SumTotal-A Lot More Than Just LMS

sumtotal.jpgThe SumTotal Systems Analyst Day, which took place September 18th and 19th in Laguna Niguel, California, revealed that the vendor has indeed expanded on its corporate learning management focus. While the company continues to develop human resources (HR) software solutions, it now addresses learning, talent, and workforce management—all three at the same time and equally important.

SumTotal started out developing corporate learning management software, and became very well known as a learning management system (LMS) vendor. Its reputation naturally extended from learning toward talent management. The vendor has also been expanding its capabilities, through acquisitions as well as deep integration work over the past 18 months, into other human capital management (HCM) functional spaces—workforce management, expenses management, payroll and benefits.

Talent management deemed insufficient

According to SumTotal, the market unveils that customers do not need dated and big enterprise resource planning (ERP) and HCM systems, but rather solutions that are designed with the intent to unlock information on talent from silos within the organization. In short, the vendor’s solutions attempt to support the vision that humans are not capital, and that talent should be highly autonomous and in control of its professional destiny. Furthermore, through its HCM solutions, SumTotal expects to reveal the skills and potential that are otherwise hidden. Ultimately, SumTotal wants to eschew the path toward emerging as yet another undifferentiated, system-focused HCM suite provider.

The company is looking to  carve out a space for its HCM applications offering—labeled ‘Talent Expansion.’ Talent Expansion places learning at the core of HR technology, with the expectation that people will indeed recognize and make concerted efforts to enhance and expand their talents. With this new approach, SumTotal hopes to attract companies with fragmented HCM systems that require a centralized viewpoint, from which to gain a 360-degree view of the employee. It is this comprehensive picture of the employee that can lead to appropriate learning and development decisions for not only the employee, but also the organization.

Why not take the typical path of a full-suite HCM provider?

SumTotal has gone through a series of acquisitions in its lifetime and has therefore had to integrate a number of applications together to continue to cater to the needs of its customers. During this process, it may have recognized that a middleware approach to achieving that integration can itself serve as a solution, which can expand beyond the company’s own products and span across the various legacy enterprise systems (ERP, HR, etc.) its customers or prospects still relied on.

elixHR—which signifies ‘extending and linking HR data and processes’—is a platform developed by SumTotal to function as middleware or on top of other middleware to ensure HR-specific centralized data integration. The solution was designed to connect financial, operations, workforce management, talent and learning management information—and enable users to receive data in a highly contextualized manner within the systems they utilize the most.

For example, sales reps may want to view course and coaching recommendations—based on their history and interests—directly in a customer relationship management (CRM) system rather than having to connect to a separate learning portal. But the integration works both ways, allowing users to access third-party enterprise software information within the SumTotal applications as well.

elixHR is available with SumTotal’s work, talent, and learn applications, and it comes with prebuilt, out-of-the-box connectors to a wide variety of systems such as Salesforce, Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP, and Workday.

Avoiding classifications

SumTotal strives to avoid categories such as HCM, HR, Learning, etc., and in so doing the vendor focuses on creating an image for itself as being a different type of vendor. Its marketing message underlines the company’s selectiveness when it comes to bringing new customers on board: “Different is not for everyone!” The approach obviously has both pros and cons.


  • Standing out, as audiences and users may remember unique messages or concepts over obsolete or exhausted ones.

  • Delivering educational benefits, as end users are challenged to adapt and grow by new ideas.

  • Inspiring conversations that spread the vendor’s or the vendor’s products’ messages on actual and virtual social venues of professionals and interested parties.


  • Challenge in seeking approval for HR software acquisition from chief financial officers (CFOs) or chief executives officers (CEOs) who may have difficulty seeing the concrete benefits of such a software solution.

  • Difficulty to map features and functions to new notions and assertions, as well-known categories help people approximate a product’s capabilities and expected roadmap.

  • Longer adoption time owing to the extra efforts required to explain and implement the processes and actions associated with a previously unexplored concept.

The customer perspective

Praxair—a SumTotal customer that specializes in industrial gases, supply, equipment, and services—had been dealing with fragmented HR applications that differed from one location to another, despite the company’s global outreach. As a result, Praxair envisioned a Global Employee Management System (GEMS) that would support the following:

  • knowledge management

  • operational and safety discipline

  • resource allocation

  • recruitment and support for employees in emerging economies

Praxair used the elixHR platform to materialize its GEMS vision. The SumTotal customer claims to have replaced its existing local performance management, compensation management, talent management, hiring, learning, and personnel management (human resource management system [HRMS]) processes and systems with a single source for employee data, enabling a comprehensive approach to employee management and allowing for faster HR-related decision making.


To conclude, SumTotal will continue to deepen its functionality in the areas of learning, talent, and workforce management. At the 16th Annual HR Technology Conference and Exposition, which will take place on October 7th through the 9th, in Las Vegas, SumTotal will unveil new capabilities in these three areas. The vendor has certainly come a long way—and is a whole lot more than the LMS vendor it was known as in the olden days. I look forward to seeing SumTotal’s expanded capabilities firsthand and to witnessing the evolution of this exciting vendor.
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