Wiley Acquires CrossKnowledge: New Player in Corporate Learning

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Most of us know John Wiley and Sons. as a book publisher. The company published two of my books (through the well known Pfeiffer imprint) and most HR and L&D professionals run into the company at trade shows and industry events promoting new books, authors, and a tools for HR and corporate learning.

Well surprise: the company is much more. Over the last several years Wiley has repositioned itself significantly and is making major investments in the markets for corporate and individual professional development. Over the last several years Wiley acquired Inscape (DISC assessment products), Profiles International (prehire and team assessments), Deltak (learning management system and student relationship platform for the education industry), and now CrossKnowledge, a fast-growing provider of corporate e-learning, LMS, and content management solutions.

CrossKnowledge is a company we have been watching – they are a French headquartered global company (revenues of $37M when acquired) which focused on corporate e-learning content delivered in an integrated “learning experience platform” focused on mid-sized and large enterprises. CrossKnowledge, unlike other LMS providers in the market, is a solid e-learning development company. They have built a library of high quality video and simulation-based content, totally integrated with their learning management platform.

As many HR and learning professionals know, the market for e-learning content has been fragmented since its beginning in the late 1990s. Skillsoft has acquired many of the larger players, but new companies like Lynda.com and other innovators continue to build new content (today often based on video, simulation, and gaming). Companies like OpenSesame have tried to provide aggregation tools to help people find and buy the content they need but the market keeps exploding faster every day. Now the MOOCs (Udacity, EdX, Coursera, Udemy) are all producing high quality content at a rapid rate, making it harder than ever for a corporate training manager to find, integrate, and offer the right content people need.

CrossKnowledge’s strategy is to solve this problem. The company worked very hard to deliver an integrated solution for mid-sized and large corporations, including content, technology, and services. (Those three words were the hallmark of early stage e-learning companies in the early 2000s – my alma mater DigitalThink did the same thing.) While this is harder than being a pure play LMS or talent management software company, it delivers a totally different solution – one which more and more businesses want every day. Yes many large enterprises can be their own “general contractor” and they want to connect and integrate everything themselves – but the value of this effort is less as more and more vendors provide integrated solutions. So the strategy of integrating content with platform technology is definitely the future. (Skillsoft has been trying to do this for years and has turned Skillport into a formidable platform of its own.)

As to Wiley, this is a big company (nearly $2 Billion in revenue) which now has a large collection of assets to help corporations and individuals with training and professional development. The “professional development” business within Wiley is close to $400 Million, so this business has scale. Today there is no single sales force (Profiles, Inscape, and CrossKnowledge each have their own) but in talking with the company’s executives it’s clear they want to bring a more integrated brand and channel to the corporate market. We can expect to see much more investment in this area, making CrossKnowledge and Wiley a more significant player in the corporate learning and talent market.

Wiley’s digital assets are large and broad. Many of the major authors in learning, HR, and leadership publish under the Wiley brand – so the company has access to digital assets which make any corporate training department interested. They are not integrated into a corporate offering like Books24x7 or GetAbstract today, but one could imagine that this will come in time. Now that Wiley has a platform for both the education and corporate market, they can move in this direction.

My experience working with Wiley over the years (as an author) is that the company is patient and carefully managed. Their strategy team has been studying the professional development market for several years and is now investing heavily. The last few acquisitions have cost over $200 million and the new management team now has a lot of depth in various areas of the market.

Inscape and Profiles International were businesses that relied very heavily on channel sales – so together the company has hundreds to thousands of consultants who resell and implement their products. With CrossKnowledge and Deltak, Wiley now has a corporate and education direct sales force, which can ultimately be built into a competitive team that competes with the other big corporate learning and training companies (Skillsoft, SuccessFactors, Oracle, CornerstoneOnDemand, Sumtotal Systems, Saba, and others). Plus the company has global distribution: Inscape operates in 30 languages, Profiles International in 20, and Cross Knowledge in 17, with 9 global locations.

To me the company has an interesting opportunity. The market for e-learning started in the late 1990s (the word e-learning was coined in 1998) and while we keep changing the words we use (e-learning, blended learning, informal learning, social learning, and now MOOCs), the marketplace has become huge. We estimate the global corporate training market at around $135 billion in spending, and the spending by individuals and professionals for their own education is probably similar in size.

Learning is one of the most important and universal parts of our lives as human beings. Today people all over the world are fighting to build deeper skills, learn new trades, and improve their expertise in current roles. Leadership development is a never-ending challenge and that market grows and morphs every year. And now, thanks to MOOCs and all the content available on YouTube and other channels, individuals at all levels of their careers are looking for new opportunities to learn – and most will pay for this content over time.

While Wiley is not a well known company in the corporate learning solutions yet, I believe the company is on the right track. Just as Skillsoft and KornFerry have been acquiring assets to build an integrated content solution, so is Wiley – with a totally different base and culture at its core. We will watch Wiley and CrossKnowledge closely and we urge research members and readers to pay attention to this important new player in the corporate training market.

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Copyright © 2014 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.

Josh Bersin

Principal & Founder, Bersin / Deloitte Consulting LLP

Josh founded Bersin & Associates in 2001 to provide research and advisory services focused on corporate learning. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and a popular blogger. Prior to founding Bersin & Associates, Josh spent 25 years in product development, product management, marketing, and sales of e-learning and other enterprise technologies. Josh’s education includes a bachelor of science degree in engineering from Cornell, a master’s of science degree in engineering from Stanford, and an MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

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