Look out, here comes Microsoft!

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Towards the end of 2020 our Head of Learning Design asked me to do a short presentation to her design team about where I thought the main disruptions to the Learning & Development technology market would come from in the year ahead. Usually we would look at startups, niche suppliers or parallel industries to identify potential disruptors. But if 2020 taught us anything, it was to think differently and look elsewhere for what could turn markets upside down! 

So as my number one potential disruptor to the L&D space I led with… Microsoft. After years in the boring old enterprise software world, not many people would necessarily think Microsoft as a forward thinking, innovative company that could disrupt the world of work in the 2020s. After all, they’re the dinosaur of workplace software and should be on the receiving end of any disruption, right? Wrong. They’ve been there before, got the t-shirt, learned the lessons the hard way. For example, the company once dominated the market for server software and web browsers before open source disruptors took it all away. I started up an open source business myself around this time and like many others, saw Microsoft as the enemy. But the company has changed, they’ve learned some harsh lessons and even embraced open source. Without a doubt Microsoft are on the march again, this time with the Microsoft 365 product suite leading the charge, and you can’t really be anything but impressed by the turnaround. Heading into the 2020s they are perfectly poised to disrupt the entire L&D market if they really decide to put their hearts into it.

The turnaround in their business can be credited to their latest CEO Satya Nadella. Microsoft now views disruption as something no longer to be done to them, but something they can lead if they think differently. They now view that disruption must be problem-driven and that their teams must empathise with users. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in Microsoft’s pandemic response, during which aggressive marketing activity and accelerated innovation on their Teams product saw it become the fastest growing product in the company’s history. While the world was watching the pandemic poster child Zoom, Microsoft Teams was quietly taking over the business world in the background.

Everyone in L&D now seems to be asking how Teams can be used to support learning and development. At work we recently completed our first major ‘learning in the flow of work’ customer project, using Teams to deliver a blended learning programme alongside Stream, SharePoint, Planner and Power Apps from the wider M365 suite. Even my kids are using Teams at school now, having live lessons on it and turning in homework through it. At the start of 2020 – pre pandemic – this situation would have been unthinkable.

Roll forward 12 months, and we now have a major new announcement about the launch of Microsoft Viva, an Employee Experience Platform built on – you guessed it – Microsoft 365.

“We have participated in the largest at-scale remote work experiment the world has seen, and it has had a dramatic impact on the employee experience,” said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. “Every organization will require a unified employee experience from onboarding and collaboration to continuous learning and growth. Viva brings together everything an employee needs to be successful, from day one, in a single, integrated experience directly in Teams.”

So Microsoft have clearly got the bit between their teeth, putting their vast resources into re-imagining the L&D world. Last year we were wondering if they’d really get behind this opportunity, is this really a space they’d be interested in? But their announcement this week confirms that they are. Obviously this is big news for the incumbent vendors in the L&D tech world. The LMS space has been ripe for disruption for decades and while LXPs may have solved many of the problems in the LMS world, they haven’t really offered anything radically new and major disruption remains a very real threat in the sector. So with Microsoft actively muscling in on the field, it’s quite possible that the LMS/LXP may be sidelined in the enterprise. As workplace learning moves into M365 and fully into the ‘flow of work’, the only thing eventually left in the LMS will likely be the annual compliance training. And if Microsoft decide to do the unthinkable and add native SCORM support into SharePoint, it could – after many years of failed predictions about exactly this outcome – finally be game over for the LMS.

Thankyou for reading this far! If you would like to comment on this post, please head over to my post on Linked In so that all discussion is in one place, thankyou 🙂

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