Top tips on finding an LMS vendor

LearnPatch is interviewing some of the speakers at the forthcoming World of Learning Conference and Exhibition. Here, Roisin Woolnough talks to e-learning analyst Craig Weiss.

When buying a new house, people put in a lot of time, effort and research to getting the right place. Same with buying a car. What about buying a new learning management system (###)? A lot of people do the bare minimum says Craig Weiss and as a result, end up with something that’s not right. “Looking for a LMS is almost like leasing a car,” he says. “You would research a car, look around on the internet, physically go and do a test drive, then possibly go away and think about it. It is the same kind of thing with a house. With a new LMS, you need to investigate it but a lot of people don’t do that.”

Okay, so buying in a LMS and buying a home aren’t the same thing, but Weiss still has a point. It’s an important investment and one that pays to get it right.

Craig Weiss

Craig Weiss: You need to have a good game plan

Look at what is out there. There are a lot of LMS vendors – you don’t need to research every single one, but don’t confine yourself to the big operators. Some of the smaller vendors are just as good and may specialise in your area. “A common mistake is focussing on only a small select number,” says Weiss. “There are over 600 systems but most people are unaware of that and tend to focus on the well-known names.”

Before contacting any vendors, do some research into them and just as importantly, into the market as a whole – what’s important, where LMS is going, what new technologies are coming up, what are the common problem areas, who is leading on innovation and so on. Is the vendor you are considering up to speed with what’s going on? Can they change as change happens? “Before you sign a contract ask the vendor what is on their roadmap for the next year,” says Weiss. “You can get a sense of whether they are forward thinking or not. If they can’t give you a roadmap, that’s a red flag.”

Unfortunately, a lot of people dispense with all of this and elect to go straight to vendors. They put in a request for information and prices and assume the vendors will do the necessary legwork for them. That approach leads to trouble, says Weiss. “It’s a long process and people don’t want to take the time. They presume that vendors will go ahead and make the time. But when you send a message, the vendor doesn’t know who you are and will give you generic information. And then the pricing is suspect.”

Weiss exhorts all consumers to follow due diligence. It sounds obvious but if you go in knowing what you want you are more likely to get it. And if you tell vendors what you want and get it all written into your contract, you are more likely to get it. That way you are not just signing up to their terms and conditions – they are also signing up to yours. “You need to have to have a good game plan,” says Weiss. “A lot of people sign deals and don’t understand fully what they are getting.”

What happens if you do all this and you still don’t get what you want? Hopefully, the vendor is hot on customer service and support. That is also an important consideration when choosing a vendor.
“One of the most important thing to do is to find out about support and service,” says Weiss. “There are vendors that have a reputation for being great and also that that don’t. The number one reason for people leaving a LMS is support and service issues, not cost.”

How do you find out which vendors take support and service seriously? If you ask them, they will naturally say it’s a key priority for them. You could take such assertions at face value, or you could ask to speak to other customers, plus do your own homework behind the scenes. “No vendor will say that their support and service stinks, but if it does, then others will,” says Weiss. “Asks lots of people, not just one or two. Investigate it. Go to sites, put posts in Twitter, go on Linked in and type in the name of the system.”

Problems are not necessarily a bad thing, it is how they are dealt with and resolved that is important. What you need to know is that a vendor will address any issues. If the problem does not go away, then what are your options? Can the contract be terminated? If so, what happens then? “Always have an opt out clause in your contract,” says Weiss. “Make sure it identifies any penalties if you leave and that you can take your data.”

People have a tendency to stay with a vendor, even when it’s not working. But if the problems aren’t resolvable, then get out and find a vendor that will provide what you need.

Weiss’ top tips:

  • Get a three year contract, no more
  • Have an opt out clause
  • Lock in pricing
  • Find out how often systems are updated
  • Ask the vendor what its roadmap is
  • Look at what new features have been added in the past year and ask what new features will be added in the coming year

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