Over a decade ago, the Founders of Knowledge As A Service made a simple observation about what’s at the source of effective learning and effective advertising, and merged them to invent a system for changing human behavior. They patented this system. Spent years in clinical trials with the U.S. government. Tested it commercially with Fortune 50 companies. Then formed Knowledge As A Service -- to empower large enterprises with this technology, so they can replace training with measurable behavior change, and at a fraction of what they usually spend.
“At first, I dreamed it up as a toy.” explains co-founder Brent Wayne Barkley, who goes by BW.
“...A toy that would re-engage a child at random times after school with a set of questions or activities. The idea was to keep the kid out of trouble and have them repeatedly thinking and doing things you want them to. By the time we prototyped the software it was for grownups. It was an advertising tool – still re-engaging at random times, but now it was to drive a person to visit an online ad campaign over and over again.”
They trademarked their app-based software “Ringorang®” -- a play on the term “boomerang” where the system throws out an interactive question and returns with data on what its various rings of players are doing and what they know. Co-founder Robert Feeney took their prototype to big beverage companies and ad agencies, while BW raised several million dollars in early capital. But by year 2009, with the world in a global economic recession, even big beverage didn’t want to pay what it cost for BW and Robert to run their early-stage software.
Fortunately, it was the Chief Information Officer of Puget Sound Energy (PSE), the largest power utility in the state of Washington, who suggested to Robert that if their app could drive visitors repeatedly to an ad campaign, maybe it could drive his I.T. employees at PSE to take their compliance training; because they had an audit coming up on cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection!
Ringorang® was immediately rebuilt as a robust software that could replace traditional training.
That CIO was Rudy Wolf: “At PSE, we tested the software both with employees who took classroom training and those who didn’t. Remarkably, there was no significant difference in the testing outcomes of those cohorts.”
This was an amazing discovery: employees could take complex trainings while in the flow of work, without taking time away to sit in a classroom or click through an online course.
“So I asked myself ‘what other problems could be solved with this technology that were not solvable before’?” Rudy continued. “Areas that I as a leader often think I don’t have control of: risk mitigation; changing culture; driving performance; controlling the destiny of the organization. What all of these have in common is not better training – it's ensuring that my people change their behaviors.”
The founders put this to the test. They put Ringorang® through clinical trials, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, universities, national laboratories and large utility companies, which published and proved how Ringorang® not only formed new habits in enterprise employees, but it drove measurable behavior change with the most difficult learner group of all: the general public.
“Going through the research design and randomized control trials...” explains co-founder Robert Feeney, “...forced us to look at the data and not just say to ourselves ‘it’s a cool game and people like it.’ I worked with PhDs and executives and learning and behavior consultants, until we hammered out a learning methodology, specifically for designing a curriculum that would change attitudes, and eventually form habits.”
The result is what they call the ASK methodology. ASK stands for Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge. Robert found that establishing a balanced set of habits that fall into these three categories enables adoption of new behaviors. The clinical trials proved that Ringorang® not only inspired people to do things differently than they normally would, but that they sustained their new habits ongoingly.
Robert Feeney’s research article, published in the Performance Improvement Journal by the International Society for Performance Improvement, collected the results from a body of research and practical applications of Ringorang®, especially in the government trials that were deployed in Nevada, Michigan and Texas.
Emerging from research, the founders tried Ringorang® in many environments and industries: leadership training, change programs, conference engagement, tools training, language learning, voter awareness, fundraising and more. However, the founders brought the technology into each buyer like a consultant with some software in tow, project by project. It was not scalable.
It was BW who insisted that they stop commercializing the product in 2017 and rebuild the system as true software-as-a-service – scalable, inexpensive to operate and drag-and-drop simple to use.
“We relaunched in late 2018 and started testing with Fortune 50 customers – a couple of the largest tech enterprises.” says BW, “And 18 months later, we won them over. They both expanded and we needed to staff up, fast.”
They formed Knowledge As A Service Inc. to market Ringorang® to the largest enterprises, raised a round of growth capital and started generating revenue. Their first staffing position was the CEO. They invited Rudy Wolf, their first buyer from a decade before, to step in and lead.
Rudy Wolf described his motives: “I had been a long-time investor. I brought Fortune 500 leadership experience. I saw firsthand how powerfully it trained my employees without taking time out of their day, so it returned measurable workforce capacity. And, frankly, I am a huge fan of the founders’ vision to transform learning around the world.”
Rudy assisted the founders of attracting other leadership and staff and a board of directors whose members hailed from Amazon, SAP, Target Stores -- as well as from healthcare, financial and utility industries.
Robert summarizes their journey from here: “The largest enterprises are catching on – not just to gamification or even microlearning – but to the fact that what they spend on training doesn’t bring measurable ROI unless they put a mechanism in place for repetition, daily, and stop the waste. And since the COVID-19 crisis that forced enterprises to focus on tools for remote learning, we have been honored to be a critical support to a new era where learning is not timebound in events. It’s everywhere, all the time, wherever the learner is, in a form that they can digest it. Advertisers have known for a century that you repeat your messaging in small doses, over and over, until the consumer takes an action. Knowledge is no different. Repeat it, cleverly, until a person takes action on it.
“That’s knowledge as a service.”