SumTotal Blog

Return to Blog Index →

Liam Butler (23 Posts)

Liam Butler

Liam Butler is AVP of SumTotal EMEA and has over 15 years’ experience in the Learning and Talent Management sector. His experience encompasses working with SMEs through to leading FTSE 100 organizations. His specialist domain expertise includes Extended Enterprise, Aviation, Manufacturing and other highly regulated businesses including 21 CFR Part 11 and EU GMP.

April 28, 2017

National Living Wage


This month the National Living Wage increased and will continue to do so until 2020 when it is projected to rise to at least £9 per hour, as detailed in the initial 2016 agreement.

This will result in a significant number of implications but the primary impact will be on hourly workers. Industries such as healthcare, residential care homes, and in particular manufacturing, will experience short- and long-term consequences from the annual incremental increase. In the short term, operating costs will rise adding to an organisations bottom line, while going forward the exponential cost of overtime and the potential of increased risks will serve to only further escalate operating costs.

Regardless of how you feel about it, the harsh reality is that organisations are struggling to manage the administrative burden of their large workforces in the light of persistent upheaval.

The substantial HR challenges the National Living Wage regulations present should not be underestimated. At SumTotal, through years of experience, we know that a Workforce Management (WFM) solution can and will provide your organisation with essential assistance.


WFM software provides your organisation with the data and insights which in turn empower you to better manage your workforce.

Here are just some of the ways WFM helps:

  • Tracking time – letting you know if employees are punctual in completing their schedule, thereby ensuring you are not paying employees for time not worked.
  • Prevents “Buddy Punching” – our time clocks work on a personal identification system putting an end to friends/colleagues punching in for an absent employee.
  • Scheduling – the reporting system will provide the data to ensure you always have the optimum number of employees allocated, thereby reducing overtime costs. Additionally, “shift trading” means employees can now be assigned shifts based on availability and skill thereby reducing opportunities for human bias or error.

In short, a WFM solution can reduce operating costs, reduce payroll costs and provide invaluable assistance to workforce planning.

To learn more about SumTotal’s WFM solution or get a free demo please click here.

January 10, 2017

How HR Pros Can Predict the Future (Really!)

I think if you drew up a wish list for HR folks, a crystal ball would claim the top spot. And yes, some might use it to get the winning lotto numbers – and then it would be goodbye HR, hello R&R – but many would use it as an opportunity to see what changes are coming down the road in order to prepare accordingly.

Future Looking

Jack Welch said, “Change before you have to.” As Jack and others will testify, few people enjoy having to scramble in response to changes in laws or company growth. It is far better to be prepared for change: to have a strategy in place that ensures everyone feels confident that no matter what is thrown at them, they are prepared and have a plan.

But back to the crystal ball. Already we know that issues like globalisation, digital disruption and the constant amending of regulations present huge challenges to HR. Uncertainty about what is going to happen next looms like a huge dark cloud over every HR concern. And trying to hustle together a L&D strategy before the cloud bursts? Well, it’s exhausting and frustrating. But if you knew the forecast and could foretell the tempestuous weather that lay ahead, then you could easily plan and pack accordingly.

But it would appear many working in HR never get any forecasts or warnings and are simply working in the dark. When we asked over 100 of our customers in the UK and Germany about their L&D planning strategies, the responses indicate how underused talent management data is in the vast majority of businesses. When asked about upskilling, 38% cited lack of insight in the key skills in the business making it hard to know what training is needed.

How can you upskill when you do not know what skills need upping? Less than a third of survey respondents felt confident in their ability to know what the company actually needed, what learning content aligned with the most essential skills to develop.

We can’t give you a crystal ball but we can give you something equally valuable in predicting the future: data. Data you can use to prepare for the inclement weather, because with insight you can foresee the storms ahead and design and implement the programmes you need to manage and see out the storm. Data that tracks employee skill needs and requirements. Data that will identify future leaders and data that highlights any disconnect between skills that will be needed and the skills your workers actually possess. Putting that data to use, we then offer solutions that best help your team develop those skills.

Currently this is data that is seriously underused in most companies. But given the current HR quandary, such data could play a pivotal role.

Vote for YOUR top talent challenges of 2017 in our poll!

December 20, 2016

How Automation is Forever Changing HR

In many ways, it is thanks to the automotive industry, and Ford in particular, that the process of automation caught on. And although there were earlier attempts – Eli Whitney in the 1700s with muskets I believe–I think many of us automatically picture the Ford assembly line when we think of automation. That image of the conveyor belt, the speed and efficiency of automation so glaringly obvious you begin to wonder why it took two hundred years to perfect.

Assembly Line

Due to his assembly line process, Ford succeeded in reducing the time required to assemble a car from over 12 hours to just over 90 minutes—and while automation may have originated on a car factory floor, its uses soon spread. Today, it’s an innate part of almost every industry imaginable. Its application for HR is phenomenal—automation has transformed certain processes with outstanding results.

At its very heart, automation shaves time off a process and in doing so saves labour and reduces the possibility of error while simultaneously replicating at such a speed that it produces increased levels of accuracy and precision. In fact, you might almost say automation was custom-built for the HR sector – if that is not a contradiction in terms!

Now, thanks to automation tasks such as completing and submitting timesheets, performing health and safety checks, onboarding, taxation, recruitment, administering benefits and evaluations have been forever changed. Organisations can guarantee that their employees receive accurate and timely information in a consistent, yet cost efficient, manner.

And speaking of costs, if the fact that automation saves time and increases accuracy didn’t convince you of its merit, this might- The APA (American Payroll Association) estimates a 4-7 percent saving on annual payroll by automating time and attendance alone – a figure that is itself impressive, but is further compounded by additional savings from improved record keeping feasible thanks to… you guessed it… automation.

But the benefits don’t stop there. Automation can help you become compliant by helping ensure that not only are the correctly qualified staff completing assigned tasks and keeping current with mandatory training, but that staffing numbers meet their quotas. Additionally, it can help you make sure everyone is getting the correct number of breaks and rest periods.

Automation can also increase productivity rates by providing the data and analysis necessary to allow optimal scheduling and distribution of employees, creating even further savings.

The impact of automation on HCM cannot be underestimated, which is why SumTotal designed and developed SumTotal Work – a workforce management (WFM) solution that takes full advantage of all automation offers. As the only fully inclusive solution in the industry, SumTotal Work gives your organisation every opportunity to realise the unparalleled ways automation can transform the way you operate.

The future trends of WFM remain to be seen; but one thing is for sure: just as the assembly line revolutionised the automotive industry, so too has automation transformed the way companies manage their talent.

December 13, 2016

How Top HR Organisations Get More for Less

According to research from The Hackett Group, not only do world-class HR organizations enjoy cost savings of around 23% per employee and function with 32% less staff, they do so and still manage to outperform their peers.

HR Value

Impressive. So, what’s the secret?

For starters you need a well-designed service delivery model (SDM) focused on operating at optimum levels.

Then—and we have spoken about this many times before– you need to use your data to produce analysis that matters. Analysis that measures and quantifies aspects of human capital and allows you to clearly demonstrate the value HR brings to your organisation. “World-class HR organizations show an unrelenting commitment to operational excellence,” said The Hackett Group’s Global HR Transformation and Advisory Practice Leader Harry Osle. “They use analytics to derive superior business insights from HR data and information, which helps earn them a ‘seat at the table’ with senior leadership.”

The next bit might ruffle a few feathers, but part of their reason for success is that they spend more on technology. This means higher levels of self-service and automation across a wide array of administrative and transactional activities. And all at lower running costs.

This one I find particularly interesting – these organisations all streamlined their hierarchies. They all operate with far fewer job grades – 22% fewer managers and 23% fewer clerical staff. They outsource more, make fewer internal staff changes and have smaller in-house teams.

Additionally, these firms prioritise strategic workforce planning (SWP). How? By getting their senior business leaders involved, by asking the experts to analyse the data, and by relying on platforms and tools to give them the necessary data to plan, develop and promote their internal talent. Talent who will not only be active faster, but who will then remain with the company longer. Retention rates for managers at these companies are 86% better after one year and 70% better after two years.

Top HR departments also are better at understanding the symbiotic relationship between business strategy and talent management. They recognise how investment in human capital enables financial performance, and they are routinely involved in executive-level discussions about tying business strategy to people and HR strategy.

Finally, and perhaps in many ways the most significant differentiator, is that these leaders know what to measure. In fact, they measure the business impact of HR projects over 80% more often than typical companies, and spend significantly more time analysing data than typical companies—but only about half as much time collecting that data.

Each of these tactics or strategies, if you prefer, is transferable to every organisation. You do not need to reinvent the wheel—you simply need to watch and take note.

Learn more about what sets leading HR organizations apart: download the SumTotal and Skillsoft Learning and Talent Maturity Framework here.  

December 8, 2016

Finding Diamonds in the Dust: How to Source for Talent Internally

Picture this. You are sitting at your desk when you get an email alert. It‘s your boss telling you that a position on the C-suite has just come available and it is up to you to find a replacement…asap. Yesterday in fact. What do you do?

Diamonds in the Dust

Do you

a) Panic and then, if lucky and funds allow, call a recruitment company. Otherwise, well….


b) Panic and then remember there are a number of people already working for your company who could be ideal for the position?

Currently when presented with this scenario, almost 50% of HR managers choose the first option, according to SumTotal’s recent survey of 100 customers in the UK and Germany. In other words, only half of companies will look internally and feel confident that they have a process or system already in place to ensure succession or replacement is never a problem.

The question this response raises is, what does it mean? What does this divide say about our talent management practices? Is this a good thing? Okay, so that was more than one question, but in my defence, I see them as three moving parts of the same question.

Granted, there are times and situations where bringing someone in from the outside is the only choice—and the best one at that—but it is not always the case. Choosing from within comes with the obvious benefit of a shorter learning curve, but it also, perhaps more importantly, demonstrates a company’s desire to facilitate employee career development, a key factor for the majority of workers when making career decisions.

As Paul Devoy, Head of Investor People observed in a recent article in the Independent: “Small things can make a big difference. Feeling valued, understanding their role in the organisation and how they can grow with an organisation are all big concerns for UK workers.”

But since hiring the right candidate is crucial, the decision-making process is just as crucial, and should not be done without assistance. Steve Jobs is often quoted as saying he believed hiring was “a collaborative process,” a transaction that should involve more than one perspective. SumTotal couldn’t agree more. We believe the data from your talent management system should–and must be—included in the decision. Make recommendations based on data that can help you identify which employees possess the right skillset, who to nurture and develop and which employees are potentially at risk and may leave the organisation soon.

How does data help with the hiring process? Solutions like our Succession Planning can identify competency gaps across a workforce, develop talent pools and align succession planning to the goals and strategic objectives of your organisation. Our Talent solution includes tools like Position Fit which quickly and simply illustrates which competencies the candidates possesses and which skills need improving.

The point is that if, as in the original scene, you are asked to find someone to fill a position, you no longer need to panic. Instead, you simply turn to your computer, and let quantifiable data and talent insight provide you with a list of suitable candidates.

This in turn frees you up to concentrate on all the other tasks that always seem to appear, as if by magic, on your desk.

Learn more about how SumTotal helps empower career mobility: take the tour.

November 22, 2016

AI Insight: Why Robots Might Fly the Plane, But Not Bring Your Coffee

In 2014, the Pew Research Center asked a panel of 1,896 experts if artificial intelligence (AI) would destroy more jobs than it created within a decade. The group, which included Google’s chief economist and a number of MIT computer scientists, was divided, with 48% saying yes and 53% saying no.

SumTotal AI

Since then reports about the consequence of AI have ranged from dystopian scenarios à la The Matrix or The Terminator, or the somewhat less fantastical but equally terrifying reality whereby the gap between the rich and the poor grows even greater. That not only will the working classes be decimated and left destitute thanks to machines taking their jobs and livelihoods, but so too will the middle classes. The rich will become a super elite group, very small in number and the only ones with some sort of future.

Neither vision is attractive. But both are gaining ground as AI moves into the workplace. A report by the Science and Technology Committee is very damning of the UK’s government action—or inaction—around this topic: “The government does not have a clear strategy on how to maximise AI and robotics for economic benefit, which could see millions of Brits losing their jobs as the use of automation increases.”

In truth it remains to be seen just how AI will impact both the workplace and the economy, but it does make good business and political sense for countries to prepare for this ‘revolution’.  But a recent HBR article proposes an impact not considered in either of the aforementioned scenarios. The authors ask us to consider the notion that AI will change how we value performance. They forsee AI’s impact as a complete transformation in how we evaluate value to a business, guiding decisions on who to invest in and who to replace with AI.

Performance management as we currently know it will undergo a seismic shift. HR will have to rethink its focus as companies shift attention toward pivotal roles rather than proficiency ones. It will in essence all boil down to this: what jobs add the most to profits, and what jobs can be eliminated and replaced with AI while maintaining or improving current efficiencies?

To demonstrate their point, the authors use the airline industry, and pilots and cabin crew in particular. Pilots are currently valued for their skill and expertise, while cabin crew are perhaps viewed with a different value. Most of us might assume that the ideal job to replace is that of the cabin crew, as they would be deemed to have a less specific set of skills; however, according to this article, that is not the case. Continued investment in a pilot will not exponentially increase their value to the business – however, thanks to the growing competitiveness of the industry, the flying experience is the real differentiator.

We are asked to imagine a flight where the cabin crew is armed with a version of Google Glass through which they can access customer data and personalised preferences. No nut dishes served to Charles in 3C given his allergy, but black coffee and a predisposition for inflight duty free. Early seating meal for Sarah in 2A so she can get to sleep quickly. That level of personalised service adds exponential value to your business—hence it becomes the pivotal role, the role with the greater value.

Now it is acknowledged that despite advances in AI not many of us are ready yet to board a plane captained by Wall-E’s cousin, but given the enormity and the scale of AI’s impact in the workplace, it does give one pause for thought.

We at SumTotal are very interested in understanding exactly how AI will change talent management, and we believe it is a discussion that everyone in HR should be getting involved in. We would like to hear what you think about this, and whether you see this as the new objective for HR? Share your comments below.

November 10, 2016

Building a Business Case for an LMS

Spend any amount of time around HR people and soon the conversation inevitably turns to the subject of Learning Management Systems. Some love the ones they have; others view theirs so riddled with holes as to resemble a fine Swiss Emmental. Then there are those who long for one, while others curse the day someone ever put the letters LMS in the same sentence.

HR Challenges

Regardless of how you personally view the LMS, as friend for foe (or friendly foe), the truth is that if you do not already have one in your organisation, you very soon will.

If you fall into this last category, this blog is for you. Making the move to an LMS is huge and should be treated with thought and consideration. Likely, you will have to prepare a business case, a rationale for the need to change the way your organisation currently manages and implements its L&D.

In partnership with some of our clients, SumTotal designed a 10-step guide to help you navigate the journey through this process.

Step 1


Look at what you currently have, decide where it is letting you down and why it needs to go.

Step 2


What do you need to have to present your case to justify the costs?

Step 3


If you don’t, get to know how IT is procured. Through this process you may realise that teaming with an externally hosted learning solution makes more sense than hosting a solution internally.

Step 4


Oftentimes, mandatory and strategic training requirements exist in many different areas of your organisation, and it’s your job to discover and compile them.

Step 5


Find out what their different strategic goals are, what challenges they face and how they measure success.

Step 6


Discover any weaknesses in your compliance management, highlight any leverages and expose areas at risk or redundant.

Step 7


Do the sums to establish the current spend on managing training, and then do the sums to show how much it will cost in the future, with the new LMS.

Step 8


This person will not only help you make your case, they can also provide you with valuable feedback regarding what management will want to know before they approve anything.

Step 9


The most important thing is to take your ROI numbers and the process flows you’ve put together and ensure they are compelling and coherent. Do they support each other in a clear and understandable way? Does it tell a compelling story? Make sure you address the major pain-points in your training process and articulate how a learning solution will alleviate them.

Step 10


This is your project, and for it to be successful, you’ll need to be its biggest champion. Be wary of having other groups pick up this initiative — loss of control could lead to the project losing steam or delivering unexpected results.

Of course, once you get the green light, then the fun really begins. Now you have to ask yourself which LMS vendor to choose?

And that, well that’s a subject for another blog.

We’ve given you just a taste of the full process for developing your LMS business case in this post. Get your copy of the complete guide now for more tools and tips.

October 28, 2016

The City of Light Shines on HR

I have just arrived home from Paris for the HR Tech World Congress, an event that has grown exponentially in both size and significance since the first one back in 2011. It has been a busy affair, with lots of great speakers, and tons of companies using the shared venue and opportunity to demonstrate and showcase all manner of HR solutions, applications and platforms.

HR Tech World Paris

When I come to these types of events I am always curious about two things – the takeaways and the food. Thankfully—this being Paris—I am happy to report that the food has all been excellent. The content of the conference was equally good, and I’m pleased to bring so many gems, nuggets of brilliance, and insight back to the office.

So, what is on everyone’s lips – apart from crumbly, flaky, buttered-to-perfection croissants?

  • Employee engagement: We still have not comprehensively or conclusively solved this challenge, and it continues to be a growing concern and priority for everyone.
  • Staying power: Since employees  now average 2.75 years in one job, companies need to up the ante to do everything they can to retain staff and prevent both talent and investment walking away to a competitor.
  • Analytics: Lots and lots of talk around this, particularly surrounding output of your LMS.
  • On the go: Everyone wants to reassure everyone else that all their solutions and platforms are mobile-friendly.

SumTotal Demo at HR Tech World

In truth, anyone in HR is already very familiar with these issues, and there was a slight sense of déjà vu about some of the presentations.

Seeking out something new, I attended the Women in HR Tech session, presented by Pascale van Damme, Managing Director, Dell Benelux; Naomi Bloom, Managing Partner, Bloom and Wallace; Kim Wylie, Change and Transformation Lead, Google for Work and Leighanne Levensaler, Senior VP, Workday.

When it comes women in the workplace I like to hear practical, pragmatic, constructive advice. I want to know what we can do to make changes. With this in mind, here are the top 5 takeaways I gathered from this session:

  • Women are still underrepresented in tech. To redress this you must actively pursue and recruit women. How? By offering a workplace that works with women, not against them. By using language in job specs that women connect with, by offering flexible work schedules and by providing defined career paths and opportunities.
  • Hire a diverse team. To do this you need a diverse hiring team. Both men and women are more likely to hire a man over a woman, so ensure your team has undergone conscious bias training, to prevent (or at least highlight) bias.
  • Review current practice. Kim explained how Google has changed the way the company promotes internally. The old method was based on self-nomination and since very few women actually do this, fewer women were promoted; but once they changed the process, the numbers evened out.
  • Start benchmarking. How can we determine if progress is being made if we do not have the data to measure it?
  • Network, network, network. Find a mentor or a sponsor and keep learning. In short – stay involved.

If you attended HR Tech Paris this year, I’d love to know what you thought—share your comments below.

October 25, 2016

Making the ROI of L&D Count – A CFO’s Perspective

The role of the CFO has changed dramatically in recent years. Now they are responsible for not only financial reporting, but also for performance acceleration; for driving analysis and providing the perspective and insights needed to link corporate strategy to execution.

SumTotal Blog ROI of Learning

As a result, CFOs must demonstrate a deep understanding of how their organisations invest their resources to achieve business goals, improve organisational capabilities and drive performance. Given that human capital represents a company’s biggest investment, it comes as no surprise that increasingly CFOs are finding themselves having to not only quantify what’s being spent on training, development and talent management, but also assess how that translates into value for the enterprise.

To further complicate this predicament, too often money spent on training and development is not reported in financial statements. As a result, it does not get the attention it warrants. Despite an average company spend of 36% of revenue on human capital expenses, only 16% say they have anything more than a moderate understanding of the return on human capital investments. This dearth of information is problematic for everyone, but for the CFO it presents a colossal challenge.

The vast majority of CFOs view human capital as a key value driver and a central factor in their company’s ability to achieve outcomes that drive shareholder value,  in the UK alone businesses currently invest over £40 billion a year on formal training, and that’s without taking into account the considerable amount of additional time and resources UK firms commit to addressing the skills challenge that lies ahead. So the big question becomes how best to support workforce development and achieve the best return on your organisation’s investment in L&D?

SumTotal decided to answer this. After extensive research into the area we have produced a white paper, “The Hidden Cost of Talent — A CFO guide to maximising the ROI of Learning & Development,” which examines the most pressing issues around talent management, exposes those areas most prone to financial leakage and calculates the cost of talent management.

Our insights will help you understand how your organisation should invest its resources to improve organisational capabilities and achieve business goals – and the value creation that generates.

Download your copy of the paper now.


October 20, 2016

DP World’s search for an LMS Uncovers a Talent Management Solution

DP World is a key player in the global supply chain, with 77 marine and inland terminals across 6 continents. To maintain a competitive positon and continue providing clients with the service that has earned DP World a great reputation internationally, the company relies on its 37,000 employees. Employees who have chosen DP World because they understand that the company ethos, “Creating the Future Now,” applies as much to how the organization operates as a business, as to how managers treat their talent. With DP World, staff can expect personal development and career opportunities that guarantee an enriching and rewarding future.

SumTotal at CLO Symposium

Ensuring that DP World’s professional development programs met such expectations was beginning to prove challenging. Geographical, language and time barriers meant traditionally delivered methods such as face-to-face training were no longer viable options.

After reviewing the situation, DP World decided that the best resolution was to introduce an LMS into the company. But it wasn’t as simple as that. They wanted a LMS that not only looked good, was cost effective, and could be easily customised to reflect the DP World brand, but—perhaps most importantly—the company was in search of one all-encompassing learning and talent solution.

DP World soon discovered SumTotal could provide this unified solution. The two partnered on what became DP World’s “single biggest IT project in terms of numbers using the system.” Known internally as iLearn, the system incorporates iPerform and iCareer, allowing DP World to offer over 100 courses and manage everything from professional development to end of year bonuses and complete succession planning. All with one easy to use system.

Once introduced, the results were phenomenal. DP World realized an immediate 80% increase in course completion rate. HR staff now plan to roll out iLearn to even bigger numbers.

DP World staff were also impressed with the connection they established with SumTotal. In an interview, Shanavas Koya, Head of Human Capital Projects, DP World, acknowledged the relationship with SumTotal as “a true partnership” and a huge contributing factor in the success of the programme.

Watch this video to learn more about the partnership and DP World’s great results.

Plugin by Social Author Bio