Interviews from LearnX - The power of open source software in L&D with Richard Wyles

Richard Wyles, the CEO of Totara Learn, and Robin talk about how open source learning platforms means learning platforms can be more flexible and customised to meet the needs of an evolving organisation.    


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Transcript -  The power of open source software in L&D with Richard Wyles

Robin Petterd: Welcome to Learning While Working Podcast, Richard. Can you just do a quick introduction to who you are and what you do?

Richard Wyles: Hi. I am Richard Wyles. I'm the chief executive and co-founder of Totara Learning Solutions. So, most people would know us by our flagship product Totara Learn, the LMS.

Robin: Richard, why do you think open source and open source approaches are important to the transformation of L&D at the moment?

Richard Wyles: [They’re] increasingly important, and that's because the pace of change appears to be accelerating, and unless you can stay adaptable to that change, then the learning gets constrained. And what we find with a lot of proprietary systems is that they can't keep up, and people are locked in for five year periods or whatever the length of their contract.

They might not be able to get the data in and out, and the whole learning environment has fundamentally shifted; with an open source platform you can-- but, it's essentially like a chameleon really, you can morph it and bend it into different shapes as your needs change. And none of us knows what we may need in the future. Our needs change, so you want the software that you're working with to be able to change with you.

Robin: So, this stands that every organization's different.

Richard Wyles: That's right.

Robin: And organisations will exist to be different. And then to actually have the--

Richard Wyles: Yes, that's what competitions all about

Robin: Yes, yes, yes. And to have the same copycatter approach to every solution.

Richard Wyles: Which these days-- I mean cloud, one size fits all cloud platforms. It's the old style lock-in reinvented. And it's absolutely not like that in the real world. And so, of course, your needs are different. And if you can't tweak it at the edges, a lot of vendors will say, "Customising anything is bad. It'll cost you a lot of money." Well, it will cost you a lot of money on a proprietary platform. But if is designed to be pluggable, to have open application programming interfaces, to be highly modular, so that you can extend it, then customizations is no longer a dirty word. It means that you get what you need.

Robin: Yes, it's a really interesting thing that Totara is starting to do with that Word application programming interface. So, APIs--

Richard Wyles: APIs is [how] most people would refer to it. And of course, XAPI is a well-known API now, but good software will use open APIs, so that your software can plug into other software stacks. Proprietary, or at least the traditional proprietary model, did intend to have open APIs, because what they wanted you to do, and still want you to do, typically, is plug into their extended stack. So, once you're in their world, whether it be an Oracle world or a Microsoft world, or what have you--

Apple's a very good example of this. Apple, once you're in the Apple world, you don't really go outside. They'll control the whole ecosystem.

With open source, you can extend it with whatever systems you want to. And with the pace of innovation and the pace of change in the world, then that's a far better strategic option for resilience and also for getting good business outcomes.

Robin: Yes, there's an interesting moment I was thinking about recently, It was a client’s reporting of a problem. And it's like, "Oh, we need such and such" And I sat there and went, "Well, oh, let's just get it fixed with Totara. We can do that, we can change it, we can make it work exactly the way you want that to work." And with a proprietary system, I would have to have said, "No--”

Richard Wyles: Well, you're at the bottom of the queue, if you can get their attention at all. But with open source, you have that power to go anywhere, to get that development done for you. Or if you don't want to get it done inside the system, at least you'll be able to get data in and out far more readily than some of the previously incumbent market leaders.

What were also finding is that open source is a massive driver of innovation, because the whole value chain is involved. The customer is empowered to innovate, the Totara partner is powered to innovate. And that creates this melting pot of innovation.

What we're finding with some of the legacy systems out there is that the pace of innovation has really stopped, or slowed right down. And partly that is because of the nature of the market, where some of those big systems have been acquired by private equity firms that may, in essence when you look at it closely, be say, Canadian pensioners that own the company. They'd no longer innovate the software. The passion is really just to milk it dry on the cash flows.

Cynical perhaps, but that is fundamentally-- be careful when you're making a procurement decision. Have a look at who's standing behind that company, and what they're likely to be looking like in a few years time. Because some of them are looking exactly like they used to five years ago; that's dark. And with technology you just simply can't afford to do that.

Robin: Yes. Cool. Lots of background noise starting to happen, Richard. It's been great having you. Wrapping up here. Cool.

Richard Wyles: Absolutely, yes. There's a lot of people coming in the room. Thank you very much, Robin.

Robin: Thank you. That's a great conversation. Bye.

Richard Wyles: Cheers.