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Learning management software draws praise, questions

Users and analysts at conference said Workday Learning holds promise, but they need more details.

Users said they are excited about Workday's planned learning management system, while analysts said it is too early...

to determine how the product will fare amid strong competition.

After watching presentations on the learning management software, analysts and users credited Workday for building machine learning into the software, giving employees wide controls over their training including learning in a unified system of talent management and core HR.

During Workday Rising in Las Vegas, company executives provided details on the learning management software, which will compete with applications from vendors such as Oracle, SAP and Cornerstone OnDemand. Workday plans to make the software available for sale in the second half of 2016 for Workday HCM users.

Stephen Fussell, executive vice president of HR at Abbott Laboratories, which went live with Workday HCM in January, said he is encouraged by Workday Learning, but not yet convinced. He said he was excited about the machine learning aspects of the software.

Like many organizations, Abbott, which has about 75,000 employees, uses dozens of learning management systems including some for sales, leadership training and customer service, he said.

"I have yet to find one that is good enough to address all the foundational elements in that space," he said. "If anybody can crack it, I think [Workday] can, so I am intrigued."

Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research Inc., said Workday is striking the right chords in learning by allowing employees to discover, create, record and move content to the right places, but other vendors such as Cornerstone OnDemand, Oracle and SAP are also innovating in the product category.

"Maybe it is coming a little late," Mueller said at Workday Rising. "But that does not mean it is too late. We will see how it evolves."

Oracle may have an advantage in one aspect, he said. "Where I see a difference is that Oracle has significantly more investment in the social area -- social listening and social relationship management -- compared to both Workday and SAP," Mueller said. "That is a stronger leg up in general for the Oracle offering."

Oracle took the wraps off its learning cloud in March.

SAP's SuccessFactors is good for learning, but its platform is a little older, stemming from the acquisition of Plateau in 2011, he said.

Both SAP and Cornerstone OnDemand offer predictive analytics that help to serve up learning content for employees, and Workday's offering may have some newer "DNA," but it's hard to determine until it is available and in use, Mueller said.

Company executives detail learning

At Workday Rising, Aneel Bhusri, co-founder and CEO of Workday, said the company is developing learning management software after first building software for performance management and recruiting. "We did not want to build a me-too learning product," Bhusri said during his keynote. "We wanted to start with a clean sheet of paper."

In an interview, Leighanne Levensaler, senior vice president of products at Workday, said the learning management software will allow employees to create and share content via video, PDF and PowerPoint over mobile devices and laptops. The software will use machine learning to recommend personalized content for employees, she said.

At Workday Rising, Levensaler also introduced Workday's software for pulse surveys of employees and a product called "opportunity graph," which will allow employees to explore job postings and possible transfers and promotions in an organization.

Those two offerings, available next year, will not require purchasing Workday Learning, but will complement it, a spokeswoman said.

Amy Wilson, vice president of HCM products at Workday, portrayed the learning management software as key to career planning and development.

Shortly after orientation, a hotel front desk clerk, for example, can jump into the learning software and prepare for a certification class, Wilson said during a presentation. The employee would see a personalized learning campaign, including details of a certification class, others attending the class and a video. They could also see "tips and tricks," or content created by coworkers who passed certification, and could share the content.

A "pulse check" might later ask the employee about the first day on the job, she said.

Paul Hamerman, a vice president and a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said he likes that Workday Learning will be linked to planned employee engagement software and that learning will be mobile. He said Workday is combining employee engagement with talent management.

Hamerman said analysts did not see much of the learning management software and it is too early to say if Workday is behind Oracle.

Workday is "trying to reinvent learning," so that it is driven by what an employee needs to know and how the employee can fulfill goals and contribute to the organization, Hamerman said at Workday Rising.

Naomi Bloom, managing partner at Bloom & Wallace who attended the presentation in Las Vegas, said Workday Learning is a big deal on several fronts.

 In an email, Bloom said video and user content "are two important trends in workforce development and they are foundational to this new product."

She said an advantage of including core HR and talent management in one unified Workday system is that the analytics can be applied across all the foundational data and power the machine learning recommendations.

Users get look at learning

Michael Brown, senior manager of HR technology and programs for MasterBrand Cabinets in Jasper, Indiana, said he is excited about Workday Learning. The company, which has 14,000 employees, is considering purchasing Workday HCM, he said.

Brown said he liked the product's emphasis on allowing employees to create, receive and share learning recommendations.

"If we can utilize Workday's learning management to help drive content to our employees, it would be amazing. We currently don't have a way to link learning to our career development plans or our competencies."

Sebastian Lacy, Global HCM advisor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which went live with Workday HCM in January, said the university is eyeing the learning management software.

"We're trying to not only enhance our staff performance, but we want them to be able to better themselves as well," he said.

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