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The New Urgency of Learning

Feature Article | October 27, 2017 by Andrea Diederichs

Amid AI and machine learning, where do humans fit in the future of work? SAP participates in the latest studies on learning, and reveals new perspectives.

We’ve all heard the message many times before: lifelong learning is a key part of our work life. Gone are the days when a university degree or vocational training was enough to carry you through a forty-year career. Owing to developments such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, the topic of learning and upskilling has taken on a whole new sense of urgency. Employees are reflecting on their professional future, and where they’ll find their niche in the future world of work.

To answer this question, companies must start defining which competencies and strategies will be needed in the future to accommodate employees on this digital journey. The employees also want to know what will be expected of them, and what they’ll need to learn to safeguard their long-term professional perspectives. This coincides with a need for security and predictability in a workplace whose future development is currently uncertain.

The Sobering Reality: Digital Skills Gaps Unfilled

When it comes to honing digital skills within companies there is need for urgent action. This was confirmed in a study conducted by SAP and Technical University of Munich, which was published in July 2017. 90% of the people surveyed agreed that the digital transformation is important for their business strategy, yet 64% said that their company did not have staff required for the digital transformation. In a previous study from 2015, this number was only 53%.

The sobering reality: It’s simply taking too long to build up the necessary expertise.

The study concludes that the digital skills gaps still need to be filled, and a lack of digital know-how majorly impedes the digital transformation.

The digital skills gap has increased since the initial survey in 2015

Why the Slow Progress?

Among the challenges is the fact that digitalization is difficult to understand, and is developing at a fast pace. No one knows where we’ll be in five years. Let’s take blockchain: Five years ago, no one talked about blockchain, let alone attended a blockchain training course. Companies are struggling to decide where to begin, and many are lacking systematic solutions.

Another possible explanation is that when it comes to digital transformation, many companies are primarily focused on introducing new technologies and business models. It’s not always their first priority to provide employees with the necessary skills to realize them.

What’s more, time is of the essence, and acquiring new and partially complex skills does not happen overnight.

“If companies do not accelerate their efforts, they are missing out on important opportunities to make themselves and their business future-proof,” explains Bernd Welz, executive vice president and chief knowledge officer at SAP.

According to the study conducted by the Technical University of Munich, the 14 skills listed above are vital for a successful digital transformation. 88% said that digital security was the top priority.

What Can Companies Do? Presenting the New Maturity Model

The Munich study also revealed that only 16% of the companies surveyed have a concrete strategy to develop the digital skills of their workforce, or hire new employees with a relevant skill profile.

To support companies overcome this, SAP and the European Research Center for Information Systems (ERCIS) conducted a joint study, and presented their results at the end of September in the form of a new maturity model. This model helps businesses analyze their current situation, and enables them to put together a strategy to develop digital skills.

116 business and IT decision makers participated in the study. Comprehensive interviews were also conducted with representatives from twenty-four global companies.

“The maturity model and the best practices identified offer a glimpse into how companies can approach skill development and knowledge transfer in relation to the digital transformation,” explains Stephan Sieck, Strategy and Transformation, SAP Knowledge in Products & Innovation. “Professional development doesn’t happen overnight; it must be applied in a systematic and continuous matter to enable employees to hone new skills.”

The Separation of Work and Learning Is Artificial

One of the study’s key recommendations is for companies to continue diversifying the training offers, as all employees have different requirements and preferences. Companies are advised to present the content in a selection of different formats, such as a mix of e-learning courses and classroom trainings, or mobile and informal training courses.

“The separation of work and learning is artificial,” explains Thomas Jenewein, business development manager for SAP Education, who sells SAP training products to customers. “Nowadays, training has to be demand-oriented and context-sensitive. In other words, we have to break the content down into manageable chunks, allowing people to use them as and when they need them.”

openSAP: SAP Employee Experience

The cultural objective of many companies, Jenewein explains, is the self-organized skill development of its employees. One SAP offer that supports this approach is openSAP, a platform that provides massive open online courses for customers.

Jocelyn Dart, UX architect in the SAP S/4HANA Regional Implementation Group for Asia-Pacific Japan, regularly takes openSAP training courses as a supplement to the internal SAP training courses. She particularly appreciates the flexibility of openSAP: “I sometimes end up doing two or three courses at the same time if necessary. Then I might take a break for a month or two. If I don’t have time to work through a really interesting course, I might just dip into a few of the most interesting units.”

For Dart, it’s also a benefit that she can call up the courses on various devices, including her laptop, tablet, smartphone, or iPad via the openSAP app.

What’s more, as a consultant she receives up-to-date information about the SAP strategy and products: “I particularly pay attention to how we, as SAP, are positioning our software, solutions, methodologies and ideas with customers. Knowing I can articulate our strategy and default recommendations correctly not only helps me set the right expectations when presenting at conferences and SAP User Group events, it also helps me have a more nuanced conversation with my customers around what they can use to achieve their goals.”

Digitalization Will Not Stop

Of course, SAP has many good reasons for its involvement in the studies, and supporting its customers with targeted training offers. As Thomas Jenewein explains: “SAP has never brought so many innovations to the market within such a short timeframe. We hope that customers will buy these innovations, but we have to help them adopt and use our products in the form of learning offers. The greatest innovations won’t add any value if customers don’t understand them.”

The truth is: digitalization will not stop. It’s disrupting the economy and society, and we’re all constantly challenged to keep pace. Companies like SAP and their customers will continue to come up with business models, develop new products, and increase automation. Life-long and targeted learning is an integral part of this journey.

Learning offerings from SAP support development of skills essential for digital transformation:

  • openSAP is SAP’s innovative learning platform and a thought leader for enterprise massive open online courses (MOOCs).
  • SAP Learning Hub offers easy access to the latest SAP education content and a whole community of learners.
  • SAP Enable Now supports the entire extended workforce by providing fast and efficient production of many different kinds of enablement materials. Learning Journeys are visual guides of the path to become fully competent with an SAP innovation.
  • SAP Training & Certification Shop helps validate expertise and experience using SAP solutions.
  • SAP Education Consulting Services:

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