EPISODE 38 – TOPIC SUMMARY AND GUEST: ASHISH RANGNEKAR
We’re back for 2021, ready to take a fresh look at learning technology trends and strategies with some of the world’s foremost experts. And back today is my guest is Ashish Rangnekar, CEO and Co-Founder of BenchPrep, a platform vendor that is leading the way in training transformation.
Ashish first joined me last year, just as COVID-19 was digging-in. At that time, uncertainty surrounded the future of learning, work and the world-at-large. Those days seem far behind us now. So that’s why I asked Ashish back for a “sequel” of sorts.
Today, we look at the factors that are driving training transformation now, and how it is actually playing-out in learning organizations of all kinds. I think you’ll find this discussion as enlightening as I did!
Providers are no longer wondering IF they should go all-in with training transformation. Instead, they’re focused on HOW to achieve a full end-to-end digital learning experience, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The post-pandemic learning market is rapidly changing in others ways, as well. For instance, demand for certifications and skill-based training has exploded. These dynamics present extraordinary business opportunities for organizations committed to digital-first/digital-all strategies.
For those who aren’t familiar with BenchPrep, why don’t you start with a brief introduction?
Absolutely. We are a Chicago-based education technology company that empowers learning organizations to digitally transform their product offerings. In today’s world, learning is rapidly transitioning to digital. Training companies, associations and corporations, alike, need to deliver a highly immersive, engaging, digital learning experience. And we enable organizations to do just that.
How do you make that possible?
We have a platform that is way more than a learning management system. It delivers much more than a learning experience. It provides the functionality you need to integrate all the data, content and related systems that make it possible to operate a successful digital training business. We call it a learning operating system.
What kind of organizations do you serve, primarily?
Coincidentally, I see those sectors and their learning requirements converging more and more these days.
But in the early-COVID timeframe, you defined the learning market in terms of digital readiness. They were either back on their heels, or seizing the opportunity, or somewhere between. What’s changed?
Yeah. Andy Grove, the former CEO and Chairman of Intel had a change management philosophy he called 10x. It’s when a disruptive change is an order of magnitude bigger than anything an industry is otherwise experiencing. That’s when all bets are off. And that’s exactly what we saw last year with COVID. All bets were off.
So initially for three or four months, we saw different reactions. A lot of organizations were embracing digital, while some were still resisting.
But in the last few months, we are seeing a decided shift towards digital. In fact, as I look at 2021, the number one priority for every organization we’ve talked to is training transformation.
And when I say training transformation, I don’t mean, “Hey, let’s get an LMS.” Or, “Let’s digitize our content.” Every one of these organizations is taking a step back and planning to embrace end-to-end digital transformation.
So frame-out what “end to end” means? How is that manifested?
Historically, when organizations considered digital learning, it was one of many products. Or it was a channel. Or it was a part of the business. Now, it’s very clear that we have entered a digital-first era. That means learning is digital-all, digital-only.
In other words, all of these organizations are saying, “Sure, we’ll have instructors and content. And content still remains an important element. But all of this needs to be packaged in one integrated digital learning experience.”
So this includes digital content – which is not just lift-and-shift, but genuinely digital-first content. It also includes instructors and trainers, but in a digital delivery mode. And it must include a very new monetization channel, because everything is digital.
And that’s what we mean by an end-to-end shift. It’s not just digitizing the content or having a platform, but rethinking your business as a digital business.
So should training organizations start thinking of themselves as technology companies?
Actually, I recently spoke at a webinar about how the software revolution is eating professional learning.
I would say that these organizations are training companies at the core. That isn’t changing. But the nature of training and learning has changed dramatically. It’s all digital now. So they actually have to become a training company that embraces software and digital strategy like never before.
What does that look like?
Training companies truly understand what it takes to help the learner succeed. They understand the content that needs to be delivered, how it maps to competencies and how to write outcomes.
So software becomes a means to an end. In other words, they need to design their own technology stack. They don’t need to build anything. It’s all available now. But they need to understand the customer learner journey in the digital landscape, and put the right software and technology on it.
Two years ago, the learner journey was mostly offline. Most training sessions were happening as in-person classes, and digital was just another tool. That was it. So training companies were mapping to that customer journey.
But now it’s all digital. So they have to understand:
So it’s a whole new digital world order. They need to create a new customer journey, and then figure out how to put software on top of it to build a viable tech stack.
That sounds much more complex than two years ago. Do organizations have the internal ability to evaluate all these pieces and go fully digital?
The good news is that the right software tools exist. And over the last few years, those tools have become much easier to integrate. Now those tools all talk to one another. So we can definitely put it all together.
Do you see skill gaps that are creating obstacles or disconnects?
I see two skill gaps. One is around evaluation. How do training companies put together a customer journey and evaluate the right software? Talented Learning helps fill that gap, with all the work you’ve done to develop resources for technology buyers.
The second skill gap is that training companies are now realizing that they don’t need to build their own technology, but they need someone who can put all of these tools together.
So a role is emerging, which is almost like an application engineer. Organizations need someone who can put together an LMS, a CMS and e-commerce capabilities, along with a data stack. And someone needs to make sure that all of these pieces of the solution are talking to each other.
How is that second gap being resolved?
It’s a mix. As a technology partner, we realize that we need to provide that service. We can’t just say, “Here’s a platform – we’ll talk to you again in three years.” We help companies map their customer journey to various tools and capabilities, and make sure that their entire technology stack is working.
Because if all the elements of the solutions aren’t brought together, it doesn’t matter how great the content is or how great our platform is. If the customer journey is not seamless, it won’t yield the desired outcomes.
So with this shift to a digital learning ecosystem, what does it mean for budgets? How has the pandemic affected funding?
Over the last nine months, learning and development has remained a priority. So overall, training budgets haven’t changed much.
Naturally, there was a brief dip in Q2. But then it picked up. We saw some hesitation when there were still a lot of unknowns about how COVID would impact the future of work. And obviously, some industries have been affected more than others. But now it’s very clear that in-person training budgets have shifted to digital because safety is a priority and travel is not an option right now.
Interesting. So overall, the level of available funding is remaining fairly consistent, but the allocation within budgets is moving to all-digital. That’s great for innovation and ROI.
So, from your perspective, what’s hot in the digital professional development world right now…?
John Leh is CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.