Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The NOW Network

You all are awesome! I am still taking advice. Please leave a comment on this post or the previous one if you have any experience in this matter.

Any and all advice welcome and encouraged.

Ur friends and compatriots are going to help you get through this. The OMG moment? That's when you level up. :)
- RT@mrch0mp3rs aka Aaron Silvers

Aaron had quickly identified the freakout in my Twitter feed and encouraged me to move the conversation to the Black Swan Society.

The original post is below.

Hi folks. Need help.

One of our really important stakeholders is making it a deal-breaker that we somehow get a system that allows us to pull data from both the LMS and the ERP so that we can actually run some real business metrics to measure the effectiveness of our training. (Shocking, I know).

Our LMS does not do this natively. Neither does our ERP.

2 questions:
- If you have a robust database of this type, what are you using / what did you do?

- How did you overcome the objections of the IT department (of which I am a member)?

Thanks for any and all advice.


Aaron did a good job of talking me down from the ledge by reminding me to break the problem into parts.

- Find an example of a report they may want run. Get a feel for need-to-have vs. nice-to-have.
- Prototype
- Record the level of effort

At this stage - I was still looking for one tool to rule them all. A solution with my existing tools that wouldn't require fancy middleware.

I'm assuming your ERP system is either SAP or PeopleSoft, right?

Your LMS? Probably doesn't matter. If it's not SAP or some integrated Oracle solution, customization is unavoidable if you want to actually get this stuff to talk to each other - Aaron

Umm...not using SAP or an integrated Oracle solution.


At bowling, I asked the same question to my bowling team. The Captain is an IBM Global Services project manager who has done a significant amount of integration work. Miller is an all-around computer guru who has worked in the eLearning industry (WHERE he worked escapes me right now).

Miller: So what are you trying to do?

Me: I'm trying to pull information out of Banner (Sungard product with an Oracle back end) and SkillPort to create reports where I can actually measure whether our training works.

Miller: And your ERP won't let you do that?

Me: Have no idea. And since we are in the middle of an upgrade for that product, I have a feeling even broaching it will fall on deaf ears.

Miller: There are a number of products out there that allow you to create reports from various databases. You can go for simple and homegrown or really complicated middleware systems.

The Patent Officer: Or you could just program it in PERL!

(the team tells the Patent Officer to shut up and bowl)

The Captain: I know we use Cognos for most of our database reporting. Not sure why, but we do. I think it's because IBM owns it or something. It works OK.



- On Facebook, Bryan, the WoW Guru, is asking me what resources I have at my disposal.

- On Black Swan - John Schulz sent this advice:

I think the problem with such a direction becomes identifying the 'owner' of a particular piece of data - i.e. which system is the master, which are the slaves. This is definitely an issue IT fights around.

To alleviate some of these types of concerns, we were moving toward the data warehouse idea. In the warehouse, each system owns their particular pieces of data - they all just get centralized for mass reporting and analysis.

So in a simple example, the relevant data from Banner would be ported to a database server at specific times (nightly, weekly, real time) depending on the needs for particular data elements. The same is true for the data from the LMS. These data ports are usually a fairly simple arrangement from an IT perspective so no new expense required with the exception of having a DB server capable of meeting your query needs.

On top of that you implement some type of reporting solution - Business Objects, Cognos, Crystal Reports, home grown, whatever. Give people access to the data warehouse and watch them create their own reports. Most of these tools allow you to design a report and have the query executed at specific times. Copies of datasets or reports and usually be emailed or shared across the organization.

As Aaron mentioned the trick is really in understanding the type of analysis you intend to perform. This has huge implications on how you collect data, how long you store data, and how rapidly that data must be refreshed in the warehouse.
- John Schulz, Black Swan Society

- On yesterday's blog post, Michael Hanley sent these words of encouragement:

The reality is that this is the outcome of learning professionals letting LMS vendors away with their clunky, siloed solutions for the past decade or so. If they can't even implement specifications like SCORM correctly - and if I hear one more LMS sales droid assuring me that that their product is "SCORM Compliant" I'll probably do them a grievous injury - never mind having data connectors for HRMSs and ERP solutions.

I'd suggest going back to your LMS vendors to help you out (get them to do a gap analysis re: their system >> your needs).

Finally, if I may suggest, it sounds like your guru is trying to make their problem your problem, as as they're the one with the PHD, they should be suggesting approaches to solving your common challenges, and not dropping them in your lap.

The situation may not be fair. And I am probably trying to take way too much responsibility.

Still - we talk about this. A lot.

Time to put the talk into action.

My next step - talking to our DataMarts guru....


Tony Karrer said...

Great post.

What do you think you can get from the ERP that will show business impact?

Wendy said...

I hesitate to say too much, for fear of giving away the anonymity of my sources without at least talking to her first. (my real answer is on the Black Swan Society - which is more private).

The ERP collects quite a bit of financial information on our students and alumni, which is why we can potentially see at least some business impact as a result of training.

This, of course, depends on the question the group wants answered.

You are right (from your other comments) that my concentration ought to be on what the requirements are for each group and how they define success rather than on how to accomplish something this nebulous.

Sometimes, it's just more comfortable to work with things and find the limits of those things than it is to work with people and determine what they "really" need.