When we started Talented Learning nearly four years ago, our mission was to help clients find and use learning management systems that effectively support extended enterprise education. At that time, interest in training customers, channel partners and others “outside the firewall” was on the rise, but many organizations either could not or would not use their internal employee-focused LMS to support external learning programs.
From the outset, we understood why learning technology decision makers often sought a separate LMS for channel partner and customer-focused education. After all, the circumstances surrounding extended enterprise learning are vastly different from employee-related scenarios. Customers and channel partners choose to buy and consume content voluntarily — only when they perceive value. In contrast, employees are forced to participate in training for compliance purposes. This difference between optional and compulsory learning is why organizations often set-up “rogue” solutions to serve external audiences.
LMS Demand: New Waves of Unexpected Interest
Four years ago, very few consultants had sufficient knowledge or desire to match potential buyers with specialized “extended enterprise learning” systems. So that became our bread and butter. But now we’re facing a whole new surge in demand from organizations with two unexpected objectives. They want to either:
- Replace their LMS entirely with a solution that serves multiple audiences, or
- Augment their existing employee LMS with extended enterprise capabilities
Augment an LMS? What is that? Just another opportunity to buy stuff? Not quite. But it is definitely a legitimate option that learning technology decision makers should keep in mind. To better understand what LMS augmentation is — and why it may make sense for you — we should take a look back at LMS history. (I’ll keep it super brief.)
All Aboard! The LMS Jumps On the Talent Management Train
You may recall that almost a decade ago, an acquisition wave took the LMS world by storm. Nearly overnight, the LMS industry morphed into the talent management industry. Old-school LMS companies (like SumTotal, Plateau, Learn.com, GeoLearning and Certpoint) were acquired by much larger talent and HR-suite providers like SAP/SuccessFactors, Infor, Oracle and IBM. Other well-known independent players like Cornerstone, Saba and Workday opted to compete by building their own talent suites. The goal was integrated talent management. Unfortunately, the result was a lack of focus on the LMS.
In fact, talent management suite vendors were so consumed with unifying their disparate brands, interfaces and databases that they didn’t see disruption coming from outside of their sphere. And that’s when it hit. Along came a groundswell of mainstream innovation – cloud computing, mobile technology, ecommerce and social media. The world lurched forward into a new level of digital transformation and everything changed along with it. Well, everything except talent management solutions.
The old-guard talent management LMS remained steadfast and stubborn – clinging to critical flaws:
- Astronomical licensing and setup costs
- Costly, labor-intensive upgrades and maintenance fees
- “Bolted-on” (vs integral) mobile, social and commerce functionality
- Rigid, unnatural user interface and learning experience design
Why No Talent Management LMS Breakups?
With all those talent management LMS drawbacks, why don’t organizations simply choose a new, separate LMS? Because talent-driven learning systems did one strategic thing extremely well — to the disservice of learning professionals. The tightly integrated nature of talent suites ensure “stickiness” of their solution within an organization. Once deployed, it is nearly impossible to replace a whole talent management suite – or the LMS. Even organizations that hate their LMS are stuck with it. With that kind of captive customer, why would a talent management LMS vendor even bother to improve its product?
Extended Enterprise Specialists Roll Into Town
Of course, nothing lasts forever — and just in the nick of time, extended enterprise solutions arrived and saved the LMS industry! While talent management providers were content to rest on their laurels and ignore their LMS roadmap, cloud-based LMS vendors were born.
These “new breed” LMS vendors brought modern mobile, social and digital commerce solutions that appealed to learning audiences, were built from the ground-up for integration and were designed to serve specific external business goals. Instead of trying to sell these solutions to HR, they marketed and sold them directly to the business units responsible for external audiences – customer support and sales.
Organizations gave these LMS applications an inch — and suddenly they took a mile! Within a relatively short timeframe, many Fortune 2000 organizations invested in two or more LMS solutions — a functionally bloated, boring one for employees and a sleek new dynamic one for everyone else. And as this concept of multiple, co-existing LMS solutions proved its worth, the learning platform space expanded to include more than 700 new “specialist” solutions we know today.
What Next? Say Hello to the Augmented LMS
HR leaders who were locked into a talent management LMS had good reason to be jealous of these learning solution upstarts. There they were, long-standing experts in the learning and development industry, forced to use outdated technology they hated, but unable to do anything about it! All the while, extended enterprise upstarts outflanked HR, providing measurable business value that eventually earned a coveted seat the executive table.
Extended enterprise LMS stakeholders were proving that learning initiatives make a legitimate business impact by comparing trained vs. untrained audiences on metrics like sales volume, customer satisfaction, retention and lifetime value. Increasingly, customer and partner education programs led to desired behaviors and justified investment in a second LMS.
Then suddenly, lightning struck again. Talent management LMS owners thought to themselves, “If we can’t replace our learning infrastructure — maybe we could incrementally ‘augment’ our employee LMS with complementary technology?”
And just like that, another new trend was born. The logic was simple: If you can’t get rid of your old-fashioned LMS, surround it — hide it even — with modern technology and capabilities that can help you deliver a measurable business difference — the same way extended enterprise specialists do!
What Is Unique About an Augmented LMS?
So, what exactly should you look for in an “augmented” LMS? How does it all work? Essentially, APIs (application programming interfaces) make it possible to create a custom ecosystem by easily linking together discrete software elements. It’s actually more like peaceful coexistence than competition. And the “whole” solution is better than the sum of its parts.
For example, via API, you could augment core virtual classroom functionality in a standalone LMS with virtual classroom capabilities that extend beyond the firewall. Other examples of capabilities you can leverage include custom mobile apps, ecommerce, video and other content capabilities, analytics, social and collaboration tools, CRM integration, enhanced user experience design and much more. The possibilities are growing more diverse and powerful all the time.
If you can’t beat them, join them – and then beat them! That is the promise of “the augmented LMS” movement, even without a central vendor or grand plan guiding its path. If you’re unable to replace your old entrenched employee LMS, resourceful minds can come to the rescue with viable solutions that will help your learning organization reach new audiences and also serve existing internal audiences much more effectively.
I explore these possibilities in more depth in a related about today’s learning technology ecosystem. I also invite you to replay a recent webinar I hosted focused exclusively on this topic (see the link below). Or, if you have immediate questions feel free to contact me directly.
Exciting times continue!
Want more insights? Watch our on-demand webinar:
When business decision makers think of training, they typically think of employees first. That’s one reason why so many learning platforms focus on workforce development and compliance.
But business success also depends upon the ability to educate customers, channel partners and others in your value chain.
How can you leverage learning technology to move beyond an “employees only” mentality? Take an in-depth look at this topic with John Leh, Lead Analyst and CEO at Talented Learning and Gary Underhill, Sr. Solution Architect at Expertus. You’ll learn:
- How to understand non-employee “external” audience learning needs
- How to avoid the “gotchas” of multiple audiences
- LMS functionality required to serve multiple audiences
- Strategies for building on an existing employee-focused LMS infrastructure
- Fundamentals of external marketing and promotion
- How to measure success when expanding your reach
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