Learning Vendors Branching Out in Talent Management

February 14, 2007
The march of the learning management companies is under way.

    Vendors that specialize in learning management software systems have been expanding in recent years into other fields of talent management, such as performance management. The idea is to offer customers more complete products, ones that can enhance the ways companies develop particular individuals and shape their overall workforce.

    The most recent example of boundary pushing by learning management players came in November. Learning specialist SumTotal Systems said it acquired performance management software firm MindSolve Technologies. And it isn’t done growing in terms of talent management, says Karen Hickey, senior director of marketing for SumTotal. "We will continue to fill out the functionality," she says.

    SumTotal, which now offers products in the fields of learning, performance and compensation management, still lacks a recruiting product to encompass what many consider the four pillars of talent management. Talent management applications are among the fastest-growing categories of human resources software. Companies are buying these tools as they recognize the value generated by employees and focus on adapting to demographic changes on the horizon, such as the graying of the baby boomer generation.

    Jason Averbook, CEO of consulting firm Knowledge Infusion, says corporations are seeing learning activities as directly tied to their efforts to prepare critical succession moves and plan what their workforce will look like in the future.

    "Learning is playing a bigger role in the ‘people chain’ than it ever has before," Averbook says, drawing an analogy between workforce planning and the supply-chain planning companies do to optimize the creation of products and services.

    Learning management systems refer to software applications for keeping track of the courses employees take and certifications they earn. Major vendors also offer applications for creating online training content.

    In addition to SumTotal, learning management vendors Plateau Technologies and Saba have broadened their product offerings. Each now offers performance management and succession management products.

    These three vendors are competing in a crowded market for talent management applications overall. A number of companies, including Vurv Technology and Authoria, sell multiple talent management products but not learning management. HR tech’s biggest players, Oracle and SAP, offer all four of the primary talent management products, in addition to HR information systems that track essential employee data.

    Both giants tout the benefits of an integrated set of talent management products with ties back to the core HR system. SAP’s learning management product may not have all the features that the smaller specialists have, concedes David Ludlow, the company’s vice president in charge of global product strategy for HR applications. But Ludlow argues that buying SAP’s array of talent management products makes more sense than going with multiple niche products, because all the SAP applications are based on a single set of data that makes for smooth integration between the tools and the core HR system. "I think that adds more value than a long list of features and functionality," he says.

    His point is at the center of a long-standing debate between the big, comprehensive vendors and smaller specialists. But the companies that have historically focused on learning management are looking more like soup-to-nuts providers. Plateau, for example, hasn’t ruled out moving into other talent management areas such as compensation and recruiting, says Ed Cohen, Plateau’s chief technology officer. "It’s something we’ve looked at," he says.
Click here to download a pdf of this feature.

Workforce Management, January 29, 2007, p. 22 -- Subscribe Now!