I’ve been on the road the past two weeks, visiting with two – or is it four? – companies that have undergone significant change, including major acquisition, in recent years. And for both, it was an important chance to get to know these players all over again from their current positon.


The first stop was Skillsoft Perspectives. CEO Bill Donoghue has been in place for about a year and the change is palpable. Everything about the company is pointing toward a new point of view on modern learning and technology. From the relocation of US headquarters from New Hampshire to downtown Boston, to the conference location in Vegas over Orlando, things are changing. Donoghue admitted in his opening remarks that the organization realized it had a lot to do in repairing strained relationships with unhappy customers, and catching up with the technology and offerings of competitors. They are making progress with UX, and some exciting new dashboard capabilities on the way.

On the learning content front, there is the acknowledgement that competitors aren’t just other content providers. It’s YouTube and Netflix. Donoghue noted that a customer recently asked him how he liked being in the entertainment business. And in many ways that is what the content business is. Today’s learning has to be compelling and “binge-worthy” as the latest season of House of Cards. But also, delivered immediately in the time and place of the viewers choosing, like sneaking in an episode of Schitt’$ Creek while the kids fight about brushing their teeth.

To this end, Skillsoft has redone a massive portion of its video learning catalogue, with up-to-date production values, an incredibly gender/race/ability/orientation diverse cast of characters that reoccur through the content, and a mantra of “focus on the details.” From an actor’s belt in a leadership video, to the UX, to the customer support process, Donoghue is focused on making sure everyone is sweating the details to deliver new product. The organization is still somewhat it catch-up mode, bringing new mobile capabilities to market this year, etc. and it will be interesting to see if and how the Skillsoft and SumTotal brands combine. But it’s worth a look to see what’s changed, and get to know Skillsoft/SumTotal as it is today.

SAP SuccessFactors

Like Skillsoft and SumTotal, there are distinct offerings and technology offered by SAP and SuccessFactors. But if one thing was clear from the two days spent with the executive team at their influencers event, it’s that SuccessFactors wants to be the platform at the “heart” of the business. They are cloud agnostic, and are entirely comfortable as the hub of an ecosystem containing complementary, and even some overlapping, solutions and services.  I tested the following description with several of the executives, and it seemed to resonate. SAP SuccessFactors wants to be the platform that harnesses the speed and capacity of the cloud, and serves up both that power and HR data to an ecosystem of apps and services. A position they feel will be much stickier to organizations then the rapidly changing apps through which data is viewed and used.

Another key topic of conversation was about change, transformation, and change management. As shared by SAP SuccessFactors President, Mike Ettling, their view on transformation is that there are two major categories of transformation needed today. The first is transactional transformation – automating process, moving to the cloud, etc. The other is true digital transformation, changing how HR fundamentally works with the business and other business processes. They are up for helping organizations with both, but fun new tools like the digital boardroom touch screens we got to see at the event are clearly ready for the transformation buyer. As Ettling put it, 2016 was about stability, and now 2017 is about support – for not just automation but true transformation.

Of course, no matter what level of change an organization is going through, change management is critical. No matter how fast SAP SuccessFactors can provision and implement the technology – and it’s getting really fast – getting people to use it is the only way to deliver value. The services team is helping to tackle this, but their best customers are finding success due in no small part to old fashioned, feet on the ground, user training and awareness. Every customer at the event spoke not only of the improved capability and HR efficiency, but also of the success of their marketing campaigns and launch parties in order to build adoption. The power of Hawaiian shirts and cake can never be denied. And I don’t say that to malign HR. These technical, business minded, HR professionals also understand the humans involved and how to help them overcome fear and uncertainty when change is afoot. And they will stop at nothing to make sure they get the full value of the solution.

Say Hello Again

With so much change, consolidation, and innovation in our space in just the past five years, it can be hard to keep up. And even the brands you thought you knew may be on to new things. What was clear from the immersion I received from both events, is that both Skillsoft/SumTotal and SAP SuccessFactors are being led through change with a clear vision for the future, and a focus on transparency along the path.