SAP buys Datango, and the Race to (Finally) Give End User Training its Due Begins

SAP is doing something significant in the acquisition of Datango, the question is whether the market will 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 is because most training content doesn’t match implementation reality, training only happens at the initial time of implementation, and training is usually dumped into user’s heads during mind-numbing day-long classes, which means that it is 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.

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-training 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 revenues – 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 providing this desperately needed transformation of training as a dumping ground for talent and aspirations into training as 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 make the investment in technology and people in order to elevate training’s strategy 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.

4 thoughts on “SAP buys Datango, and the Race to (Finally) Give End User Training its Due Begins

  1. Pingback: SAP acquires workforce performance software from datango AG - SAP Watch

  2. Josh, fine post and I will be curious to follow this promising acquisition. The sad secret is that SAP itself has been as negligent about end user competency as has been their clients, so any attention, especially in the form of an actual acquisition, is welcome. What I would advise SAP to do next is to “MAKE THE CLIENT CARE”, something they have no succeeded at in their history.

  3. Pingback: The End User Training Arms Race | HarrisData Blog

  4. Josh, I absolutely agree with most of what you say – I sell and manage end user training on a variety of ERP systems and most of my effort goes not in to creating a valuable training programme but in educating the consumers in the fact that there is any value at all in training.

    Sadly, this attitude is to be found in many of the major software implementation houses and many of the direct vendors too. As you say, training is an essential part of ensuring that customers achieve their ROI but it seems to be overlooked at the sales stage because:
    a) the provider is trying to keep the cost of the bid down, and does not have the confidence and knowledge to sell training as the valuable product it is
    b) most software vendors make a big thing of how intuitive and easy to use their software is, which immediately torpedoes the training proposition.

    It’s not true to say that training is always a failure though – we’ve been working for several years in this area and have hundreds of happy customers to show for it. It’s a rare but undeniable pleasure to work with clients who really understand the value of what we do, and who are prepared to make an investment in their people, and as you say it’s down to the industry as a whole to get this up the agenda.

    One final word on Datango – having looked at it ourselves, customers have to be aware that it is only a tool, and it requires good instructional design skills in order to create a training programme from it that will have a lasting impact. Microsoft Access is a great product, but just buying it doesn’t mean you have a database that your company can use, and elearning software is exactly the same.

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