SAP is doing something significant with its Datango acquisition, the question is will the market react accordingly. The move is significant in that Datango offers a new paradigm for enterprise software training, but that significance is tempered by the sorry state of training content and the unfortunately legitimate attitude of many a CIO that spending big on training is wasted.
The attitude is legit largely because of how poorly the market has approached the development and delivery of enterprise software training. Basically, enterprise training is broken, and most companies ignore it entirely or pay lip service to training their end users.
This situation has come about is because most training content doesn't match the implementation reality: Training only happens at the time of implementation, and it's usually dumped into user's heads during mind-numbing day-long classes, which means that it's forgotten the moment the class is over. Not to mention the fact that few companies refresh their end-user training during the enterprise software lifecycle, nor do they bother to train new hires.
[ Where does SAP stand in the market? Read SAP Leads, Oracle Lags In Enterprise Apps. ]
The problem with this picture is that good training could make a huge difference in many areas: Process mastery and overall software ROI is only the start. End users who are well trained tend to like their jobs more. Customers who interact with well-trained employees tend to like their vendors better. And companies in regulated industries that train their employees well tend to stay out of regulatory purgatory more. There's no end to the potential ROI of good training.
Despite the theoretical value that good training provides, training in the enterprise software world has been a colossal failure. It should come as no surprise that training budgets--as well-evidenced in SAP Education's declining revenue--have been falling over the years as the awfulness of most training content has met the real problem of cost-justifying this awfulness. (For a look at what happens to SAP customers who skimp on training, Michael Doane's work on SAP end-user maturity is essential.)
Datango's ability to do advanced simulation provides an excellent platform for transforming training from being a dumping ground for talent and aspirations into being a strategically necessary arrow in any enterprise software user's quiver. I spent some time looking at Datango several years ago as part of a major review of enterprise software engagement models, and it was clear that Datango could add a lot to the development and delivery of next-generation training.
The main problem for SAP and Datango will be in convincing CIOs and business process owners to invest in technology and people in order to elevate training's strategic value. Oracle bought UPK in 2008 with the similar goal of driving advances in training into its customer base, and thereby building a solid training revenue base. Those goals have largely been dashed in the ensuing three years, not because UPK isn't a good product--it most fundamentally is, and enjoys a significant penetration in the SAP customer base as well as the Oracle customer base. The problem is that the value of training has never been elevated to meet the technological advances that UPK and now Datango can offer. The result has been missed opportunities for both vendor and customer.
So, good for SAP that it now has Datango under its belt (and, by the way, when they get around to adding Right Hemisphere's visualization technology to enterprise training, SAP will have an truly impressive-looking training platform). The trick will be to convince a weary and jaded enterprise training market that it's time to take another look at this neglected corner of the budget and prioritize training and process mastery once again.
My guess is the investment in changing the industry's collective mind about the value of training will make whatever SAP paid for Datango look small in comparison.
Josh Greenbaum is principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, a Berkeley, Calif., firm that consults with end-user companies and enterprise software vendors large and small. Clients have included Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and other firms that are sometimes analyzed in his columns. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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