By Glynn Jung, Non-Executive Director
The big-scale version of training outsourcing – LBPO (Learning Business Process Outsourcing) – continues to grow as a financially attractive option for employers with large and distributed workforces. Chats with some employers suggest there may be a gap for new mid-range LBPO suppliers who not only manage the contracts and services from a number of suppliers to an organisation, but also offer platforms, systems and rapid content development services.Well, acquisition and consolidation in the e-Learning market have been hotting up through 2011, (as in fact has happened during previous recessions), as investors look to exploit opportunities in new tools, technologies and sectors for workforce skilling, as major suppliers look to extend market reach and as niche suppliers find development funds being switched off.
In terms of mergers, strategic investments & consolidations in 2011 we witnessed upheaval in all sectors and territories.
These included Lumesse acquiring Edvantage, SkillSoft acquiring Element K from former owners NIIT and BB acquiring both Elluminate & Wimba.
Taleo acquired learn.com and SuccessFactors acquired Plateau Systems, subsequently themselves being taken over in December by SAP.
Kaplan never seem far from their next purchase and LBPOs such as GP (formerly GenPhysics), KnowledgePool and Demos are no slouches in the consolidations markets; GP in fact acquired R.W.D. Technology’s consulting business earlier in 2011.
EPM and BPM giant OpenText picked up Operitel for its e-Learning management expertise that will be bolted into OpenText products in the future. Operitel’s LearnFlex includes social and mobile learning management fully integrated into SharePoint.
Trivantis also announced the official acquisition of its partner, Flypaper Studio. The deal couples Lectora authoring software with Flypaper, a full-featured Flash interactions builder and digital signage platform.
Investment Group acquisitions included UfI Ltd. and learndirect by LDC, GlobalKnowledge by MidOcean and with BB itself being acquired by Providence Equity.
Earlier hopes of SkillSoft’s intentions in terms of protecting and integrating the best of E-K’s products into their own portfolio now seem to have been a tad optimistic … anecdotally what I’m hearing is that all E-K products, including the third-party products, will be taken off the market as soon as practical and that SkillSoft are energetically pursuing a campaign of converting E-K clients to the SkillSoft services.
As the number of large generic catalogue suppliers continues to diminish I’ve increasingly received questions from my clients about their future supplier strategies and seeking my thoughts on how I see the market shaping up.
My first observation is that new portal suppliers will enter the mid-size catalogue sector, offering a limited number of value-for-money suppliers’ products.
I further suggest that clients will either return to contracting directly with preferred niche suppliers such as Happy, CrossKnowledge, ILX, Flow or Cegos, (those are just top-of-my-head examples), or will sign up with a new breed of smaller scale LBO partners. Certainly the issue of same look and feel for all materials seems to be largely irrelevant these days and increasingly people are weighing the pain of managing multiple suppliers against the value of getting exactly what they want. I’d like to hope that this will ultimately deliver smaller content libraries targeting real needs in an organisation rather than “just-in-case”.
Finally I suggest that there’s always room for new suppliers, both in existing generic sectors and to exploit the convergence of Higher Education,CommercialColleges,BusinessSchools, Business and Industry. Some of the most exciting innovations in blended learning are taking place in the public and education sectors where we see new commercial spin-offs or partnerships delivering much needed revenues.
In this I anticipate the emergence of generic content reflecting particular industry sectors or jobs, with scenarios, vocabularies and graphics relevant to these sectors and roles. Many of us had anticipated that this could be a spin-off from National Skills Academies but that didn’t really happen.