How to Narrow Your Selection of LMS Vendors

Two valuable features of an LMS that you may want to make part of your selection criteria right off the bat include (1) single sign-on, which allows users to access the LMS from a secure employee portal without creating new user names and passwords, and (2) historical training data integration, which involves integrating past training records into the new system.

You will also want to take the following steps to narrow your pool of possible solutions and proceed with the selection process.

Determine if you want a hosted or internal solution

Creating an internal solution allows you to contain sensitive information, and may result in less issues dealing with firewalls and security. It is important to consider, however, that this also makes it your responsibility to manage updates and issues internally.

A hosted solution is maintained by the provider, and can be less costly. There are numerous sources for researching these two options, including publications by ASTD, the eLearning Guild, the Brandon Hall Group, and Bersin & Associates.

Decide which features and functionality are most important to your organization

For example, many systems now are capable of supporting processes such as:

–competency mapping
–succession planning
–social learning forums
–deep-linking to internal websites
–performance management
–career development.

Look at providers’ customer base in your industry

They are more likely to know about challenges often faced by others in your field. They can offer best practices from peers, and may have user groups that enable you to network with others in your industry. For these reasons, you will want to reach out to current clients of the vendors you are considering.

Vendors typically will provide contact information for references that include their happiest customers. Another best practice is to reach out to companies that are not on this list, and schedule time to talk with them about their experience in working with the vendor.

Some questions that may be beneficial to ask a vendor’s current clients include:

What lessons did you learn during the implementation process?
What worked well?
What would you do differently?
Were there any unanticipated issues that you have had to deal with?
If you could change one thing about your system, what would it be?
Were there benefits of the system that you didn’t anticipate?
How long did you allow for implementation, and was that time sufficient?
What tasks during implementation did you underestimate?
Why did you select this vendor?

Customize a checklist to include with your RFP

When you have identified potential vendors, you will want to customize a system requirements checklist (see the job aid LMS Requirements Checklist at the back of the Infoline issue) in order to include it with your request for proposal (RFP). This checklist allows you to include features that are important to you, and to determine at a glance whether these features are part of a standard implementation or are offered at additional cost.

Your RFP should be simple and straightforward. You will want to include a description of what you are interested in purchasing, as well as a timeframe in which vendors must respond to the request in order to be considered.

Make note of each vendor’s responsiveness. A delayed response may be an early indicator that the vendor doesn’t have the capacity to manage additional customers, or simply that their response times are poor. Also make note of the vendor’s approach to your request. Are they simply responding to it, or are they reaching out to you in order to better understand the needs of your organization?

In addition, remember to discuss with the vendor which functionalities are configurable (tailored in the interface to meet your needs) versus customizable (often more expensive and requiring changes in coding).

Set up stakeholder demos

Your next step will be to set up demos with stakeholders. It may be helpful to schedule a time over the course of one day to have vendors make their demonstrations and allow stakeholders to discuss feedback and first impressions. Although this may not be possible for a global company, in-person demos typically offer the chance to capture greater feedback and allow stakeholders to collaborate in identifying the preferred solution.

Whether your demo is offered via webinar or in person, you can allow time before the demo to remind everyone of the critical features you identified in the assessment phase, and make time after for discussion. It is helpful if a member of your department takes detailed notes throughout in order to capture all feedback.

If you currently have another LMS solution, it can also be helpful to take some time with the group prior to the demos to show the current LMS, and remind the group of any system limitations that you are hoping to address with a new solution.

Remember that a large part of your stakeholder group may not be a daily (or even monthly) user of your LMS. They should be made aware of the issues you face with your current provider. You can also meet with key stakeholders ahead of time to determine any questions you’d like to pose to the vendor.

Vendors may have a “canned” demo that they use, but is helpful

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to identify the tasks you would most like to see demonstrated, and those that will be relevant to your audience. Let the vendor know ahead of time which specific features you would like to have included in the demo.

Again, if you already have an LMS and are looking to switch providers, what are your pain points that impact the organization? Are there tasks or processes with the current system that are cumbersome for the end user? Make sure you have an opportunity to see how these processes work with the other vendors.

Following the demos, the vendors should provide you with access to a “sandbox” site, where you can experiment with system functionality and test out the look, feel, and overall usability of the system. It may be useful to include a sample of end users in this process, also.

After the demos are complete, plan to communicate back to the stakeholder group with next steps and to acknowledge their part in the process. Frequent communication during each step in the selection process will help to engage senior leaders.

Evaluate costs and pricing

When considering costs of an LMS, be aware of the “true cost” of ownership. Elements to consider include:

–Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
–user licenses
–data storage
–staff training and support
–integration with web conferencing, CRM, and other software
–mobile applications
–various assessments and measurement tools.

When you have come this far in the process of selecting an LMS, you will want to prepare a business case for your preferred solution. An executive summary, which provides an at-a-glance summary of your business case, can also make a great hand-out for stakeholders and other decision makers involved in the process.

About the Author:

This article is excerpted from the July 2012 Infoline, “Selecting and Implementing an LMS.” Reprinted from Learning Circuits newsletter

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