 mean for SAP? 

The product teams own their road maps, so I’ll simply offer some opinions in the form of guidance (G).


Architect William McDonough reminds us that design is the first signal of intent. 

What is our intent as a company where learning enablement is concerned?  You can obtain clarity on this question by reading the best articulation of the SAP mission statement that I’ve seen to date:

SAP’s intent is “to help the world run better in order to create enduring prosperity for people everywhere”.

Another architect, Nicholas Negroponte reminds us that: 

“No matter what global problem you are dreading, whether it’s the elimination of poverty, whether it’s the creation of peace, whether its solving environmental energy problems, the solution- whatever it is- multiple solutions, the solutions always include education, never is it without an education component and sometimes cannot be done without education.”

How profound a role SAP wants to play in creating enduring prosperity (economic, environmental, social) will be demonstrated by our clearly stated commitment and actions over the next decade.   How can we approach the enablement of ‘best-run’  K-Gray education systems that will lay the foundation for enduring prosperity for people everywhere?

Potential Directions for SAP

The following are ten summary predictions for Education in 2022 (abstracted from our report), followed by what each item could mean for SAP.  We articulated the below in the form of what SAP might want to consider in their design guidelines, principles, approaches, or actions (G = Guideline).

(1)  Learner-Driven: Disruptive innovations will be designed with the individual learner at the center.  Learners, and their close agents (e.g. teachers, parents) will be the users, the choosers, and the drivers (not large institutions).   Learners, their agents, and the entrepreneurs who serve them, will play the leading roles in this story of positive disruption and transformation.

Meaning for SAP (enabler):

(G)   Design systems for the learner:    

SAP could take play a significant role in the disruptive innovations happening at all sectors of education. Is SAP selling only to enterprises? During the recent past, we’ve seen SAP deliver products directly into the consumer’s hands (RecallsPlus, CareCircles, and Project Charitra are three notable examples), talk a lot about delivering consumer grade user interfaces, set a strategic imperative to reach 1 billion users, and widely acknowledged the “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend.   For the purpose of this blog, we’ll assume that SAP has a long term strategic imperative to go beyond enterprises and also sell to individuals (‘consumers’).  That means that for SAP, individuals become not just the users, but will also become the choosers.   Furthermore, SAP sells in the K-12 sector now, and has expressed a willingness to expand their offerings in these sectors.  Why not sell to the adjacent markets (learners, not institutions) in all sectors?  That means that nearly everyone on the planet becomes a potential SAP customer.    It follows that with a 10 year time horizon, any segment of K-Gray education, and any buying center, is fair game.   

(G)  Deliver systems for lifelong learning:  

Design systems that enable learners to manage their learning lifelong, and enable them to interface more effectively with other agents (parents, teachers, institutions of learning, employers).  Don’t worry so much about institution, class, or geography.  All these things come and go, but the learner persists.  Why should a learner’s data be held hostage by someone else.   

      • For example, SAP might produce a lifelong learning management  system integrated with lifelong social learning services and a lifelong rolling portfolio;  These could be BYOT (bring your own technology) systems that follow the learner throughout their life.

(G)  Alleviate the pain of transition for the institutions.  

      • Institutions of higher learning are in pain.   About halfleaving them. They want to tailor an experience for their customers.  We can build upon our HANA based solution for the University of Kentucky.
      • Companies are in pain.  They cannot hire enough qualified graduates.  SAP can make it easier for our industry customers to understand, forecast, engage, and sponsor learners.  More on this below.

(2)  Openly Accessible: Learners of all ages will have unprecedented access to open educational resources and configurable learning paths that match their individual needs, experience, and goals.

Meaning for SAP (enabler):

(G)  Continue to become more comfortable with open source consumption and open source contribution, not only where code is concerned, but also where content is concerned.

(G)  Give more consideration to alternative business models in the education domain (e.g. non-licensing (IP) based business models).

(G)  Discovery:

      • Leverage big data and analytics together with the social web to help learners discover and access the best educational resources from a variety of sources (open or otherwise).  An example might be search, specifically for openly accessible education resources that produces results that are personally relevant and compelling.  The service could be integrated directly into a learner’s personalized learning management system, as well as be accessible to other systems, or directly via the web.
      • Enable content we deliver to be easily discovered and leveraged by other delivery systems.  

(G)  Enable learners, teachers, and parents to easily create and share content, apps, curricula.

(G)  Enable or provide plug and play, easy to use interfaces to open cloud based data for learning and research purposes.

      • for example, public data (e.g. geographic, economic, financial, weather) could be leveraged by simulations, or to create a services that learners could use to create and share insights (think an analytics based Pinterest meets Swivel), or games.

(3)  Personalized:  Advanced technology (machine learning, cloud, mobile, in-memory, sensors, big data analytics, behavioral neurobiology, cognitive sciences, and organizational behavior) will enable schools and other institutions, essentially experience providers, to cost effectively facilitate contextual, adaptive, personalized student-centered learning for today's learners and an additional 3 billion new minds.   Learners will have access to the tools and awareness required to deeply understand their own individual needs, and to meet these needs.

Meaning for SAP (enabler):

(G) Small software, small content. 

Design your systems in an atomic/granular fashion both where capabilities and content are concerned.  This enables rapid delivery, and a high degree of flexibility and customization.

(G)  Generate data from relevant events that might be used to adapt delivery of content.

(G)  Expose data, and capabilities, from systems we produce and operate to other learning systems via well defined, well documented, and accessible APIs for developers.

(G)  Know your user, inside and out, for any given artifact.

The target learner(s) for any content or delivery systems should be well understood up front, not just from a traditional demographic perspective, but from a behavioral neurobiology, intelligence type, and skill perspective.    

(G)  Build adaptable systems.

Any delivery system that we produce should adapt to the learner to the extent possible and relevant.     An example of such a system is a ‘netflix for learning’ system that recommends resources, curricula, and learning paths based on achievement, demographics, psychographics, neurographics, style, skills, aspirations, etc.

(G)  There is a market opportunity for systems that help learners to understand their own neurobiology, intelligence types, and learning styles.    We’ll ultimately need to incorporate the output from such systems into learning delivery products. 

(4)  Social:  Intentional learning will be social on a global level.   Social networks will make learning, assessment, and certification more efficient and more effective.   Learners, parents, and teachers, all nodes in the learning network will create, share, and discover on a massive scale as the cost of collaboration drops to zero . Personal learning networks will ultimately redefine ‘class’ (in the context of who is in your class this year :)). Geography, age, duration, and season become less relevant in the delivery of a learning experience.

Meaning for SAP (enabler):

(G)  Protect and accelerate investment in social platforms such as Jam, increase investment in enabling the social learning use case.   We have a good basis to work from.  

(G)  Further pursue the strategy of enabling micro applications (small software) to be built in Jam (outside in) or other environments.   Capabilities for MOOC delivery for example will need tightly integrated social learning capabilities for example.  

(G)  Continue to pursue the strategy of enabling granular elements of our social platforms to be easily integrated into external systems from both inside and outside of SAP (inside out). 

(G)  Leverage the power of social for discovery.  Enable easy social rating of content and other entities.  (A concrete example in the short term could be something like a yelp for resources, courses, instructors, schools, programs, etc.)

(5)  Ubiquitous:   Intentional learning systems will be integrated into our physical environment, our clothes, and our bodies, available anytime, and everywhere, enabled by small, cheap, and fast computing technology.  Today’s sensors and mobile devices, which are exploding onto the educational scene, are only prototypes of what is to come.

Meaning for SAP (enabler):

(G)  SAP’s in-memory technology is very well positioned to manipulate the large volume of learning relevant data that will be generated.

(G)  Any learning delivery systems that we produce should consume data from relevant events that might be used to adapt delivery of content.

(G)  We should ensure that we have access to the expertise needed to fully understand the boundaries between the physical and digital, and ultra consumer grade user experience so that we can fully leverage ‘ubiquitous’ IO.  

(G) - Ensure that any systems we produce provide context in a clear and standard way.

One example of a potential resulting product: SAP could enable or deliver a cloud based augmented reality learning development environment (ARIS Learning is an early example).  This would really be a domain specific flavor of an application development environment.

(6)  Holistic: The emphasis, at least at the primary and secondary levels, will be on how to learn, and the development of 21st century sensibilities in critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, design, story, empathy, play, and meaning.  Physical learning environments will remain important to enabling delivery, and will be optimized.

Meaning for SAP (enabler):

(G)  Leverage big data and analytics together with the social web to help employers identify those people with valued skills and 21st century sensibilities.

(G)   Be part of a large and growing market and make your employees stronger.  Immersive games for teaching 21st century sensibilities.      There will be a significant market for learning that teach and enable design at the learner (consumer) level.  Other companies such as Autodesk are already taking moves to position themselves for these markets (judging from the acquisitions they made in the past years, their talent, and their presence in certain consumer venues).    SAP has made significant investments in design thinking over the past years.  The same apps that we build and offer to the market, can be used by our 60,000 strong employee base.  The same goes for the other sensibilities mentioned above (critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, story, empathy, play, and meaning).

(G)  Don’t be afraid of producing content (or managing and cultivating the production).

(7)  Teaching Redefined:   Teachers will be free by 2022.  Almost everything they do will be focused on the delivering the best possible and relevant end to end student experience.  Their passion will be liberated to focus on delivering results, not on managing upward into the system.  Teaching becomes both hyper-local and global at the same time with teachers bifurcating into two primary categories:  1) The Agents who facilitate, coach, manage, mentor, produce, and connect (experts in identifying students personal intelligence types and learning styles for any given topic)  2) The Domain Experts who engage in instruction, and design, create, and share educational resources and assessments.  The Domain Expert may have millions of ‘customers’ around the globe. Lastly, Siri’s children, will play a significant role in educating our children as machine intelligence comes of age.

Meaning for SAP (enabler):

(G)  Deliver social based systems that enable teachers and learners with the same passions and interests to come together, connect in a meaningful way, and collaborate, and then disband.  Systems that operate either in real time or asynchronous ways, not constrained by geography, and age of the learner (or teacher).  A concrete near term example would include a social platform to enable massively open online courses, or augment existing physical courses.

(G)  Continue to build expertise in Machine learning with a focus on applying it to the education domain.

(G)   Discovery:

      • Leverage big data and analytics together with the social web to help learners discover the best teachers.
      • Enable easy social rating of teachers (I understand this may be controversial)

(G)  Enable development and sharing of learning resources (for teachers, learners, parents, companies)

(G)  Enable teachers to adequately interface with a learner’s Learning Management System to define and shape curricula, propose resources, and document certification.

(G)  Enable with granular solutions that provide value for a wide variety of different teaching models.

(8)  Policy Redefined:   Intent and goals for education will become more distributed, flexible, individualized, and sometimes even crowd-sourced.  Families will have many choices for delivery alternatives at least in the later primary, secondary, and higher education years.  Students and parents (many more involved) will have the freedom to choose the right education path for their children, and they will demand to allocate their tax dollars accordingly.

Meaning for SAP (enabler):

(G)  Ensure that learner centric systems for lifelong learning that you deliver can easily consume learning paths and curriculum recommendations from other entities (governments, schools, companies, networks).

(G)  Make learner centric systems for lifelong learning easy to fund throughout it’s use by government, industry, and the consumer.

(G)  Build systems to provide transparency, especially where non-individual entities are concerned.

(9)  Industry Engaged:   Industry, out of enlightened self-interest, will engage more deeply with learners, earlier in their lives (e.g. adolescence), and become active partners for institutions that serve learners.  Engagement will include shaping curriculum for learners, providing educational resources, and providing programs and environments to deliver learning experiences.  Learners will have a more clear vision of what skills, and competencies, are required for a specific job, and the nature of the prospective job.  

Meaning for SAP (enabler):

(G)  SAP has a thorough understanding of the roles and process across an enterprise. Leverage this knowledge to deliver assessment systems that measure skills in an efficient, automated way to increase the efficacy and efficiency of the recruiting process.

(G)  Enable industry to forecast their human resources needs more clearly to students at various stages in their studies, least from a skills and archetype perspective, if not a volume, perspective. 

      • This in the most concrete and immediate form could be a jobs marketplace.   However, SAP could enable not only a jobs marketplace, but perhaps even a jobs futures marketplace.
      • Another concrete example is Industry Mentor-Match: Learners + Industry = a system Industry can use to establish relationships w students early in their studies to help guide curriculum, studies, w sponsorship

(G)   Enable industry to easily sponsor learners with educational resources, curriculum, or financially.

      • Enable industry developed or sponsored content, or curriculum via tools and interfaces to a learner’s learning management system
      • Enable industry to to engage learners financially and legally via sponsorships (one such type system for example is upstart

(10) Achievement Redefined:   Hiring managers (anyone paying someone for a good or services rendered) will have a much more granular (and verifiable) understanding of the hiree’s accomplishments.  Assessment will be personalized, and will be based on real achievements, artifacts produced, demonstration of acquired skills, and mastery of concepts, and not so much on method of instruction or attendance at a specific institution.  Assessment will be leveraged as a service on granular level, woven into content, apps, games, our environment, and the hiring process.   Credentials will be granular, open, and portable.   An individual’s portfolio of achievements will follow them throughout their life, and individuals will determine to whom, and when, they will provide access to their history achievements and other credentials.

(G)  Deliver systems to assess skills, passions, experience, intelligence, neurology, both explicitly, and via a learner’s data trail.  A concrete example would be a cloud based assessment engine for skills and qualities ranging from writing to empathy to anything relevant for life in future industry (critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, design, story, empathy, play, and meaning). An emphasis in the near term could be put on relevant knowledge in corporate functions (sales, marketing, developer, finance).

(G)  Enable learners to ‘own’ their timeline and portfolio of deliverables, achievements, badges, diplomas, certificates, grades, skills, passions, intelligence and neurobiological profile.  An early concrete example is PathBrite.

(G)  Capture both planned, and unplanned learning achievements in the portfolio in a way that is in the flow for users.

The Road Before Us

SAP offers an amazing suite of technology (in-memory data management, mobile, cloud, social) that could power the revolution in K-Gray Education.   

Based on the above guidelines, there are many potential new products in the categories of: content, application services, platform, and delivery systems.  I’ve only included a small subset of concrete examples above.   Is the total addressable market for some of the example products, services, or even categories that we touch on above, big enough? Do we have the right expertise in house to come up with a business model for any given opportunity? I’ll leave these questions to the individual product owners as they ponder their long term roadmaps (acknowledge, buy, build, partner).     

Given the importance of education itself, the changes taking place in all sectors of this domain, and the market opportunities that this change creates, SAP should clearly review whether they have the appropriate focus, organizational coherence, and level of investment in this space.  We certainly have the right underlying technology.


This post is part of The Future of Education research initiative.

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