Published On: August 10, 2015By
How do you choose an extended enterprise LMS? Tips from independent learning tech analyst John Leh

You need to attract more prospects, train your customers and external sales channel and you heard that this extended enterprise LMS thing can solve your problems. You Google “LMS” and you find 600 LMS companies, countless advertisements and hopefully a few of my articles. When reviewing the LMS vendor websites, you find it is difficult to discern a difference between the LMS companies and their offerings.

You have been tasked to find qualified LMS options for your organizations but it is impossible to qualify all 600 solutions in any reasonable time or cost-effective manner.  I know, I’ve tried.

In the last nineteen months, I have only been able to review 90 of the 600 LMSs. Here is what I found though. Each of the 90 has met some business need uniquely and a bit better than the other 89.

Unique LMS differentiation is based on varying combinations of the LMS vendor’s experience, services provided, regional focus, industries served, functional capabilities, technical sturdiness, license approach, and ongoing support provided.

The best way to prepare for the vendor community and find viable solutions efficiently is to have your ducks in a row before you start knocking on extended enterprise LMS vendor doors.

Once they have you in their sights, be prepared for an onslaught of information and sales contact. You need to know your business case, functional requirements and desired professional support needs before you enter that phase or there will be too much noise to sort through intelligently.

Before speaking to vendors, it is helpful to complete three preliminary steps…

3 Tips to Find the Best Extended Enterprise LMS

1)  Define Your LMS Business Case

Any wise “training as a business” (extended enterprise) LMS buyer knows all the questions and answers about their business case. You don’t buy a business LMS without knowing how you are going to achieve much more benefit than the cost of the LMS and overall program.

Business cases for an extended enterprise LMSs are usually pretty easy to develop. Answer the following questions and you will have the start of yours.

Who are your intended LMS audiences?  Is it your channel, partners, members, customers, prospects, employees, students, general public or all?  Some LMSs are generalists that do it all (more expensive) and others specialize in an audience type or business function (less expensive).

What are the measurable success criteria?  Are you trying to drive content sales, channel sales, number of channel partners, customer renewals, customer satisfaction, product rollouts or global expansion?  What percentage increase or decrease in your metrics constitute success?  Do you have a plan in place to measure current metrics and future metrics to determine the return on investment gain of your learning technology efforts?

Do you have budget yet?  It is really important to know your budget status internally and shop realistically.  There is no sense looking at a Ferrari when you have $10,000 to spend. Is budget allocated, how much, when and for how long? Do you know the internal process to actually spend the budget?

Do you have 3-year usage predictions? You can’t get to a realistic price evaluation of LMS solutions without having usage predictions.  Who is your target audience(s)? How big is the audience?  How will you reach them? How often will they visit the LMS or buy content? How will the audiences grow over time? LMS pricing models vary widely.

Being armed with predictive data will allow you to get apples-to-apples comparative pricing. It also helps vendors get a true understanding of the scope of the opportunity over time and facilitates pricing based on the growth vs. just the initial starting usage.

What industry do you live in? Many of the 600 LMS vendors specialize in industry solutions and provide a compelling mix of product and industry expertise. If your extended enterprise or training for business LMS is targeting audiences in a specific industry, that is important to note and Google – “LMS for CMEs” or “LMS for Associations.”

I am a firm believer that a vendor’s industry experience is an important differentiator because previous clients have educated the vendor and helped close industry product gaps.

2)  Define Functional and Technical LMS Requirements

Maybe you are not an LMS requirements expert and you don’t know what the hundreds of features actually mean when you look at the available RFP templates or vendor websites. Not to worry, you can use common sense to at least create a high-level requirements analysis to use as a lens to qualify LMS vendors.

If you can answer the following questions, you will have a head start on your requirements and you can shop for an extended enterprise LMS solution for your training business more effectively:

What are the functional use cases?  How is the intended audience going to interact with the LMS? Do they need to search and find content? Will content be purchased and assigned to them by others? How will your audience find the site? Get accounts? Who will be administrating? Delegated administrating? Who will need reports?

Just write simple sentences of the “use cases” or how people will use the site. Those can drive your requirements.

Are you going to sell content?  Not all extended enterprise initiatives involve selling content. Often content is free for customers, volunteers and public education programs.

If you don’t need ecommerce capability that is significant in terms of LMS options and cost. If you are going to sell content…

Are you selling to organizations or individuals?  Although some ecommerce capable LMSs can support both scenarios well, many LMSs specialize in one or the other. When selling to organizations you need to support bulk content purchases, vouchers, debit accounts, credit accounts, purchase orders, electronic checks to facilitate new and renewal purchases.  If to individuals, you need to browse the content, see comments and ratings, place content in shopping cart and have a secure checkout.

How global are you?  There are varying degrees of global capability in modern LMSs.  Deploying content in one language to many countries is much different than managing many language localizations of content and LMS interfaces.

The former can be supported by most any LMS, the latter by a certain few.  Add the tax complexity created by selling content globally and your LMS choices dwindle further. Be clear about what you really need here. The fewer the LMS choices, the higher the price.

Do you need to share data with other systems? The sharing of data with other systems in your technological ecosystem is an important automation step for things like account creation, email marketing, external commerce purchases and reporting. What systems need to talk with the LMS? What data needs to be shared? Why? Vendors are all over the board on their support for integrations and it is important to know what you need so you can ask for it.

What learning media do you need to manage? Instructor-led, virtual classrooms, videos, documents, SCORM, xAPI, AICC, podcasts, MOOCs or what? Not all LMSs manage all types, so it is critical to be specific in what you need to manage.

Social and Gamification?  This feature set usually comes at a premium cost not worth paying for if you don’t have a tangible plan to utilize. Building a social community is critical for any successful extended enterprise initiative but existing corporate social platforms, LinkedIn Groups, Twitter and Facebook work great also and are free.

If you require a social LMS, be specific in what you need and what use cases you want to support. You will find all LMS vendors say they are social and leave it to the buyer to define how social is social.

Mobile?  Let me answer for you.  Yes. Mobile first and only in the extended enterprise. Since extended enterprises audiences are not your employees it is impossible to account for all the different devices, browsers and platforms used to access the LMS so you have to be prepared for all. Modern fully responsive LMSs that change their content arrangement and menus dynamically on any device and give you more mileage and less headaches than a downloadable mobile app strategy.

Are you selling or managing continuing education credits? Most LMSs are not good at managing the complexity of multiple credit types, multiple accreditation bodies and varying regulatory requirements of professional continuing education. If you need to sell or manage CE, CME, CNE, CPE, CPD or CLE, you need a very special kind of LMS.

Technical requirements or limitations? Do you need things like on-premise solution, 21 CFR Part 11, CDN, stage/testing environments, GSA, global scalability, load-balancing, high concurrency, PCI, security audits, rapid disaster recovery and 99.99% (or higher) availability?

If so, make the vendors aware in the first communication to weed out the weak.  Serious vendors won’t be shy talking about and proving their SLA (service level agreement) and track record.

3)  Define LMS Professional Services Requirements

There are currently 3 types of LMS vendors out there. Those that provide no services, those that provide core implementation and launch services and those that provide full-service business consulting.

A big mistake buyers make is buying a full-service LMS and try to skimp on the services. Conversely, expecting help and guidance, but buying a “free trial” cloud LMS isn’t any better. Just like dating, it is best to stay in your league. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Is this your inaugural LMS effort? Many extended enterprise initiatives start small and grow through measurable success. If this is your first effort, you don’t need to worry about all the bells and whistles. You need to attract users, have content and make the match.

With the evolution of the true cloud LMSs, buyers can create a trial site in minutes and eventually this turns into a paying live site when the trial ends. Higher end vendors offer free proof of concept sites which is essentially a free trial or sandbox tailored to the exact business need at hand.

Is this a replacement LMS effort? If you have an LMS and want to buy a new one, migrate your training history and content and recreate (improve) your HRIS, ERP, AMS, Single Sign-On integrations and train your administrators, you need to look for vendors that have a defined implementation process with an assigned project team – not just one “business consultant” helping when you ask. Typically, none of the free trial LMSs provide this level of support.

Is the LMS purchase mission critical? All LMS purchases are important but some are business mission-critical especially in the association, channel and customer space. The LMS in these instances is a core business tool, success is mandatory and a full-service business consulting LMS partner is needed.

These type of LMS providers help with business case development, strategy, social marketing, ROI measurement, 24/7 end-user support services, localization services, integration services, ongoing improvement services and content development in addition to typical implementation services.

Thanks for reading!

Want more insights? Watch our on-demand webinar:

The Competitive Advantage of an Externally Facing LMS

There is tremendous diversity among the nearly 700 learning management systems available today. And when customer education is a top priority, it pays for organizations to choose an LMS designed specifically for that purpose.

What exactly are the business benefits of choosing a specialized learning management system (rather than an employee-oriented LMS) to support customer learning initiatives?

Join John Leh, Talented Learning lead analyst and CEO, and Terry Lydon, VP of Training Operations Projects at Litmos, as they explain the value of choosing an externally focused LMS. Specifically, they discuss: You’ll learn: 

  • How to quantify the benefits of customer learning
  • Which factors set a customer LMS apart from employee-focused platforms
  • What case studies reveal about the value of customer learning technology
  • How to find the best LMS for your customers’ needs, and
  • 5 areas of innovation unique to customer LMS solutions

Replay this free webinar now!

Need Proven LMS Selection Guidance?

Looking for a learning platform that truly fits your organization’s needs?  We’re here to help!  Submit the form below to schedule a free preliminary consultation at your convenience.

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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is Founder, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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