The Care & Feeding of Your LMS System

The Care & Feeding of Your LMS System

Cloud Solutions Versus On Premises Installations

There is a rapid and growing trend toward cloud-based Learning Management System (LMS) (SaaS: software as a service) solutions in most enterprises. “Cloud based” means that your LMS application and databases usually reside at the vendor’s site. “Usually” simply means that there are always hybrid solutions, especially when custom elements are involved.

According to vendor and user data, more than half of all new installations are now SaaS-based. Some vendors are reporting that cloud solutions represent as much as 75 percent of their new business.

Although specific support metrics don’t surface because of the range of possible installations, a lot of factors impact the support effort to maintain an on-premise installation.

THE CLOUD CONVERSATION BEGINS

Usually the conversation begins around security, and the I.T. staff takes part in the discussion. Security has traditionally been the prime reason for installing an LMS behind a company’s firewall.

“When a customer first considers a cloud based, SaaS solution,” says Jason Stutt, director of Saba’s Product Strategy, “they always begin by asking to be convinced that the environment is secure. And the issue of redundancy usually comes up as well. After we go through the myriad of permissions, controls, and all of the redundancy measures are in place, the customers are usually convinced that this is a better route for them.” He goes on to say that they are even seeing quite a few government agencies and banks now electing to use cloud solutions — a testimony to the security issue.

The reasons for electing a cloud LMS solution really have a lot to do with what the vendors absorb on behalf of their clients, as well as what customers acknowledge as immediate benefits. Here are a few of the more significant reasons and criteria:

1) Speed of Implementation –

What used to take an average of six months or more has now been shortened to three weeks, as a result of vendor hosted services. Many vendors offer wizards that guide their clients through the set-up process. A client simply has to answer a list of questions to go live. Everything else is handled by software or the vendor’s personnel.

2) Maintenance and Update Services –

It’s not unusual to see an onsite installation fall as much as two years behind in applying software patches and system updates released by vendors. With a cloud solution, vendors provide those updates and patches on a monthly basis. Thus, SaaS eliminates getting locked into an old and unsupported release.

Translation? Ultimately, you’re working with a better, more enhanced product from a functionality standpoint, as fixes are done for you automatically. You never have to think about an upgrade. You don’t have to reestablish your integrations, retest all of your content, or as is the case with pharmaceutical companies, revalidate your content when you apply the updates and fixes.

By using a “private cloud” solution instead of a “public cloud” where the bulk of SaaS customers may reside, vendors can relieve customers of as much as 90  percent of the workload. Thus, the fear of not being able to customize a cloud LMS for your enterprise has been greatly reduced. You still have to stay reasonably current in your release maintenance schedule — probably within a four- to six-month time frame — but with the reduced work associated with having to move to a newer version, that requirement is much easier to handle.

What does “reduced work” mean? Well, perhaps to move to the newest version of your LMS, there is an associated requirement for your entire enterprise to move to a newer version of Oracle, one of the underlying database platforms used by some LMS vendors. If the installation is managed by your team, that means talking with your I.T. people to see how complex that change would be for your entire enterprise. You may even be asked to absorb some of that cost in your budget, as the I.T. department may not have that effort funded in this year’s budget.

With a cloud LMS solution, that associated implementation work transfers to the vendor, which moves the platform to the newer Oracle database, and that part of the problem disappears from the work equation.

3) Seasonal Training, New Product Training, Scaling –

When the vendor is managing the servers, clients are allowed to expand and contract with their business cycles. For instance, let’s say that you’re a large tax preparation enterprise, or a software vendor that makes new releases every 12 to 18 months. Usually, that causes you to cluster your training into a small time window for staff, partners or even volunteers.

If you have to ensure that you had the computer resources to handle those situations, you would have to acquire the numbers of servers required to handle that peak load. Those servers would now have to be a permanent part of your installation, including your on-site support and maintenance routines.

That’s not the case in a vendor- hosted scenario. Basically, the vendor reallocates content, reporting and other servers to accommodate your fluctuations. Thus, you’re only paying for what you need, when you need it. And of course that transitions beyond just the hardware to include I.T. people and server software resources.

4) New Pricing Models –

One of the biggest issues that vendors and clients have to face is the model they use for pricing. The industry has grown up around per-seat or user subscription models. Although those still exist today, and even work for some of us, for others with extended enterprise charters or seasonal type requirements, it can be a nightmare. Take a new product release where thousands of partners and customers have to be trained in addition to your internal staff. Or consider tax preparation disaster relief. Pricing on a per-seat basis is just as bad as having to maintain large server farms year round, when you might only need them for a one- to two-month period.

So what are the emerging solutions? The way vendors are getting around these issues is to come up with per-use pricing models. For instance, one vendor only charges for class registrations. So instead of having to pay for large numbers of user seats throughout the year, you might go from a monthly run rate of 1,000 class registrations for 10 months, and in the remaining two months, you might spike to 10,000 class registrations.

In other words, vendors are finding ways to make some larger fixed costs move into the variable category. That’s something the user community has been seeking for quite some time.

OTHER CARE AND FEEDING CONSIDERATIONS

Some cloud vendors are providing global cloud capabilities, complete with multiple secure data centers around the world. This means that your team doesn’t have to labor over compliance with emerging standards like SAS 70 Type II and EU Safe Harbor certifications. In the long run, that will make it easier to scale to a global footprint.

And lastly, vendors seem more than willing to put a lot of these requirements and
capabilities into their service level agreements with you. Many are not only willing to guarantee uptime in their agreements, but also redundancy requirements, multiple internet backbones, physical security, and rapid disaster recovery metrics. similar groups.

CONCLUSIONS

Cloud LMS solutions may be a viable route, especially in today’s economy. It may free up your time to focus on your primary learning missions. Keep the above list in mind if you decide to go the “on-premise” route. These will be some of the same criteria that you will need to consider with your own internal support teams. In fact, it wouldn’t be unusual in some enterprises to actually have these requirements in writing with their own support teams.

With what we’ve uncovered, we recommend that you take another look at the cloud LMS solution. It not only seems like a very viable route, especially in today’s uncertain economy, it seems to free up a lot of your time to focus on your primary learning mission.

-Joe DiDonato, is editor at large at Elearning! Media Group. As former CEO of Interwise and CLO at PeopleSoft and Countrywide, Joe is expert a evaluating learning technology’s impact on learning outcomes. Contact Joe at jdidonato@2elearning.com

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