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Your Guide to Acquiring an LMS

Les Strachan 

January 23, 2015

IS_19322934_malerapaso_188It’s an odd coincidence but, if you ask any vendor which learning management system (LMS) you should buy, they’ll recommend their own product. Essentially, they’re saying, “Buy my product because it’s the only one I have,” rather than, “Buy my product because it’s the best.” And, importantly, any system is the best for you only if it fits exactly with what you want it to do.

So, how do you find out which LMS is the one that will do exactly what you want it to do?

Some organizations take the pragmatic approach. They buy an LMS – often because someone recalls its brand name – and try implementing it. After a while, they learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t, and that, they believe, puts them in a better position to buy their next LMS. This approach means that they can continue buying “less bad” LMSs but never find the “perfect LMS.” This is a recipe for frustration – for administrators and users – as well as a waste of money.

Other organizations go to shows, get brochures and, generally, do the research. Then they go to the market with a request for information (RFI). On the basis of this information, they send a request for a quotation (RFQ) to a shortlist of vendors, and narrow down the choice from there, matching each shortlisted product’s abilities to their own requirements.

Sadly – perhaps because of time constraints or budget availability – some buyers make the mistake of issuing an RFQ first.

The key question is, which vendor do you trust?

According to Craig Weiss, the California-based, internationally renowned LMS specialist and market analyst, most LMSs have most of their features in common, with any two differing only by some ten percent, on average, in terms of their features. Yet each vendor has a different “angle” and presents its product in the most advantageous light. So you may find it difficult to compare products and after-sales service.

You could make your buying decision based on how many industry awards your shortlisted vendors have won but, in this field, most industry awards go to those who put themselves forward for them – and other “league tables” are based on revenue. This means that the most expensive companies tend to be at the top!

You may find it helpful to consult the views of independent market analysts. In the UK, there’s Learning Light, while Craig publishes an analysis of the world’s LMSs each January. In 2014, he had to analyse 582 of them. This time, there are 642 – which is an indication of how the LMS world is growing. His report, The LMS State of Industry Report, identifies the top performing 50 LMSs. He believes that, in terms of its lifecycle, the LMS market is on the border of “growth” and “maturity.”

Incidentally, his organization also publishes a list of the top rapid content authoring tools (comprising some 168 vendors).

“The non-availability of high quality support is still the main reason why clients abandon their LMS,” says Craig. “On the other side of the equation, vendors are increasingly tempting buyers by bundling courses with the LMS at no extra charge.”

Both Craig and Learning Light look at LMSs operating in both the corporate and academic worlds.

Founded, in 2005, to provide help to organizations using e-learning and learning technologies to improve their business performance, Learning Light is one of the few organisations in Europe that publishes regular research on the e-learning market – notably publishing in-depth reports on the UK and European markets, encompassing market size, growth projections, and technology trends. Last October, it published its own analysis of LMSs, identifying its top performers, in terms of their appropriateness for use by corporate training organizations and departments in the UK.

For would-be LMS buyers, the top ten purchasing mistakes are:

1. Skirting senior management until it’s too late – and so failing to get management buy-in to the project

2. Failing to define exactly what you need the LMS to do.

3. Comparing “apples” and “oranges.”

4. Excluding the in-house IT department until it’s too late.

5. Focusing on price rather than value – the ROI focuses on price, whereas you should be asking what value is attached to the project and, so, assess the “value return,” not the return on price.

6. Overlooking scalability.

7. Ignoring LMS interoperability – in other words, having more than one LMS in your organisation and keeping them separate from one another, thus reducing the value of having them and preventing the whole organization benefiting from everything an LMS can do for it.

8. The vendor’s track record – you should ask to speak to its dissatisfied customers as well as its satisfied ones.

9. Automating dated business processes – you need to understand whether you’re merely automating what already exists or are introducing a system that will enable the organization to make progress.

10. Customization instead of configurability – “customization” means that it will be expensive and, probably, difficult or impossible to upgrade, while configurability means that the system can be upgraded at the “flick of a switch.” This issue is largely obsolete these days because most enterprise-wide systems are kept in the cloud and supplied under the software-as-a-service (SaaS) banner.

A checklist for getting the “right” LMS for your organization is:

• Decide what’s available to you.

• Involve everyone.

• Learn the industry jargon.

• Speak to those who’ve implemented other systems and find out what benefit they expected – and what they actually received.

• Design your own RFI. Ask yourself, “Does this system already do what I want or does it have to be created?” If it has to be created, you’re at “version 1.0” again and you’d be right to be cautious.

• Compare like with like.

• Create your own RFQ.

• Speak to the clients (those who’ll actually be using the system).

• Re-evaluate from the top down and then ask yourself, “Is this the right thing for us?” If it is, sign the purchase order.

What are your top three requirements for an LMS? Join in the conversation below.

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3 comments on “Your Guide to Acquiring an LMS”:

  1. Bob Little wrote:

    A perceptive article – with an excellent summary of the top ten mistakes LMS buyers make. I like the checklist for getting the right LMS for you, too. If only more people could take this advice!

  2. Leanne wrote:

    Having implemented a LMS the hard way this is an excellent article on how to get it right. Depending on the industry you work in getting senior management buy in is hard because while its an expense they often have other priorities and you really need to sell to them why they should be involved. I have found that organisations that have a good project and change management framework in place have a better process around on RFI and RFQ.

  3. Rakesh Dighe wrote:

    Good article !

    We are in the process of evaluating a LMS offering. Risk Quotient is an international Risk Management Consultancy offering business and cyber security solutions amongst others.

    We plan to offer eLearning solutions to our clients and need a LMS platform provider providing ‘software as a service’ on a cloud with excellent content and admin support.