Learning management systems are major investments. There are numerous studies and reports floating around that support the notion that many LMS customers are unhappy. One survey by the eLearning Guild places the number of customers planning to change vendors as high as 13%. That may be true, but in today’s economy the cost of changing vendors cannot be justified by subjective opinions. Many administrators have spent hours researching change, talking with vendors and preparing proposals, only to be shot down by their board or manager.
So when is it appropriate to change your learning management system vendor? Rarely is it a single factor; usually it is a combination of cost with the need for improved technology or to resolve vendor concerns. Examining and proposing a change must focus on the objective business circumstances, not a subjective opinion. Consider how the change can generate:
- Wage, labor, and personnel cost savings, including reduced turnover
- Increased productivity or decreased cost per unit
- Revenue from expansion of training
- Miscellaneous returns, such as decreased maintenance costs or improved sales tactics
Carefully consider how such a change will affect you, as well. Consider the personal fatigue and delay on the training center staff as you transition systems. As part of the training team, you will be responsible for managing the organizational changes associated with the new learning management system.
As the number of learning management system vendors have increased, so have the variety of price points and options. Cost is a common component of most proposed changes. A learning management system that is priced based on computers, students, or class volume can get very expensive if a training center experiences rapid success and growth. Other vendors have placed fees on things like data storage or bandwidth usage to increase revenue. Ideally, training centers should be able to budget a specific amount to cover their learning management system needs.
There are number of factors to consider when considering a switch based on cost. When presenting your proposal, include these items in your cost analysis. Show that you’ve done your homework, and that the cost savings are worth the effort involved.
Never build your feature list in a vendor hall – great advice. If cost is your primary motive for a change, looking at new features can negate the cost savings you’re trying to achieve. Make a list of the features that are used on a daily basis by the training center staff, instructors, students and other users. Identify features that are core to the function of your training center.
- Cost of Transition
In addition to the quoted price from potential vendors, there will be a significant amount of time and effort involved in any transition. How is your existing data going to be provided to you by the current provider? Some vendors store information in a proprietary manner, and charge fees for extracting data to a usable format. How much work is involved to import the data and set up the new system? What amount of time will be required from your information technology department to implement the change? How long will the system be off-line, and are there any business processes affected? How much time will be required to train personnel on use of the new system? The costs associated with a transition can rapidly eliminate potential savings.
- Long-Term Costs
After looking at the cost of transition, return to your daily business processes and the both learning management systems’ feature set. What tasks will change? How will changes affect training center staff? Does cutting cost and features mean the training center staff will have less time to teach? to develop new material?
Technology changes at a very rapid rate. Education and training web sites are filled with press releases, advertisements and editorials on new approaches and features. Avoid the technical imperative – creating a need for a feature just because the feature exists. Consider technology as it relates specifically to your training center, students and curricula.
- Technology that decreases the cost of training delivery, compared to the existing learning management system.
- The need to integrate with technologies or systems being adopted by your company on a larger scale.
- Transitioning from an self-hosted solution to a vendor-hosted (cloud, SaaS) solution.
- Technology that relates to ease-of-use, accessibility, or increased automation.
- Technology that increases transfer of training to the work environment.
- Significant growth that challenges the capabilities of the existing learning management system (server load, simultaneous users, bandwidth, capacity, etc.)
When proposing a switch based on changes in technology, you still have to address the cost issue. Make an effort to show how the change in technology will have a significant return on investment over time. Also, show how continuing with the current learning management system will begin to negatively impact the training center and company.
Dissatisfaction with your current vendor often comes when expectations and responsibilities are not clearly defined or understood. Some of the most common vendor issues cited in change proposals are:
- Dissatisfaction with impersonal support and support responsiveness
- Addition of “hidden” costs throughout the contract life
- “Down” time or problems maintaining the service level
- Lack of a voice in future development and not anticipating needs
- Failure to provide software updates or patches
- Unresponsive to customization, personalization, or reporting requests
Citing issues with your learning management system vendor as the reason for a switch is potentially the most difficult to justify. Your management team will have questions that you should be prepared to answer:
- “Are these issues covered by the written agreements or documents we have in place?”
- “Have we clearly voiced the issue, in writing, to the vendor’s management team?”
- “How did they respond?”
- “If the issue remains unresolved, what is the impact to our business?”
Be prepared for your management team to suggest reaching back out to your learning management system vendor, and working with them to find solutions. You may have to approach your management team several times, updating your proposal with additional information. It can be especially useful if you can place a financial amount on how much the vendor issue has “cost” between approaches.
Your New Learning Management System Vendor
If you are proposing a switch, you also have to remember to be open and honest with your newly selected vendor. You don’t want to be making the case to switch vendors a second time. Be sure you understand key differences between systems. If vendor issues are an element of the decision, be sure expectations are clearly outlined and understood by both parties. Develop a successful implementation plan. For more information on how to successfully implement a learning management system, see our Knowledge Base article here.
The decision to switch learning management systems is rarely a quick decision based on a single issue. Be sure any proposed switch is based on a solid, objective business case. Clearly articulate how the change will have a positive impact.