“What’s an LMS?”

What’s an LMS GRAPHIC

Lessons learned in implementing a Learning Management System

This article, as well as Part 2, describes the lessons learned from implementing the first Learning Management System (LMS) in my company. It was a rewarding venture, providing functionality we needed for some time. The experience yielded many lessons that might be helpful for others. Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way.

Disclaimer: I am not selling any LMS! I have absolutely no attachment to any LMS vendor. In fact, many articles written about LMSs are provided by vendors with an interest in selling to you. Not me! I’m unbiased, and will not be recommending any LMS vendors.

Is your company ready to embark on the journey of acquiring your first LMS? The answer to this question might be “Yes,” even if employees don’t yet know what one is.

In our Learning & Development group, manual processes and procedures, and especially tracking and reporting of course offerings, had become difficult. It was no one’s fault; we simply had outgrown our systems. I felt it was time to share a new vision for a better way to support the training function in our company.

When I first mentioned to senior leaders the need for an LMS, I was met with this question: “What’s an LMS?” Admittedly, we were at that time a smaller company of under 1000 employees, and it was ambitious to think that we would procure an enterprise level LMS–but it was needed. We ended up with a great system that did everything we needed, and more. Here are some practical ways to proceed.

Do Your Homework

Begin by learning all you can about the LMS world; there is much to know! A Learning Management System (commonly abbreviated as LMS) is a software application for support of the training function including the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs. This can include support for classroom and online events, as well as e-learning programs. The LMS also can be a learning content site where your learning content can be hosted and accessed by learners (LMCS—Learning Management Content System). A robust LMS should be able to do virtually anything that a company needs in order to support the training function, and there are many possibilities—including some excellent options for social networking. A quick Web search will reveal the possibilities.

Many business or enterprise-level LMSs support talent management add-ons to manage the performance side of human capital, though this functionality can be expensive. Again, you will need to do your homework. We wanted to formalize job roles with core competencies that we could use to map performance reviews and training options, and then move into succession planning and talent management. We also wanted to host CBTs, or Computer-Based Training. I developed a specific shopping list; I knew what I wanted.

You will need to make a decision about what type of system will be best. Will you purchase software and ask your IT group to install, update, and run it? Or will you opt for a Software-as-a-Service (Saas) model, with a monthly subscription based on your number of users—and where, typically, the hosting can be done by the vendor, allowing your IT group to be largely free to work on other projects?

Doing your homework is a process; allow plenty of time for research, discussion, and networking. If you shortcut this process, you won’t have a clear and compelling vision to share with your company.

Focus on Solving Business Problems or Meeting Needs

One of our needs centered on processes that needed better support in our company. For example, we needed a delivery vehicle for our performance review process. I was asked to assist with a redesign of this process, and the need for such a delivery vehicle became apparent. How would we push out the performance review process to supervisors and their direct reports? How would we track and report on it? This was a challenge. I focused our team on the issue: We needed a delivery vehicle, and an LMS could provide it, along with the tracking and reporting desired.

Create a Clear Vision, and Sell It

Often, selling a vision is about timing. If frustrations are mounting over inefficiencies and the inability to see clearly what is happening in the organization, it is prime time for selling the LMS vision. If there is no felt need, create one by sharing about what the future could be, with better systems—yet without being critical of the present reality.

Sell your vision to key stakeholders—those with the influence and ability to make the vision a reality. Remember: Without executive support and sponsorship, you are not ready to move forward. Also remember: A key IT stakeholder can be your best friend. Create talking points to share what an LMS can do for the company and what problems it can solve. Tell the stakeholders how it can benefit the company and why it is worth doing. An old commercial once asked: “Where do you want to go today?” That’s the spirit to capture. Once key stakeholders begin to share your vision, they will want to kick the tires a bit, so have models to share with them and arrange for demos hosted by LMS vendors.

Choose Your Vendors

Research is important in determining what vendors you will want to consider. Much of this research is available on the Internet and at learning conferences. I attended the Training Conference & Expo and found all I needed—classes, networking opportunities, and vendors. I also found excellent information from Gartner’s Magic Quadrant.

LMSs represent an $860 million market of more than 60 different providers. The six largest LMS companies constitute approximately 50 percent of the market. Approximately 40 percent of U.S. training organizations reported that they have an LMS installed, a figure that has not changed significantly over the last two years. Only 36 percent of small businesses are using an LMS (Bersin et al. 2009).

I prepared an RFP spreadsheet (Request for Proposal), which I sent to my selected vendors. On that sheet, I placed all of the specifics of my shopping list, the items I knew we wanted and needed in an LMS. This included information about features, functions, IT specs, hosting options, tracking and reporting, and other items. When I received the RFPs back, I was in a better position to determine what vendors I wanted to talk with further. Be sure to include items related to the training and support offered by the vendor as this is an area of great importance.

Present Your Plan

After I interviewed the vendors, I had knowledge of them, as well as their pricing. I decided on my first-choice vendor. With stakeholder support, clear knowledge, and vision, I was ready to present the plan to senior leadership for approval.

If you have created and shared a compelling vision based upon company needs, and have a clear first choice of vendor, it is the right time to move forward. Don’t mire them in all of the details of what you know; share with senior leadership the reasons for your choice of vendor and secure the green light for the next step.

Negotiate with Your Vendor of Choice

I believe everything is negotiable—whether buying a car or obtaining a service. Once software is built, if no one uses it, it sits on a shelf (or a server). I went into the discussion with my vendor with this mindset. I found there are levels of pricing, and plenty of choices. The end result of my discussion with my vendor of choice: a bid significantly lower than what other comparable vendors had offered, with more of my desired features than any of the others.

If you don’t ask, you will never know. I obtained an extra administrator’s seat, in case we needed it, because I asked for it. I secured some performance functions that saved us significant dollars. My chosen vendor offered a free CBT package for the first year, a major plus for us.

Finalize the bid, secure it, and then move forward.

Create a Presentation for Senior Leadership

I prepared a PowerPoint presentation about my vendor of choice, which shared information about them, what they offer, and why I chose them. I answered two questions in my presentation that had not yet been asked: Why and why now? That is, why do we need this LMS, and why do we need it now? Then I shared the pricing, and since the vision was clear regarding what the LMS would do for us, and who our vendor would be, the price was seen as reasonable. We moved forward, involved our legal counsel in vetting the vendor, and everyone was on board with the decision. We were on our way.

Sign up for my newsletter and I will send some helpful hints for developing RFPs to send out to your vendors of choice, some negotiating pointers, and helpful hints on designing and using your LMS of choice.

Part 2: Beginning the LMS Journey

NOTE: The second, related article will discuss the implementation phase, software training, and phasing in LMS functionality over time. It also will discuss internal marketing and user adoption rates, etc.


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