It’s more than purchasing and installing software applications. Organizations today are faced with ever changing business requirements and the needs of an increasingly diverse and, often, dispersed learner population. Increasingly, learning is being recognized as critical to their future success, if not survival. Organizations therefore are looking for ways to leverage technology to not only deliver, manage and report on learning activities, but also to create learning activities and manage the learning assets.
A learning management system (LMS) is a system that enables an organization to deliver, manage, track, record and report on instructor-led and online learning activities. A learning content management system (LCMS) is a system that enables multiple developers to create learning content (such as activities) and enables the organization to store, reuse, manage and deliver learning content from a central repository or database. These two systems are designed to work in concert, but an organization can choose to implement either one of them independently.
STAGES OF EVOLUTION
Automating the administrative processes that surround instructor-led training is typically the first stage in an organization’s evolution to a true enterprise LMS/LCMS. Using technology as a platform for elearning is typically the next stage.
Most organizations establish their goal in this stage to save money while making more learning available to more people. The focus is on off-the-shelf and custom e-learning courses as well as blended learning programs that combine online with instructor-led activities.
The third stage is implementing and managing the LMS/LCMS as a corporate or enterprise-wide application. In this stage, organizations attempt to use the LMS/LCMS to align with business goals and objectives. There is an increased focus on integrating with human resource and other business applications, consolidating the data and using business analytics. In terms of content, the goal is to find ways to link learning activities to compentencies, ensure the learning is job-related and on-demand (such as just-in-time, just enough, just-what’s-needed). In some cases, there is an acknowledgement that the traditional concept of courses — instructor-led or online — must be complemented by new learning modailities and approaches (such as communities of practice, coaching, social networks, mobile learning and other forms of online performance support).
The fourth stage in this evolution is integrating the full range of human resource development applications and processes into one application, including — but not limited to — recruiting and hiring, competencies and job profiles, performance planning and management, learning and development, and succession planning. These systems are now being called Integrated Talent Management Systems (ITMS), as they represent the strategic use of technology to manage learning and the organization’s greatest resource, its people.
In recent research reports by both Bersin & Associates and the e-Learning Guild, the top benefits organizations reported were:
>> tracking and reporting;
>> facilitating e-learning strategy;
>> managing enterprise-wide initiatives;
>> improving efficiency;
>> complying with regulations; and/or
>> reducing training costs.
SELECTION AND GETTING STARTED
Selecting an enterprise LMS/LCMS is really no different then the process an organization uses for any other enterprise software application. The most typical steps are:
>> Step 1. Develop a business case to clearly state the business purpose(s).
>> Step 2. Define requirements by gathering input from all people, departments and units that will be involved to ensure the key functions are identified based on use cases specific to your organization. And also determine “must-have” and “high-want” criteria.
>> Step 3. Identify potential vendors by drawing upon industry research and references.
>> Step 4. Create and distribute a RFI (Request for Information) to narrow down the number of vendors.
>> Step 5. Create and distribute a RFP (Request for Proposal) to make sure the vendors understand your requirements and can meet them.
>> Step 6. Conduct reference checks by talking to current and former customers identified by the vendor and through professional networking.
>> Step 7. Conduct on-site meetings to ensure vendors can demonstrate — in front of you — how their system will handle each use case.
>> Step 8. Select the vendor that best demonstrates the ability to meet the requirements and is aligned with your organizational culture.
>> Step 9. Negotiate the contract with your selected vendor.
>> Step 10. Begin the technical installation and application configuration phase.
THE PATH TO INCORPORATION
Successful organizations know from their experience with other enterprise applications that thorough up-front planning and following a systematic approach helps to avoid the “ready-fire-aim” and “re-workre- work-re-work” syndromes. Careful management each of these three stages is therefore critical.
>> Stage 1: Installation and Configuration In this stage, you make sure the LMS/LCMS really works for the applications’ users. This means it is installed and technically working per the specs, configured properly based on detailed use requirements, fully tested internal labs and pilot tested in the field. It also means the necessary management systems are in place and the roles, workflow and business processes have been changed to manage and support its use — by learners, by their managers and by the supporting organizations (such as IT, HR and training).
>> Stage 2. Implementation Following installation, the focus must shift to making sure the learners, their managers and the organization as a whole understands the context for the LMS/LCMS (business rationale and anticipated business results); are aware of the features and functions, functionality and benefits; and are able to actually use it as designed and planned. Typically, this is the stage in which the majority of the communications and change management activities occur. Unfortunately, this is all too often where all these planned activities then also stop — a critical mistake that is too often repeated.
The success of LMS/LCMS implementation requires that all of the people impacted are informed, aware, involved and engaged. It also requires that the LMS/LCMS is integrated into the organization as a whole and, as a result, the organization is committed to its ongoing success. Change implementation is a process-based, inclusive and two-way approach that draws upon both change management and consumer marketing principles and practices. It focuses not only on ensuring that individuals think and act differently, but also on developing and reinforcing new individual and organizational attitudes and behaviors.
>> Stage 3. Incorporation Truly successful companies put as much time and attention into the completion of this third stage as they do into the other two combined. They don’t leave this critical stage to chance. They recognize it is the difference between their LMS/LCMS being seen as just another application or embraced as a critical business system.
In this stage, the work focuses on ensuring the LMS/LCMS becomes fully incorporated into the organization through its structures, processes and culture. The goal is to make the LMS/LCMS an essential tool for the success of every employee and manager, core business process and critical business initiative, and the organization as a whole. Success is when the people in the organization refer to the LMS/LCMS as “just the way we do things around here.”
IT’S ABOUT PEOPLE
An LMS/LCMS is a change to employees, to front-line supervisors, to mid-managers, to senior management, and to all the supporting organizations. Even though the first stage might be as delivering an e-learning course, it still is a change in the organization.
Employees used to having time away from their desks and work to spend time with colleagues and instructor may resent having to learn from a computer. Trainers who feel valued for their platform skills may feel threatened they will be replaced. Managers who have always controlled the access to training and information by knowing who was in what class and when may feel undermined when their employees can now learn anytime and from anywhere. And the organization as a whole often is not aware, engaged or supportive — nor understands why it should be.
Being successful with an enterprise LMS/LCMS — achieving the intended business results and the expected return on investment — requires much more than just the purchase and installation of one or more software applications.
Certainly, a robust selection process and thorough configuration and installation work is necessary. But even more important is ensuring there is a true understanding of the business needs of the organization and the people within it (as well as partners, suppliers and customers, if appropriate) and that smart and informed decisions align with the organization’s goals and objectives and fit the organization’s culture. Chief Solution Architect Lance Dublin is the founder of Dublin Consulting. He has worked in learning and change management strategy, design and implementation for more than 30 years. Reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.