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I recently spoke with mary.bazemore, Vice President and COO for SAP Education, as part of my series of thought leader interviews in the area of learning technology to get some insights on the state of their learning business model today and where it’s going in the near future.

You’ve been with SAP for 20 years, but what did you do previously?

Before SAP, I worked for a German automotive company in the US. I was a materials manager, heavily focused on logistics, and was introduced to SAP through an R/2 implementation. I joined SAP as an employee as R/3 was starting to grow, and have been with SAP for 20 years. I moved into the global SAP Education group as part of the team that defined learning strategy and related programs. As the SAP product line became more robust, we needed to re-evaluate how we needed to drive learning in our marketplace.

What are the learning-related challenges that SAP customers have and how is SAP Education meeting them?

In the past, we provided training from a very product-centric point of view, which resulted in too many programs for our customers or partners to consume. We did some deep evaluation and realized that as the product line grew, we hadn’t paid enough attention to time constraints at customers and partners. Our study showed that time was the number one constraint for potential learners - not money, and not desire. This made us take a step back. We were creating 10 new courses, but they had the capacity to take only a few. We needed to stop this - people only have a limited amount of time that they could invest with traditional training programs.

What is SAP Education doing to allow people to learn using time wisely?

We decided to start from a certification/qualification perspective of what people needed to know or do, and filter back to the courses. We surveyed the community with Job Task Analysis Surveys to identify and prioritize tasks to find out how frequently and how importantly tasks are done in their job.  Then we used that to set our core curricula to ensure that everyone in a particular discipline has a solid baseline competence.

This approach worked well to optimize the time requirement, the next limitation we addressed was price and accessibility. That's where SAP Learning Hub came into play. SAP Learning Hub is a strongly aligned, managed, social learning environment with learning services within a subscription model. It uses the concept of an internet classroom with high quality e-learning and has all the reference material that might be used in a live instructional or self-paced environment. It brings together content, trainer, community and system access to create an on-demand, accessible and affordable environment to really start to open the doors.

How do you measure the impact in numbers?

SAP Education has taught around 300,000 learners per year for many years. Despite various initiatives to engage more learners, the number didn't change significantly. We knew we weren't facilitating the ecosystem to the level that we wanted to make the ecosystem more successful, so we went into a design thinking session with the key object of reaching more learners.   The result of that session was SAP Learning Hub.

2014 is the first full year of the new initiative and we set a target of 100,000 SAP Learning Hub users for this year, and next year, 2015, our target is 250,000-300,000 users. That will take us from the 300,000 mark to the 500,000+ mark by the end of 2015.

There are three million people in our ecosystem and our goal is to provide the learning framework for three million people to be successful with their SAP solutions. We are looking for a radical change in how we engage with and enable our ecosystem.

How successful has it been so far?

We have some interesting data points already. Historically, a customer has averaged 1.2 courses with us in a given year, we are already seeing that people are seeing 3-4 times that amount of training just in the initial phase. It's opening the door to allow people to learn more and become more competent. We are seeing around a 30% increase year over year in the number of learners we are touching. The key measure of value we are looking at is the number of learners we touch each quarter, which is up about 32%.

Do people seem satisfied with learning in the Cloud?

The apprehension initially seems to be that they think it's just content - "I'm going to go in there and see a big library and I'll be on my own" but that's not the experience. We are putting the facilitators directly on line with them so that they have a person to ask questions to, they have a community to engage with and they can get to the system to practice hands on. Learners are not just going through a simulation, but they can get into the real system and gain the confidence that they can apply their learning.

To take one partner for example: they have always done a lot of training, but they never got more than 20% of their people through SAP training each year. They are about to enter into a Learning Hub subscription for the majority of their team, allowing four times as many people to be trained each year. And positively for them, it's not costing them more money. But now the majority of their consultants will have access to SAP training all the time, which is becoming more important because of the dynamic changes in SAP software. Our software changes every quarter - they are feeling the sense of urgency that what they knew 10 years ago is not going to help them next year.

So by moving to the cloud, you can roll out learning faster?

Exactly.  This will also allow us to make certifications available earlier, as these require the learning content to be available before the exams. I always try to tell people that Learning in the Cloud is just like going from on premise software to cloud based software. With on premise software, you have hardware investments, you have administration teams and you have all kinds of infrastructure and operations elements to keep it working in your own organization. Every company has to replicate that investment and expertise. When you flip it to cloud, you are able to eliminate a lot of the capital investment and overhead and just buy it on demand. To me, this is really the same concept.

Instead of expecting every customer to be responsible for their own enablement and performance success, you are allowing them to take advantage of that reduction in cost and effort, while gaining speed in their acquisition of knowledge. You'll always have someone at a customer who is responsible for user performance and knowledge, but similar to the change that is happening in software, they no longer have to manage the learning infrastructure and operation.

What does the future hold?

What we'll start to see next year is a much faster time to market and time to scale for new solutions. We will still have classroom training, but getting new solutions to the market by SAP Learning Hub is going to be the first priority, allowing us to have training available 30-90 days faster through the SAP Learning Hub; one expert can start training the whole world.

The other exciting development is an additional version of Learning Hub to address user adoption. This is an audience who has been typically addressed with custom end-user training programs managed in the customer organization, supplemented by partners or SAP. And this can be challenging - to build enough content, to have it ready in time, to deal with employee turnover - there can be significant competence and usability challenges.

The program coming out in 2015 will be delivered out of the box with content built for end users, with heavy focus on transactions and process overviews. All of this will be built with SAP Workforce Performance Builder, and as part of the options customers themselves or partners will be able to customize it on behalf of the customer.  We will also be offering SAP User Experience by KNOA as part of this solution, so that customers can monitor their end users and use analytics to determine if users are performing as expected or if remediation activities are necessary to improve user performance.

And finally, where do SAP partners fit in?

We are building the Learning Hub purposefully targeted for partners too – system integrators or learning partners. They have relationships with their customers and they need to be able to use the toolset to fill the gap in terms of content customization, or to help deliver learning in a more traditional fashion. SAP will offer direct services to customers, as well, but we will also encourage our partners to engage the customers with this toolset.

And the long term goal?

It will be easier to learn to use SAP software and extract business value. Ultimately, our goal is to enable the ecosystem, pinpoint user performance issues and remediate those issues on demand.

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