Even with recent industry consolidation, more than 1000 learning systems are available in today’s global marketplace. And no two systems are alike. Of course, as many buying organizations know all too well, that makes LMS selection challenging.
However, you can distinguish between platforms by focusing on use case specialization and the various services each vendor provides (or does not provide).
When choosing a system for extended enterprise learning, it’s tempting to become enamored by “sizzle” features like adaptive learning, AI, e-commerce, microlearning, mobile apps, social and gamification. But successful buyers know that strong vendor services are at least as important as any feature checklist item.
Why? Because many buyers need help to implement learning systems quickly, effectively and strategically. And vendor-provided professional services are often the solution.
How Services Add Value
Every LMS buyer requires the right level of services in the right combination. This can include program design, system configuration, data and content migration, ecosystem integration, content development, customer support, managed administration, localization, video production, marketing support and more.
Because extended enterprise learning programs are tied directly to organizational revenue and profit, the stakes are high. There’s no time to waste on a delayed or derailed implementation. That’s why a vendor’s assistance is often essential.
This isn’t just my opinion. It’s also a common theme among the industry insiders I interview on The Talented Learning Show. For example, check out the cross-section of podcast excerpts below. Each of these guests has a unique perspective. Yet they all agree that vendor services add business value…
Learning Systems and Services: Insider Tips
From Episode 39:
What Drives Global Online Training Success?
Q: What would you tell others who are just starting to transform an extended enterprise training system?
Rimantas: Three points:
1) Planning is key. Plan for failure as well as success. Because planning for failure actually leads to success. Have a Plan A and a Plan B. Simple as that.
2) Know your audience. Keeping your customer at the heart of your efforts helps move things along when, for example, you’re thinking things through from a back-end perspective. As we say internally, “customers choose.” Once you get this idea, everything moves more smoothly and on pace.
3) Work as a team. For a big LMS deployment with many users, a team with diverse perspectives and strengths really helps. With diverse people, you can quickly become really confused about why everyone thinks differently. But in the long run, the benefits show.
Tomas: I agree that team is the most critical thing for an ambitious learning platform migration with a large external audience and a tight switch-over timeframe.
And I agree that the team should be diverse. But it should also be well-tuned. In our case, because we knew one another’s strengths, skills and interests, we could easily distribute work across our group so everyone could perform their best.
In addition, even if you’ve previously migrated from one learning system to another, it’s important to have someone hold your hand during this process.
We appreciated having a skilled, reliable technology services partner to guide us through the process and support us when we had issues and unanswered questions.
From Episode 41:
What Makes Successful Channel Training Programs Work?
Q: As you developed your industry education ecosystem, what did you learn that you wish you had known sooner?
When it comes to new opportunities like this, don’t assume you know everything. Be open-minded. If we’ve learned anything in recent times, it’s to be inclusive with one another. And that extends to being inclusive with ideas.
We’re all part of something bigger than ourselves. Whatever you do, that open mindset will help you foster better relationships and build something that your customers and others will embrace.
So, keep an open mind and welcome others’ ideas and you’ll get better results.
From Episode 23:
Why Pick an Open Source LMS for Extended Enterprise Learning?
Q: What would you say to a corporation that has an LMS for employees, but wants to expand its reach to customers or partners?
Flexibility is the keyword. Challenge your LMS providers on that. Because far too many learning solutions don’t really solve anything, and actually become tumbleweed.
They’re not reaching their audience. And even if they are, those people are not engaged. So it’s critical to have a platform and toolset that lets you respond in an agile way.
Look carefully at your audiences to compare internal and external needs. You may find that what you offer employees should be offered more broadly. So you may be able to serve multiple audiences with the same platform and different levels of access.
Larger organizations may need to address very different external learning needs. That’s when it may make sense to choose a new system and build around those particular needs.
But in the future, you may find that this external system also gives you the ability to backfill. In other words, you can replace your employee system with your external learning infrastructure, if it is agile enough to meet internal requirements, as well.
But no matter what, don’t get locked into a proprietary roadmap or a commercial contract without sufficient flexibility. Because you may suddenly be required to expand or scale back or move in a new direction. These dynamics can be exaggerated in extended enterprise learning scenarios.
So give yourself the freedom to continue controlling what happens when your business changes. Because it will change – and that’s likely to happen very quickly.
How will you handle these changing needs? How will you handle business uncertainty? It all comes back to flexibility.
From Episode 43:
Can an LMS Succeed with a Split Personality?
Q: Many organizations are thinking about buying their first learning system or replacing what they have. What practical advice do you have for people in those situations?
Two main bits of advice:
1) Many people assume that a platform like ours is super expensive or complicated. So definitely check out our products, because I think you’ll be happily surprised. They’re beautiful, intuitive and available at a great price point.
2) No matter what product you pick, invest some time to understand how you can create engaging courses for online usage. Because one of the biggest mistakes we see is that people just recreate a classroom course in a digital format and dump it into a platform.
I understand why. Actually, I used to teach with a whiteboard when I delivered classroom training. But you don’t need a Ph.D. in learning to develop compelling digital courses.
It’s not difficult. Nevertheless, it helps to know how you can use things like bite-sized content, adaptive learning, automation and gamification to make online courses really good fun. That should be a priority.
From Episode 1:
What is the Value of Learning Systems Advisory Services?
Q: How can strategic services help organizations improve learning results?
Compliance training is necessary, but it’s not sufficient for success. What matters most is transforming learning-related data into information that drives action. If it doesn’t drive action, why bother gathering the data at all?
If we’ve done a good job with transforming the data, we should be able to analyze, understand and interpret it in a meaningful, descriptive way. And increasingly, organizations also want to use it for prescriptive purposes. So, they’re interested not just in analyzing what they are doing, but what they should be doing to improve.
Ultimately, we should aim to be very specific at a customer level. What is your “market segment of one“? How can you develop the kind of learning experience for your employees and partners that will help them do a better job of serving customers?
That’s where you will find an impact on your organization’s bottom line. So that is where strategy services are best utilized.
From Episode 31:
Why Are More Businesses Choosing Open Source Learning Systems?
Q: What if an organization wants to invest in an open-source LMS for extended enterprise learning, but hasn’t used open-source before? What should they know?
Good question. I’d say three things:
1) The dark secret in our industry is that LMS functionality is nearly the same across systems. That’s a controversial statement. But look at an RFP with 700 requirements. Every vendor can respond with a “yes” to nearly every line item. That means RFPs don’t really help.
The devil is in the details. So don’t get caught up in comparing features. Instead, focus on what you most want to do with that LMS and related functionality. Ask vendors to show you how they support your priorities. This is where you’ll see differences – if any.
Everyone will say they have what you need. But how they do it is probably what matters, and you won’t get that with an RFP.
2) Our industry is changing more rapidly than ever. I believe this is happening because everyone uses open standards now. As a result, there’s an explosion of new products that fit into the elearning ecosystem.
In other words, you don’t just need an LMS. You might also need microlearning, or analytics, or a specific type of content, or a multitude of other things you may not even know about yet.
So, to future-proof your learning infrastructure, look for vendors with a track record of integrating various components to build solutions that feel seamless to users. That’s critical now. And open source has a long track record of this.
3) Buyers should focus on the types of services they need. Our industry has a reputation for bad service quality across all market segments. In recent years, most closed-source LMS companies have tried to make their systems more self-service. But these systems are really too complex for that.
On the other hand, the open-source model leads to much better service quality. Open-source vendors need to focus on services because there’s competition, even among partners that offer the same product.
From Episode 28:
What Gives Product Training Broader Appeal?
Q: What advice would you give to people who are thinking about moving forward with extended enterprise training?
I think they should start by looking at the bigger picture. It’s not just about technology. It’s about getting buy-in for what your business wants to accomplish with an LMS.
Often, organizations think that if you build it, people will come. They assume they can just turn on an LMS and – “Ta-da!” – everything is done. But there are so many other variables.
When people show up, they need to have a good learning experience. They won’t tolerate a system where passwords are always breaking, or access to content is 12 clicks away. You also need really good content that is appealing and relevant to your audience.
But you need even more than that. You need the right kind of data tracking and analytics. Because if you can’t track everything you need to know, you won’t be effective. Plus, you need support from others who will champion your agenda, and the ability to market your efforts successfully.
I think people pay too much attention to technology. We focus on something we want to do, and then look for technology that will fix it. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is gaining advocates who support your agenda and get the word out for you. Whether it’s customers, or partners, or internal executives and management staff – getting ambassadors is key.
So content, support and system. You’ve got to think of all three together in unison – especially if you’re just getting started.