Global IT software and solutions firm CA Technologies’ CLO Brad Samargya is a power user of Web 2.0 and social learning tools.
Brad Samargya likes a challenge. In less than five years, the senior vice president and chief learning officer for CA Technologies, a global IT software and solutions company, has helped build a new, centralized learning department — serving 13,000 employees, 20,000 partners and 50,000 customers — essentially from scratch.
“We’re really moving to a new phase from a learning standpoint,” Samargya said. “I think we have the opportunity to demonstrate our thought leadership in a lot of these emerging areas.”
A graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a degree in accounting, Samargya spent the first 11 years of his career as an accountant and auditor for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He continued to deepen his business-side experience with positions at McGraw-Hill Education, where he engaged in profitability analyses with senior leadership, and at Sybase Inc., where he ran the company’s financial operations and systems.
It wasn’t until Samargya took on a general manager role at Sybase that he first made the leap into education. In charge of the company’s training program, which addressed the needs of employees, partners and customers, he quickly recognized the importance of nurturing human capital.
“I’ve learned through seeing hundreds of businesses that the businesses that succeed don’t ignore the people part,” he said. “If you get the people part right, even a good plan can be successful: You don’t have to have a great plan. And I’ve seen many great plans fall on their faces because they really did not execute on the people front.”
Samargya took his newfound passion for learning to Siebel Systems — at the time one of the fastest-growing CRM technology companies. In the nine years he spent at Siebel, Samargya grew the training department from just a few employees to a couple hundred and managed multiple aspects of the company’s education arm.
Then, when Siebel was purchased by Oracle in 2005, Samargya took the opportunity to assess his career goals and consider his next steps, weighing job offers from a large software company as well as from CA.
“It was interesting because, on the one hand, this company that I didn’t go work for was one of the top software companies in the world. But they had a very established learning environment,” Samargya said. “What attracted me to CA was it was really a 30-year-old startup — with $4 billion in revenue plus and a billion in cash — but with a new management team that really wanted to invest in the success of its employees and customers.”
According to Samargya, CA had had a history of acquiring companies without investing much in trying to integrate them or coming up with a single business objective, and the management team wanted to change this. But he didn’t inherit much — if anything — in terms of a learning department. “So it was a chance for me to bring in the best and the brightest to build a world-class learning organization,” he said.
The Business of Education
Samargya’s deep roots in business have fundamentally shaped his approach to learning.
“I’ve got a philosophy of not doing training for the sake of doing training, but doing training with a purpose,” Samargya said. “Everything we do is linked to a key strategy.”
“Brad is really focused on getting people the core business skills that they need,” said Dan Braunm, vice president and general manager of customer education for CA. Braunm has worked with Samargya for the past 12 years, starting at Siebel.
“[Let’s say] I’m an account director,” Braunm said. “I can go out to our learning management system and look at what [courses are] prescribed for me to take over the next year, [and those] are tightly aligned to the business goals and the direction that the executive team is taking the company.”
The close partnership at CA between learning and business leaders helps this relationship along.
“Basically, I have a seat at the table with the CFO, the head of products, the head of sales [and] the head of marketing,” Samargya said. “So learning — and enabling customers, partners and employees — is considered strategic enough that we’re not shoved off into the backroom.”
The Virtual Classroom
One of the ways in which Samargya has revolutionized training at CA is by taking a highly blended approach. According to Braunm, Samargya was one of the first in the learning and development industry to challenge the notion that multiday classes couldn’t be conducted virtually.
“We’re a technology company — we pride ourselves on leveraging technology for learning,” Samargya said. “Eighty percent of our classroom high-end technical training we actually do virtually. We do four- and five-day, eight-hours-a-day virtual classroom training — with labs — with technical people from all over the globe.”
In 2009, CA won a bronze Excellence in Learning Award from Brandon Hall for Best Blended Learning Programs and a silver for Best Use of Games for Learning. Perhaps most notable, however, was the company’s gold award win for Best Use of Web 2.0 Tools.
“[That’s] a combination of live virtual instructors, threaded discussions, use of e-learning and self-paced [content], all in a collaborative classroom environment,” Samargya said of the program that won the gold. “And we divide the students into little, informal Web 2.0 learning groups where they all interact.”
CA has also launched a new initiative called OneCA that leverages social and Web 2.0 technology to help create a unified corporate voice and strategy.
“It’s a combination of Facebook for inside the firewall of corporations, but it’s also knowledge management; it’s communities; it’s blogs,” Samargya said. “It’s an intelligent search so you can look up people and find them right away. One of the challenges that most companies have is when you come on board, it takes a long time to develop a network. And OneCA will really allow you to have an instant network and find people that can help you. Where we’re being innovative is combining the whole concept of corporate communications and the intranet with knowledge management [and] collaboration under one umbrella. It’s really culture changing.”
So how does CA prove the ROI of its learning programs? Samargya said before he and his team embark on any new program, they develop a strict, detailed plan for measuring and quantifying success.
“Because we’re linked to strategic programs, sometimes those fail or succeed and it’s not just because of the learning, it could be the product or the initiative,” he said.
As an example, he pointed to the company’s situational sales negotiation program.
“We went back to the students who were salespeople in this class and talked to them about software deals they have closed, and what parts of those deals, if any, were attributed to skills they learned in the class, and how much of the deals would’ve happened or not happened because of the class,” he said. “Remarkably, [in] the last two years, people reported that the class generated an incremental $24 million of top-line revenue for the company by allowing people to more effectively price and negotiate and position the value of CA software. So that got a lot of attention.”
He added that CA also has had success in quantifying its virtual training. “[It] has probably saved tens of millions of dollars in travel costs and helped us avoid lost productivity,” he said. “So [we measure] top-line revenue [generation] and bottom-line cost cutting.”
Reaching for the Clouds
As the tech industry leaps forward, so does learning at CA, with the innovations the company introduces in its core product also remodeling its learning and development.
“Traditionally, we’ve been a stable company with mild growth, and we are becoming a high-growth company, and we’re getting into markets that are very much evolving — such as cloud and virtualization and software as a service,” Samargya said. “Those present interesting challenges and great opportunities for my team as well as the company.”
The OneCA initiative demonstrates how CA’s training team aims to integrate the company’s array of products and its people. But Samargya said he believes that part of the CLO’s job today is also to serve as a facilitator, not simply providing solutions but rather giving people access to the tools they need to broaden their knowledge on their own.
“I think the CLO should not only foster the formal learning network, but also provide the informal tools so that people can get their work done and be more efficient and effective and successful in their careers,” he said. “At a lot of companies there isn’t a chief knowledge officer and there’s no such thing as a Web 2.0 lead. The door is open for chief learning officers to expand their horizons and make an impact beyond the formal training role. They’re in great position to do that.”