My Write-in Candidate for Learn Tech Leader

The Candidates

I spend a fair amount of my time looking out at the learning industry and attempting to distill out broad themes and trajectories.  One of the topics of much discussion recently is the future of the technology that supports learning.  A recent panel at the Enterprise Learning! conference brought together a bunch of industry pundits to talk about the future of the LMS. [You can see panel here]  While the evolution of incumbents theory is a logical extension of what we are currently seeing in the market there is another scenario.

The Wildcard

In the spirit of advancing the discussion and also proposing what, at the outset, may appear to be a less linear view of the future.  I predict the following…

Salesforce will be the leader in enterprise learning technology in 5 years.” 

 I believe this to be a more likely outcome than incumbent led scenarios for the following reasons:

  • It is building from business performance backwards to learning
  • Its architecture is readily adoptable by enterprises
  • Data is core to its value proposition
Everything Starts with a Sale
Anyone who has tried to drive change in a large enterprise knows that sales is the tail that wags the dog.  I have seen policies reversed, exclusions created and change come to a screeching halt, all based on the reaction of the sales force.  Sales has also historically been a mine field for learning.  High performing sales  people are often the most cynical attendees in learning sessions challenging new models, approaches and the credibility of instructors.  Those who can, sell.  Those that can’t, teach.
Salesforce has overcome this barrier.   Sales people have seen the impact of using the technology and leveraging these tools.  The inclusion of additional performance enhancing support, in the form of learning, will likely be received with open minds.  Combined with the fact that sales is one of the easier areas in which to quantify the impact of learning Salesforce will easily build the executive level support for its learning solutions long sought after by existing learning groups.
Social Leads Learning
Unlike the current learning technology players who are now trying to move into the cloud and bolt on social features, Salesforce is already both to the core.  By bringing learning into an already social environment Salesforce avoids the legacy issues associated with existing content structure and access/sharing requirements.
The Salesforce platform has been created with integration in mind.  While existing LMS players talk about integration into other systems and into the workflow Salesforce is already there.  And with an open approach that has already spawned a huge developer community the innovations and applications for the platform are not limited to the resources of the company itself.  Much as the iOS developer community has made the iPhone app store ever-expanding and therefore the iPhone more valuable so shall the Salesforce community for Salesforce.
In God We Trust…All Else Bring Data
One of the overarching waves that I see sweeping across the training space in the coming years is a focus on data.  Not just the simplistic dashboards, assessment and measurement data that learning has been working with, but true deep dive analytics and big data. The kind of data mining that is going on in every other part of the enterprise.
Salesforce is a data company.  So rather than instituting metrics around functional steps (enrollments, completions, pre-test/post-test) Salesforce is uniquely positioned to identify and track new metrics (need-to-learning instance-to-application times, SME domain expertise based on shared knowledge utilization/impact).  We are just beginning to see the rise of the data driven learning enterprise and a player with experience in creating metrics executives care about is at an advantage.
So When?
To be clear, I have no idea what is going on at Salesforce.  But I do know that winning solutions are created by visionary leaders and if you haven’t seen the Marc Benioff keynote from the last Cloudforce conference take a look.  Compare that to the what you are hearing from the tops of Saba and the incumbents.  Also, you never bet against a guy who brings Metallica in to play at his conference.  You just don’t.
3 Responses to “My Write-in Candidate for Learn Tech Leader”
  1. Now this is a radical idea! It certainly qualifies as potentially disruptive: it’s in plain sight; it’s not part of the existing infrastructure for L&D; and because it’s embedded already, it’s just a matter of repurposing the software slightly for big gains.

    Here are three reasons the incumbents will dismiss the idea:
    1. Salesforce is too much of a niche player. They may have morphed from a contact management system to a CRM system, but that’s as far as they’re going to go.
    2. Other legacy systems won’t let Salesforce out of its niche. If they eat into the learning management space, wil the general ledger be next? Can’t let that happen!
    3. Salesforce doesn’t have sufficient senior sponsorship to champion its use outside of its main mission as a CRM system no matter what the potential for other applications.

    If the incumbents are right, then your idea looks like the idea of a crank. If the incumbents are wrong (or you can overcome their resistance), then you look like a visionary. Such is the life of a disrupter! Good Luck!

  2. Really interesting. Do you think this is something that will occur more through acquisition or through developing their own approach to learning and development technology?

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