SumTotal Blog

David Wilson (4 Posts)

David Wilson

David Wilson is founder and CEO of Fosway Group, Europe's #1 HR Analyst. A major commentator on the HCM, talent and learning technology industry, David is the author of over 150 papers/articles on strategy and innovation and a strategic advisor to many major organisations in the UK and Europe.

One Ring to Rule Them All? The HR, Talent and Learning Ecosystem Debate

One Ring to Rule Them All? The HR, Talent and Learning Ecosystem Debate

As the range and diversity of HR, talent and learning solutions continues to grow, creating the right digital ecosystem is becoming increasingly mission critical to organisations today. Full suites that offer modules for each different discipline of learning, performance, talent management, workforce management, retain their appeal, but specialist solutions with deep expertise in particular areas continue to rise in popularity. This expanding range of options makes system choices more complex and riskier, but more exciting than ever before. David Wilson, CEO of Fosway Group, Europe’s number one HR industry analyst, joins us to explore the pros and cons of these different approaches and helps us understand just what kind of impact your HR technology choices need to make in order to transform your people and your organisation’s performance.

Understanding your people priorities

Ask almost any CEO what their most critical people related challenges are and you will get a few standard responses – increasing performance, recruiting enough good people with the right skills, being more agile as a business, increasing the productivity of their staff, and so on. CEOs are focused on outcomes and therefore acutely aware of how their employees impact those outcomes at a macro level.

HR leaders get this too. In Fosway’s HR Realities research, the top three business challenges identified by HR leaders as major challenges are: increasing organisation performance and profitability (58%), increasing business agility (50%) and increasing customer satisfaction and service quality (47%). All of which is reassuring but is frequently not reflected in the priorities of the HR function as a whole – especially when it comes to systems and technology buying decisions.

The lure of HR suites vs the impact of specialists

The world of HR systems has changed a lot within the last five years. Often locked into legacy enterprise HR systems with glacially slow innovation, companies realised that they needed to transform their systems as well as their people. They also realised that putting those systems into the Cloud accelerated their improvement as well as reduced the overheads (IT and HR) of managing those solutions. This change was actually driven by the sub-functions rather than core HR; learning and development, performance, recruiting all moved to new Cloud solutions five to ten years ago. Then core HR followed, with many companies now moving or intending to move to new Cloud HR solutions.

Going back to our CEO priorities, one thing you can guarantee you won’t get as a priority from them is “having one system of record for HR” or even “moving HR to the Cloud”. These are enablers not outcomes. If the biggest CEO challenges are about recruiting staff, reskilling the organisation, increasing performance, or improving staff productivity, then, in theory, the highest priorities for HR systems investment should reflect this. And our research shows these priorities are focused on key HR specialisms in the chart below, including analytics (60%), learning and development (59%), recruiting / talent acquisition (56%) and onboarding (52%).

So why have HR leaders become so fixated on full suites of HR processes and solutions rather than ‘best of breed’ or specialist systems that are dedicated to these individual areas? Is it the influence of the CIO / IT function driving a preference for HR suites? In reality, both have become very oriented towards a single suite solution at the expense of their more specific people challenges. But why?

Are we learning from history, or repeating it?

I hate to say it, but this has happened before. Twenty years ago, when the original HR and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) suites appeared, companies soon realised that far from helping them to fix specific talent and learning priorities, the suites were actually preventing their progress! Hence the origins of the specialist best of breed solutions for learning and development, performance and recruiting etc in the first place. They sprung up to address the challenges that the suites couldn’t fix.

Today, just because HR suites are now in the Cloud, doesn’t mean this dynamic has changed. Given historic experience, it should be up to the suite vendors to prove they can do a better job of, for example, supporting learning and development, than a specialist vendor. But unfortunately, the bigger clout of HR buyers (and IT) means that history is repeating itself. It seems in the current market that it is instead up to the specialist talent and learning vendors to prove they can do a better job, otherwise, their best of breed systems will get replaced by HR suites too.

Is proving their worth a difficult job? Not necessarily, but it does require specialist vendors to up their game. By focusing on a particular HR specialism such as recruitment, for example, they will naturally have deeper domain knowledge and experience. They also have a much more targeted focus for their R&D efforts. Functional innovation is nearly always driven by specialist companies, as the R&D investment of suite players has to be more distributed across their broader product portfolio.

As well as faster innovation, specialist solutions can also be more targeted in their deployment and configuration, designed to address specific nuances and needs which broader suite vendors struggle to understand or be nimble enough to solve. Time to impact is a critical factor here. If fixing recruitment or business agility and reskilling is the priority, how can it be acceptable to wait two-three years to fix them in order to deploy a new core HR system first? If that’s happening in your organisation, why and how are you justifying it?

What is Fosway’s View?

Our analysts see this story play out again and again. Companies say one thing and do another. They say their people priorities are specific, but then take decisions to implement generic suite solutions that actually make it harder to impact those priorities and delay the time to impact. By all means, change your enabling systems too, but surely not at the cost of impacting business-critical problems as soon as you can!

In reality, all HR, talent and learning technology is ultimately about an ecosystem of solutions not a single platform. That is true for HR as a whole, as well as being true within individual functions, such as learning or recruiting. Companies need to be more discerning about their ecosystem, as well as being more demanding of the solutions they deploy – especially for business-critical issues. This means understanding their critical people challenges and prioritising them properly. As an HR, talent or learning leader, go back to those business-critical priorities and make sure your HR technology strategy is actually helping to solve them as a priority.

If that’s what we say to customers, what’s Fosway’s message to vendors? This is simple – prove you do a better job! To the specialist vendors, we say prove you can deliver more value faster, and do that repeatedly. To the HR suites, we say the same. A business case purely calibrated on reducing multiple solutions to a single solution or a single system of record is fool’s gold. Real value and impact come from fixing critical people priorities, not from ignoring them.

To further explore this area, we are launching a joint research project in partnership with SumTotal next month and would value your input. Stay tuned for more details.

About Fosway

Fosway Group is Europe’s #1 HR Industry Analyst focused on Next Gen HR, Talent and Learning. Founded in 1996, we are known for our unique European research, our independence and our integrity. And just like the Roman road we draw our name from, you’ll find that we’re unusually direct. We don’t have a vested interest in your supplier or consulting choices. So, whether you’re looking for independent research, specific advice or a critical friend to cut through the market hype, we can tell you what you need to know to succeed.

Talk to us today on +44 (0) 207 917 1870 or via, or visit us at

Unlocking the People Potential in your Organisation

Ahead of his webinar with us later this month, David Wilson, CEO of Fosway Group, Europe’s #1 HR industry analyst, joins us to share his thoughts on the importance of talent and people development today.

The editor for Wired Magazine David Rowan, is often quoted as saying that: “The world will never move this slowly ever again.”

This captures the experience of many of us at both an individual and an organisational level. A sense of technology and work moving faster and faster; being impacted by advances in technology, how we work and who we work with as well, whilst changes in demographics mean we now have a much more diverse workforce.

From our research, here is just a snapshot of the serious change impacting organisations like yours.

The dynamics around organisations are changing:

  • Employees with the right skills are in intense demand – 54%
  • Employees’ wellbeing is critical to becoming an employer of choice – 46%
  • Employees work where skills are in demand rather than because of company loyalty – 42%
  • Employees’ performance management is based on a continuous review process – 42%
  • Employees are sourced globally – 39%
  • Employees work in flatter organisational structure – 33%

The nature of work is changing:

  • Employees use technology for more and more virtual working – 68%
  • Collaboration and social media tools are key to working – 55%
  • Employees use self-service to do their work and maintain their data – 50%
  • Employees experience more virtual and augmented technologies at work – 46%
  • Employees work primarily using mobile devices – 44%
  • Employees are connected to work 24/7 – 41%

Nearly half of our research respondents confirmed that an aging workforce is a growing trend in their organisation and 45% highlighted that their teams are becoming increasingly diverse.

When this is combined with the increasing speed and impact of technology, organisational success and agility becomes not just about harnessing the energies of newer entrants to work, but also about maximising those with more mature careers.

Expectations about what keeps and attracts employees is becoming more obvious

When we asked HR professionals to rate the importance of what might make them an employer of choice it’s the personal growth of employees that looms largest:

  • Personal and professional development – 69%
  • Career progression – 64%
  • Utilises latest technologies – 63%
  • Flexible working – 62%
  • Progressive & dynamic organisational culture – 58%
  • Strong vision, values and purpose of organisation – 57%

But when asked if their systems area a good fit for the modern workforce, the resounding answer is NO!

Nearly 70% of organisations from our latest research in association with SumTotal, the findings of which we will release in the coming weeks, say their systems are not fit for the modern workforce. And when we look more closely at talent management, only 9% believe their solutions fully meet expectations.

Without wishing to understate this, there appears to be a crisis in talent management today. 91% of organisations are not able to deliver the sort of experience that enables them to attract and retain the best people in the modern economy.

Do you think your HR systems are ready for the modern workforce? How well do your talent management systems meet the expectations of today's modern workforce?



And with 47% of organisations declaring they either have no systems in place or just use Excel spreadsheets, the scale of the under-investment in people becomes abundantly clear.

But the opportunities are immense.

What consistently stands out from this, and Fosway’s ongoing research, is the importance placed on individual growth and learning. Whether it is in the priorities for improvement in the organisation’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP) or the biggest differentiator of an organisation’s EVP to their existing and prospective talent – learning consistently tops the bill.

What part of your talent and people development approach do your employees value the most?

As you can see here, the word cloud built from the free text responses to the survey question ‘What part of your talent and people development approach do your employees value the most’ tells the story perfectly.

And against a consistent message from business leaders themselves – there is no reason not to act. The writing is on the wall with a skills crisis looming.

There are simply not enough people with the right skills available. So, what is clear is that you need to grow and develop those people yourself if your organisation is to keep pace with the speed of modern business.

And the great part is that investing in that proposition actually creates a virtuous circle in your organisation, because the opportunity to learn and develop is the #1 reason people want to join your organisation – or leave it if those opportunities are not available.

The war for talent is wide open to those who invest in their people relationship strategies

But in a world where successful organisations need to attract, stimulate and keep employees who love to learn. What a great coincidence that that is the reason why the best talent wants to join your organisation.

Talent is attracted to those who develop and grow the careers of its people.

Which means there has never been a better time to invest in your people development story. Not only will it help you bridge the skills gaps, and help you retain your talent, it will also help you attract the best too… And with the bar sadly set so low, as our research shows, it’s easier than you might have thought to a leader in talent today – and unlock the people potential of your organisation for tomorrow.

I’ll be hosting a webinar in association with SumTotal Systems which explores ‘Unlocking the People Potential in your Organisation’. Register today.


You can follow David via @dwil23 and Fosway on @fosway for more insight and analysis on HR, talent and learning.


Attracting, Developing, and Retaining Talent in the Modern Workforce – Are You Ready?


Changes in the world of work, evolving employee expectations, and advances in technology are creating a perfect storm that is transforming today’s workplace. Pitched against a backdrop of growing skills gaps, the pressure on organisations to rethink their talent approach – and systems – is intense.

The Fosway Group, in partnership with Skillsoft and SumTotal, recently undertook a research project designed with the single aim of shining a spotlight on the realities of the modern workforce. What we found is both compelling and illuminating. If you feel your HR, talent, and learning efforts are behind the curve when it comes to dealing with these challenges, then you’re not alone. Our research shows that only 44% of professionals feel their talent management strategy is “ready.”

After 20 years of analysing HR, talent, and learning data, it’s been fascinating to take a deeper look at the macro environment and the key factors affecting organisations today; most of which are completely outside our control. But if they aren’t acknowledged and adapted to, will leave organisations without the people and the skills needed to take them forward.

Some key findings from the research include:

  • In only 16% of cases is organisational culture not a barrier to when looking to improve talent management processes.
  • 86% find managers’ skills and attitudes an issue when meeting the expectations of the modern workforce.
  • In the most vulnerable areas of digital, soft skills, leadership, and management skills, less than 15% of respondents think they have all the skills they need to succeed today, never mind tomorrow.
  • Around 67% of our survey respondents say that workers now need to learn – and get up to speed – more quickly.
  • 44% report that employees are working more often using a mobile device as their primary tool.

There are so many buzz words swirling around our industry at the moment – gig economy, Millennials, skills shortages, war for talent…the list goes on and on. Behind the hype are some stark realities for HR, talent and learning professionals. We need to respond positively to really engage with the workers of today – and tomorrow.

To get your hands on this invaluable report, download your copy here.

How to transform talent in today’s modern workforce


Ahead of his keynote session at EMEA Perspectives, David Wilson, CEO of Fosway Group, Europe’s #1 HR analyst, talks to us about transforming talent in the modern workforce.

There is so much happening in the macro environment that affects what HR and learning professionals are doing within their organisations. And they are all pretty much out of our control.  Technology, politics, and changing generations are just three factors that are having fundamental impacts on the workforce of today – and tomorrow.

And all of these factors represent major challenges for the acquisition, development, and retention of talent. People look for jobs in different ways today. They take roles based on evolving benefits – salary isn’t the only driver in today’s world of employer rankings and reviews for example. And it is no longer all about simple career progression either. Other aspects of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and flexibility are becoming almost as important. One blue chip company I spoke to recently had graduates who have been in the job for just two years requested sabbaticals…I have been working for 30 years and still have yet to take a sabbatical!

But having said that, generational stereotypes can be more harmful than helpful. Sometimes, I feel like the world’s oldest millennial, based on the clichés that are often thrown around about Gen Y in the workplace. Lazily grouping your people together based on their age isn’t going to help tackle these broader challenges. A more strategic view is needed to understand what will motivate and engage your people once they join your organisation. And from a stakeholder perspective, HR and L&D need to balance today’s requirements against future skills gaps and evolving organisational capabilities. No easy task!

In my keynote session at this year’s EMEA Perspectives, I will exclusively reveal insights from new research that Fosway Group has conducted in partnership with Skillsoft and SumTotal. With over 400 participants from across EMEA, the data is telling some interesting stories, and I am looking forward to sharing some thoughts on how to transform talent in today’s modern workforce.