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Selecting the Right LMS

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Bruce Duff senior vice president of Pathlore sets out 10 steps to securing a learning management system that fits your organisation's needs.


A learning management system (LMS) is a true “enterprise” application that can benefit employees, customers, suppliers, and learners. Although the selection process can be time-consuming, shortcuts can be fatal. A careful, methodical selection process is an investment in your organisation’s future.

1. Determine your needs
Since each LMS has its particular strength and focus, it’s critical to formally determine your organisation’s most important needs. Interview managers across the organisation and come to a shared understanding of business problems a learning management system can address - such as turnover, training cost, and time to competence - and which LMS features will address them. This preliminary consensus building will increase the chances of getting a satisfactory e-learning management solution as well as organisational buy-in once it’s implemented.

2. Discover strategic plans/direction of organization
Despite everyone’s best efforts, the learning function sometimes gets separated from the front lines of the business. To be truly valuable, e-learning must be a seamless part of the business, entirely in tune with it, with the same long-term objectives. Find out your organisation’s long-term strategy, written or not, so that e-learning will advance it.

3. Form a selection committee
The panel should include major stakeholders from major lines of business and the accounting, human resources/training, and information technology departments. Of course, it should also include the chief learning officer or chief knowledge officer if one exists.

4. Identify general targeted wants
By combining your review of your business and the LMS industry, you should have a general wish list of features at this point, such as a web browser client, competency-based learning management, authoring, testing, and open architecture. Further research will enable you to get more specific as the process progresses.

5. Create a list of vendor candidates
Three to five should be sufficient. See how they match up against your targeted wants.

6. Develop a Request for Proposals (RFP)
Based on your research, you should at this point be able to make your wish list more detailed. A request for proposals (RFP) demonstrates you’ve settled firmly on that wish list based on your business needs and information technology requirements/capabilities (e.g., the network, server operating systems, and database). You are now investigating who can satisfy your specified needs. It’s good to ask pointed questions that reflect these needs, but don’t go overboard. Understand that some vendors will not respond to RFPs because of the time and effort to develop the proposal. Some vendors also assume that the prospective customer is sending RFPs out to everyone.

Ultimately, the best approach is to allow the selected vendors to openly communicate directly with the selection committee. Remember, the more the potential vendors know about your business and your needs, the more likely they will propose the right solution. Beware of vendors whose recommendations are tailored to what they offer versus what you need.

7. Ask questions
Ask about architecture, system requirements, content standards, technology standards, product functions, customer support, and pricing. Ask about the history of the product. Has it been around long enough to be stable? Do new versions come out frequently enough to stay current with other industry offerings? You should also ask about each vendor’s past, its plans for the future, and its funding.

These questions ensure the organisation has a track record and will continue to invest in the technology you need. The answers will also indicate whether customers or investors see the organisation as viable. Another good approach is to have “scoring” criteria in place before the RFP responses start rolling in. This approach will allow you to be more objective in evaluating your responses. Many enterprises do this by selecting five to seven attributes (e.g. “fit of product capabilities to requirements”, “vendor’s ability to execute”, “deployment time”) and weighting them by importance. In general, it is wiser to place more weight on broader attributes (such as architecture) versus narrower requirements (such as “e-mail notifications”). It’s also smart to share these priorities with the vendors so that they have a better feel for what your enterprise values.

8. Get references
Ask vendor candidates if you can call their customers. If their customers are happy, this step shouldn’t be a problem. Learn how customers are using the product, what’s working, the quality of their support, their plans for the future, and how they “get smart” about using their LMS. Beware of shill references long on praise and short on specifics.


9. Make a site visit
The vendors came to your place, now it’s your turn to visit their offices. A lot of learning management system customers skip this step at their peril. Ask to meet key players, such as the CEO, CTO, programmers, and support and sales personnel. Come up with two or three scenarios you want to see eg launching courseware, managing competencies, authoring courses, or integrating third-party content. Don’t be surprised if it turns out that one or two vendors’ products just can’t perform.

10. Request final presentations with pricing details
By this point in the selection process, you should be down to two to four finalists. These final presentations will determine whether the vendor is fully tuned into your business needs and introduce negotiations over price. It may also ferret out unpleasant surprises.

Follow this advice from a major bank: “When negotiating price, consider the costs of license fees, user (per seat) fees, maintenance fees, communication fees, professional services fees, training expenditures, travel expenditures, pass-through costs for third-party content providers, hosting costs, and the costs for administrative support. To adequately compare the final offers, look at what the costs will be over one, two and three years. Our final selection at first proved to be most expensive for the first year but had dramatic cost reductions during the next two years.”

* This is an extract from a white paper on learning management systems from the Matchett Group contact Elaine Priestley for a copy of the paper.

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