Selecting an LMS: Needs Analysis Phase

Developing an RFP for a Learning Management System (LMS) can be a daunting task for most learning organizations. With each vendor meeting, you will no doubt discover a bewildering array of features. That shouldn’t be a surprise. There are literally thousands of features and functions contained within today’s most sophisticated LMS products.

How did these systems become so varied and comprehensive? In fact, these large feature sets are a direct result of the needs that we’ve asked the LMS vendors to address. These needs may range from the more obvious and ubiquitous features like course tracking and completion — the “nuts and bolts” needed by a learning organization — to broader enterprise needs like rapid authoring and development, applicant tracking, and succession planning functionality.

Step 1: The Start

Most learning organizations begin the LMS acquisition process by first performing an Enterprise Needs Analysis. All of the requirements and features that you will later define in your RFP, will be a result of that “Enterprise Needs Analysis.” These needs come from the solutions that your organization plans to implement. These same solutions, in turn, will become your financial and business justification for acquiring the new LMS. To help illustrate, let’s look at a couple of simple examples to show how needs translate into system features, as well as business justifications.

Step 2: One type of Conversion

Let’s assume that you are an internal training organization faced with the following business situation: You’re being pressured by the sales department to decrease the time it will take to put a new sales rep into the field. You’re also being asked to decrease the time it will take to train the entire sales force on an upcoming new product launch. Although difficult problems to solve, you’ll see that their solution will actually help you define what features you’ll need in your new LMS, as well as your success metrics and your expected return on investment (ROI).

To illustrate, let’s assume that it takes an average of 10 weeks (50 training days) to train a new sales person. After some analysis and discussion, you conclude that a new LMS with the ability to launch and track online e-learning solutions (a set of features) will enable you to collapse that time frame to 25 training days. As part of that approach, you propose accomplishing that goal by providing classroom training on only the top 20 percent of your enterprise’s product line — the products or services that produce 80 percent of your revenues. You further decide to provide the training for the remaining 80 percent of the products via e-learning solutions managed by the LMS. This latter training can be done as required by the sales rep, perhaps with an occasional “nudge.” Now that you have the features and a solution to an enterprise need, you can calculate the expected ROI.

NOTE: From a cost standpoint, there are also savings associated with avoiding five weeks of salary expense that would have been lost in the old training process, as well as the associated travel costs. Combining these savings with the new revenues will further strengthen your ROI.

Step 3: Another Conversion

For the next examples, let’s move out of the learning organization and into other areas of the enterprise. One areas worthy of mention are marketing and customer support.

Marketing departments are just recently beginning to use the live and recorded e-learning capabilities of an LMS to help in new product launches to partners, customers and prospects. At the same time, customer support operations are beginning to use the rapid development and authoring functionality in an LMS to divert problem calls away from their telephone support lines. Armed with these new LMS tools, the ROIs in these two departments can be staggering.

Consider a new product roll-out from the marketing department’s perspective. Imagine being able to collapse a 12-month new product roll-out in half, simply by replacing second-tier hotel and conference presentations around the world with live and recorded Webcasts to partners and clients.

Imagine further that the new product has projected annual revenues of $100 million. That would translate into $50 million in new revenue, six months earlier, while collapsing the introductory time and associated expense in half. Not only is this approach cheaper, the real payback comes when you consider how the increased sales revenue will impact the enterprise’s profitability when “time to market” is shortened.

A similar ROI potential can also be created in the customer support department.

With today’s technology, a customer support specialist or an expert from your staff can quickly create a five-minute recording over a set of PowerPoint slides that tells a customer how to fix a problem—without waiting for a support person to answer the phone. While a customer waits to connect to a support person, a recording asks whether the customer would like to be redirected to a portal that contains problem solutions, one of which is his or hers. In addition, those same recordings can become part of the daily training for the customer support staff, as well as a performance support tool to help newer personnel.

With the top 10 support problems usually creating between 50 percent and 80 percent of the inbound calls, the ability to divert a significant amount of this traffic to a Website, and away from the “live support” telephone lines, will have a direct impact on the infrastructure expenditures in this area.

Step 4: Translating to an RFI/RFP

The next step is to translate these enterprise needs into a specific company Request for Information (RFI) or, skipping that stage, the final RFP that will be sent to the vendors. These documents summarize your enterprise’s requirements for the vendors, as well as translate the business problems that you are trying to solve into specific LMS features that you need to do the job.

You may be a global enterprise requiring feature sets that can handle multiple languages, currencies, course catalogs and calendars. Or you may be a U.S.-based retailer faced with the need for LMS features that allow you to train a high-turnover staff that’s scattered over thousands of locations.

Once your list of needed features is compiled, you will then need to determine how important each of these features is to your enterprise.

My recommendation is to rate each feature on a scale of 1 to 10.You then multiply that “feature weight” by a second number based on the vendor’s response for that feature: 10 points if the LMS

has the feature native to its software; 5 points for a partial or third-party solution; and 0 points if the LMS doesn’t have the capability.

When you add up the individual feature scores for each LMS, you will then have a numerical representation of which LMS is the “best fit” from a feature perspective. But your work isn’t done yet.

You need to also consider criteria that are more qualitative and potentially “weightier.” These criteria include key factors like customer support, product quality, the ease of making changes, interoperability with other applications, price and SCORM compatibility. Together with the feature sets you’ve defined, this comprehensive statement of enterprise needs will lead you to the proper selection of an LMS partner.

—For more help making your LMS decision, attend the Workshop “How to Buy the Right LMS” hosted at the Enterprise Learning! Conference & Expo, Sept. 27 in Anaheim, Calif. Learn more at: www.elceshow.com.

Developing an RFP for a Learning Management System (LMS) can be a daunting task for most learning organizations. With each vendor meeting, you will no doubt discover a bewildering array of features. That shouldn’t be a surprise. There are literally thousands of features and functions contained within today’s most sophisticated LMS products.

How did these systems become so varied and comprehensive? In fact, these large feature sets are a direct result of the needs that we’ve asked the LMS vendors to address. These needs may range from the more obvious and ubiquitous features like course tracking and completion — the “nuts and bolts” needed by a learning organization — to broader enterprise needs like rapid authoring and development, applicant tracking, and succession planning functionality.

Step 1: The Start

Most learning organizations begin the LMS acquisition process by first performing an Enterprise Needs Analysis. All of the requirements and features that you will later define in your RFP, will be a result of that “Enterprise Needs Analysis.” These needs come from the solutions that your organization plans to implement. These same solutions, in turn, will become your financial and business justification for acquiring the new LMS. To help illustrate, let’s look at a couple of simple examples to show how needs translate into system features, as well as business justifications.

Step 2: One type of Conversion

Let’s assume that you are an internal training organization faced with the following business situation: You’re being pressured by the sales department to decrease the time it will take to put a new sales rep into the field. You’re also being asked to decrease the time it will take to train the entire sales force on an upcoming new product launch. Although difficult problems to solve, you’ll see that their solution will actually help you define what features you’ll need in your new LMS, as well as your success metrics and your expected return on investment (ROI).

To illustrate, let’s assume that it takes an average of 10 weeks (50 training days) to train a new sales person. After some analysis and discussion, you conclude that a new LMS with the ability to launch and track online e-learning solutions (a set of features) will enable you to collapse that time frame to 25 training days. As part of that approach, you propose accomplishing that goal by providing classroom training on only the top 20 percent of your enterprise’s product line — the products or services that produce 80 percent of your revenues. You further decide to provide the training for the remaining 80 percent of the products via e-learning solutions managed by the LMS. This latter training can be done as required by the sales rep, perhaps with an occasional “nudge.” Now that you have the features and a solution to an enterprise need, you can calculate the expected ROI.

NOTE: From a cost standpoint, there are also savings associated with avoiding five weeks of salary expense that would have been lost in the old training process, as well as the associated travel costs. Combining these savings with the new revenues will further strengthen your ROI.

Step 3: Another Conversion

For the next examples, let’s move out of the learning organization and into other areas of the enterprise. One areas worthy of mention are marketing and customer support.

Marketing departments are just recently beginning to use the live and recorded e-learning capabilities of an LMS to help in new product launches to partners, customers and prospects. At the same time, customer support operations are beginning to use the rapid development and authoring functionality in an LMS to divert problem calls away from their telephone support lines. Armed with these new LMS tools, the ROIs in these two departments can be staggering.

Consider a new product roll-out from the marketing department’s perspective. Imagine being able to collapse a 12-month new product roll-out in half, simply by replacing second-tier hotel and conference presentations around the world with live and recorded Webcasts to partners and clients.

Imagine further that the new product has projected annual revenues of $100 million. That would translate into $50 million in new revenue, six months earlier, while collapsing the introductory time and associated expense in half. Not only is this approach cheaper, the real payback comes when you consider how the increased sales revenue will impact the enterprise’s profitability when “time to market” is shortened.

A similar ROI potential can also be created in the customer support department.

With today’s technology, a customer support specialist or an expert from your staff can quickly create a five-minute recording over a set of PowerPoint slides that tells a customer how to fix a problem—without waiting for a support person to answer the phone. While a customer waits to connect to a support person, a recording asks whether the customer would like to be redirected to a portal that contains problem solutions, one of which is his or hers. In addition, those same recordings can become part of the daily training for the customer support staff, as well as a performance support tool to help newer personnel.

With the top 10 support problems usually creating between 50 percent and 80 percent of the inbound calls, the ability to divert a significant amount of this traffic to a Website, and away from the “live support” telephone lines, will have a direct impact on the infrastructure expenditures in this area.

Step 4: Translating to an RFI/RFP

The next step is to translate these enterprise needs into a specific company Request for Information (RFI) or, skipping that stage, the final RFP that will be sent to the vendors. These documents summarize your enterprise’s requirements for the vendors, as well as translate the business problems that you are trying to solve into specific LMS features that you need to do the job.

You may be a global enterprise requiring feature sets that can handle multiple languages, currencies, course catalogs and calendars. Or you may be a U.S.-based retailer faced with the need for LMS features that allow you to train a high-turnover staff that’s scattered over thousands of locations.

Once your list of needed features is compiled, you will then need to determine how important each of these features is to your enterprise.

My recommendation is to rate each feature on a scale of 1 to 10.You then multiply that “feature weight” by a second number based on the vendor’s response for that feature: 10 points if the LMS

has the feature native to its software; 5 points for a partial or third-party solution; and 0 points if the LMS doesn’t have the capability.

When you add up the individual feature scores for each LMS, you will then have a numerical representation of which LMS is the “best fit” from a feature perspective. But your work isn’t done yet.

You need to also consider criteria that are more qualitative and potentially “weightier.” These criteria include key factors like customer support, product quality, the ease of making changes, interoperability with other applications, price and SCORM compatibility. Together with the feature sets you’ve defined, this comprehensive statement of enterprise needs will lead you to the proper selection of an LMS partner.

—For more help making your LMS decision, attend the Workshop “How to Buy the Right LMS” hosted at the Enterprise Learning! Conference & Expo, Sept. 27 in Anaheim, Calif. Learn more at: www.elceshow.com.

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