Non-employee or extended enterprise learners take training because they want to and see value. Employee learners take learning because they are compelled. The difference mandates a different or enhanced skill set of corporate experience, capabilities and functionality for the extended enterprise LMS.
I sold high-end, extended enterprise LMS solutions for 13 years. I’ve seen and had to respond to virtually every conceivable type and combination of extended enterprise requirements. The mix of mandatory requirements varied greatly by client, industry, audience and business goal. Sometimes I had the right mix in my proverbial bag and many times I did not. Either way, you learn the requirement.
A key to my success was the ability to ferret out the unsaid requirements (landmines) by conducting good discovery and exploring deeply in a whole range potential functionality. I wanted to know as soon as possible if I had a perfect fit or not. I didn’t want to be surprised six or nine months down the road and find out all my work was in vain. If a perfect it, an A++ effort was required from the entire company to try and win. If not, the parachute was required before burning valuable resources and time just to lose. I’ve observed that knowing the difference was a skill lacking in most unsuccessful LMS salespeople.
In my experience, here are the Top 11 “buckets of functionality” that organizations are seeking to support their extended enterprise training efforts.
- Corporate Experience – If you can’t find mention of partners, sales channel, customer, members or the general public eLearning on the main page or within one-click of the LMS vendor website, you are looking at an internal LMS. If you have to explain to a vendor more than once that the LMS is not for internal employees, you are looking at an internal LMS. Organizations want a company that focuses its product and its services around the support of external training including the marketing and growth aspects of the solution. If it matters, don’t settle for your internal employee LMS.
- Audience Management – Extended enterprise initiatives need to support many diverse audience groups. Many times group membership is dictated by user, job, role, location, country, partner certification level, courses taken, products purchased and many other custom attributes. A combination of all these factors determine access to content, cost and business workflow exposed to a learner. An extended enterprise LMS can manage dynamic custom audiences and provide real-time adaptive learning and capabilities. Many vendors use the term “domains” to describe this type of functionality.
- Continuing Education – Earning credits, completing programs of study, certification, recertification, accreditation and managing the whole process is a complex and deep set of functionality. Additionally, certification business rules, credit values and recertification criteria commonly vary from state or country level and all need to be managed concurrently and easily.
- eCommerce – This is a very broad set of requirements that vendors tend to gloss over and the gotchas come out later. eCommerce includes everything from browsing content before logging in, variable content pricing, shopping carts, checkout, payment gateway integration, PCI, merchant accounts and all the standard Amazon stuff for individual users and groups of users. Purchase orders, e-checks, tokens, credit accounts, debit accounts and organization charge backs are all methods of tracking organizational commerce and usage behind the scenes. Bundles, subscriptions, timed access, content recommendations and related content are all advanced features to package and sell your content. Integration with corporate ERP, CRM, custom payment gateways, and customer/partner portals are common.
- Mobile – External users are not sitting at their desktop at work. They are not your employees. They have their own jobs and are voluntarily taking your training at night, weekends, on the train, plane or anywhere they can squeeze in. 90% of external content will be consumed via mobile devices. Everything you do for the extended enterprise needs to be mobile first. The LMS and any content need “responsive” design that automatically tailors the screen for no-scrolling on any device. Advanced mobile features include applications that allow for the downloading of content, offline consumption and eventual reporting back to master LMS. If it’s not all mobile, don’t bother.
- Social – The social feature set includes but goes far beyond the old features of threaded discussions, chat, wiki and moderated groups. Social now includes being able to create an account and sign in with your public social media profile, posting content progress and completions to your social network and the ability to engage experts for just in time performance support. Private, public, moderated spaces, user profiles, pictures, online status, sticky threads, notifications are all expected features.
- Gamification – The millennial generation plays games as voraciously as generation X watches TV. Cutting-edge solutions include gamification at both the content and the LMS level. At the content level, games and rewards are integrated into the instructional design process. At the LMS level, concepts such as points, badges, awards and social media integration create an X-Box 360 or Candy Crush Saga culture of moving up on the leader boards and earning prizes. Progressive companies tie physical prizes such as gift cards into the levels. Gamification also supports crowd-sourcing by providing incentives for users to participate and interact in the user community and other forums.
- Integration – The extended enterprise LMS is no longer a “destination,” but rather integrated into a more holistic workflow. Whether a user is in your partner portal, social network, or anywhere else, they should have dynamic and instant access to content and performance support. Extended enterprise LMS solutions need comprehensive and easy to use API or web service connectors to facilitate multiple single sign-on scenarios, content sharing, accreditation reporting, additional functionality and customer or partner data sharing.
- Taxation – Once you start selling online, the tax man shows up. Good external LMS solutions can manage taxation at a state, federal and international level typically via integration into specialized applications that keep abreast of all the taxation rules and ensure you are following them. Tax applications know what rate to charge, if any, based on the user and their profile demographics.
- Globalization – It’s tough to find examples of extended enterprise solutions that don’t have the potential for global rollout. Globalization includes the first tier of localization of the interface into multiple languages based either on a user profile or dynamically sniffing the language of the browser. Enhanced globalization includes the ability to manage a piece of content and create local variation to be dynamically served up to users, yet have one reporting record for administrators. The hosting of data and privacy regulations vary globally, and an experienced global provider can help mitigate risk through co-location of regional data centers and experience. The biggest companies have offices, partners and employees located locally being able to support local deployments. Globalized features also include time zone management and currency converters.
- Reporting and Analytics –Without this, you never get the funding in the first place. Extended enterprise LMS solutions exist because they have an easy to measure impact in the business. It is simple to compare groups of users who have vs. who have not taken sales training and see if they sell more for example. Reporting proves the ROI value for purchasing organizational leadership. Reporting needs to be modern, easy, secure, automatic, dynamic, realtime, inclusive of custom fields and modifiable. All data fields in the LMS should be available. Data should be exportable for comparison with data in other systems or be capable of being the warehouse.
In the coming days, weeks and months, we are going to use the above buckets of functionality to analyze the “extended enterprise readiness” of the industry’s leading LMS solutions based on the publicly available information on their website and social media sites. If they turn out to be extended enterprise “ready,” we’ll follow up with those vendors and conduct an extremely deep functionality and capability dive and document and verify everything so you don’t have to!
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