(Partially contributed to by John Leh of Talented Learning)
There are currently over 1,000 LMS providers in the world. Some LMS vendors offer free implementation while others charge $75,000, $100,000 or more. The level, breadth and cost of professional services LMS vendors provide is a big differentiator and should be used as a key qualifier. A wise buyer goes through two key steps in advance when actively trying to buy an LMS:
- Defines the scope of the effort to successfully configure, integrate, and migrate data from the old LMS and support their LMS over time
- Determines specifically what project management, stakeholder, executive and technical resources they have and can invest in the project
Until this detail is known, buyers can waste considerable time and money evaluating potential solutions that provide too little or too much implementation and configuration services for their needs. Choosing wrong inevitably leads to buyer’s remorse.
Ten years ago, the 25-30 potential LMS vendors had similarly priced professional packages that guided new customers through the mandatory, standard implementation and configuration process. With the evolution of the hundreds of new cloud LMS providers and their ability to instantly spin up new customer sites, the choices for buyers have become more expansive and complex.
In this guide, we’re going to go over:
- The four types of implementation commonly offered so that you can narrow down your choice of vendors
- An example of a full-service implementation process so you can better understand what to expect
- Roles and resources needed during the implementation
- Top reasons implementations fail so you can go in prepared to have the smoothest implementation possible
- Questions to ask your vendor to ensure they’ll be able to support you as needed throughout the implementation process
FOUR TYPES OF IMPLEMENTATION
TYPE 1: SELF-SERVICE SETUP
Since many of the new LMSs are cloud-based SaaS models, they are technically already “implemented” and only need to be configured. With this type of system, the LMS is already there, allowing the buyer to easily open up a new, secure and private client area directly from the vendor website. A shopper or buyer can create a free account directly from the vendor website and instantly begin a two to four week free trial.
During the introductory period, buyers can begin to populate the LMS with courses, content, organizations, and users and configure the application themselves. Configuration and even systems integration can range from extremely easy to infuriating. At the end of the introductory period, the buyer can elect to continue on as a paying customer on a monthly or annual basis or not. The LMS vendor typically provides email or ticket support for buyer questions during the introductory period and beyond.
Self-service setup implementations are good for first time buyers with small and standard LMS needs and limited budgets.
TYPE 2: ASSISTED SETUP
In the above free scenario, any setup support the vendor provides is reactive, the assisted setup provides a minimum level of proactive support to accelerate the setup. An assigned point of contact (project manager, success consultant or account manager) helps the buyer understand critical product decision points and manages internal resources to coordinate any technical tasks. Services are provided virtually and are focused on the configuration of the system and not business or learning strategy.
Vendors provide this service to help the success of the client’s onboarding and rollout. The long-term benefits of happy customers paying regular license subscription fees are worth it. Assisted setup vendors have service packages that range from $1,000 – $20,000.
Assisted setup implementation is appropriate for first or second time buyers with generally straightforward learning management needs, limited integration and manageable library of content.
TYPE 3: FULL SERVICE LMS IMPLEMENTATION
The full-service LMS implementation is a formalized, multistep process that has been used for years. An experienced team of professionals guide you through everything including strategy, configuration, integration, training, rollout, global rollout and administration. Process, templates and best practices are used to streamline what can be a complicated process. Many full service vendors will also create custom eLearning content as well as provide aggregated off-the-shelf content libraries.
Many full-service vendors have core implementations under $50,000 but it is more common to pay up to $75,000 or $100,000 based on complexity, number of users, global locations, business units, historical data migration, scope of integrations and other variable factors.
If an organization is on its third or fourth LMS with years of data and business processes in place, a full service implementation is the way to go.
TYPE 4: GLOBAL ENTERPRISE DEPLOYMENT
Global enterprise deployments often go well beyond learning or even talent management. The biggest, most complex, global enterprise deployments of learning, performance and ecommerce solutions can only be done by a select handful of vendors or 3rd party system integrators. These deployments can have hundreds of unique business units that work on every continent, servicing employees and extended enterprise audiences simultaneously in dozens of languages and currencies.
Specific services like business process redesign, mobile apps, customizations, outsourcing services, complex systems integration, international commerce, integrated talent management can drive these implementations to a million dollars or more. At this level there is no standard pricing.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE LMS IMPLEMENTATION PROCESS
To give you an idea of the implementation process, here’s an example of an LMS implementation process that would be offered at the full-service level. The process would vary greatly depending on your vendor, the implementation model chosen, configurability of the LMS, and level of partnership and service offered by your vendor.
The planning phase will focus on technical aspects of setting up the LMS and transferring data. Take these steps as you plan:
- Set project roles in your organization (Who is the project manager?)
- Establish and document a communication process (Who is responsible for technical questions? Training questions?)
- Set realistic milestones and timelines
Depending on the level of support provided, you may also be assigned an LMS implementation or project manager at your vendor company who is responsible for the progress of your project.
The planning phase may include any client questionnaires from your vendor. It can have kickoff meetings and other collaboration with your vendor to ensure you are on the same page with technical requirements, organization, and more.
LMS admins have the ability to turn features on or off. Answer these questions during the design phase:
- Which features are critical to your learning and development objectives now?
- Which features would be better to make available later?
By limiting functionality at the beginning, you prevent users from getting lost, improve user experience and accelerate LMS adoption.
If your LMS vendor takes a partnership approach, they will walk you through the configuration options and provide guidance.
The development phase consists of configuring your new LMS, converting historical data, and setting up the integrations you need. Your vendor should be able to provide the following information:
- What format does historical data need to follow to ensure compatibility?
- What is the process for uploading data and testing that it has been set up properly?
If you have been assigned a project manager by your vendor, they will guide your IT team through the process and ensure that everything has been set up according to your specifications.
Now is the fun part: learning all the ins and outs of your new LMS! Consider the following while you plan for training:
- What are your options for training? (Webinar? Live training? Are additional fees required?)
- Will training sessions be limited to just your organization, or will multiple new clients be trained together?
The training format will determine how you should prepare. A personal training session will be most relevant to your business, while a group training session may take some extra effort on your part to ensure all your needs are covered.
Clients who have requested a full implementation should be offered the ability to meet with their vendor for configuration sessions in the weeks following training. These configuration sessions have the following purpose:
- Reinforce the training that was previously conducted
- Help overwhelmed clients get started with setting up complex scenarios within the LMS system
- Answer any final pre-launch questions
Make sure to discuss ahead of time exactly what configurations you may need vendor help with to prepare for these meetings to be effective. At eLogic, we host 4 2-hour sessions with our clients.
Prior to launching the LMS, there should be plenty of time allotted to test the system from every angle. Before testing:
- Develop user and administrator use cases to test
- Create detailed documentation of any issues for your IT team and LMS vendor
Your organization also needs to be notified when the LMS goes live. Create plans to address the following:
- What materials do you need to create? (Email campaigns? Handouts? Posters?)
- What is the announcement timeline?
Some vendors will help you plan your rollout and provide recommendations. Experienced vendors will be able to offer valuable insight on what really works.
Roles and Responsibilities for LMS Implementation
During LMS implementation, a certain amount of time commitment is needed from the client side to create a smooth process transitioning to your new software and new training process. This chart outlines the basics of the roles and responsibilities that need cover.
Works closely with implementation Project Manager to put together and execute LMS implementation project plan.
Designated Project Executive
A VP or Director in charge to provide executive guidance and project oversight.
Stakeholder from each business unit involved in rollout of LMS
Typically an LMS administrator or power user to participate in all implementation phases that involve configuration, branding, and LMS setup.
Participates in Project Technical Kickoff and Technical Integration phases of the LMS implementation. Will provide IT support for Single Sign On, system integrations, and data migration.
Optional role to assist in branding the LMS and creating custom logos and art for the LMS user-facing interface.
Top 7 Reasons Implementations Fails
1. CHOOSING A PROGRAM THAT CANNOT BE INTEGRATED WITH YOUR BRAND
The point of using an LMS for onboarding and on-going employee training is to streamline the process of integrating your staff to the mission of your company and job-related expectations. During the initial LMS research and demo phase, pay close attention to the overall interface of the programs you are testing. It will not do your business much good during the implementation process if your LMS doesn’t flow with your training program.
2. NOT UTILIZING YOUR ENTIRE TEAM IN THE IMPLEMENTATION PROCESS
LMS implementations can’t be just a one-man show. One of the most common reasons for failure during the implementation phase is miscommunication and resistance from employees or other members of your management team. To avoid this costly error, make it a point to get employee feedback during the development stage. By finding out what your employees need from a training program and having clear communication through management, you have a much higher potential for success.
3. TOO COMPLEX OF AN INTERFACE
The goal of an LMS is to simplify and streamline the training process. That’s difficult to do if there are so many bells and whistles built into your program that employees become overwhelmed when navigating it. Stay focused on presenting a highly user-friendly interface and carefully watch the reporting metrics you have in place to track the level of engagement of your employees.
4. LACK OF IT SUPPORT AFTER IMPLEMENTATION
No matter how much time and effort you put into a careful rollout of your LMS, there are bound to be tech issues that need to be ironed out during implementation. A high quality LMS, such as eSSential, should have the backup of a full support team that is available to quickly correct problems and minimize the downtime of your LMS when issues arise.
The ability to customize the layout and interface of high-tech LMS programs is a big draw for companies, but it can be taken too far. If you find that you have to customize most of the interface, it may be time to go back to the drawing board and continue researching programs that are better suited to the needs of your company. That is, unless a fully customized LMS is what you’re looking for. In which case you better be ready to pay for it.
6. UNDER-DEVELOPED TRAINING MATERIAL
A successful LMS is only as good as the training program itself. First and foremost, make sure that your company has developed an effective training strategy that meets the objectives of what you hope to accomplish. Once a strategy is in place, it will be a much simpler process to integrate it into an effective LMS for a successful implementation.
7. HIGH EXPECTATIONS
Everything is a process, and success takes time to achieve. To avoid a failed LMS implementation, keep realistic goals while you integrate it into your business. If you have been using more traditional training methods in the past, it will take your employees time to get used to your new system and effectively use the LMS program.
Questions to Be Sure to Ask Your Vendor
Be sure to cover all the basis with your vendor so that you understand how they will be handling the implementation process. Some of these areas are things that you may not know about until the implementation starts if no one thinks to bring it up or ask a question. Especially if this is your first LMS implementation, you don’t want to be blindsided.
Will the vendor provide the implementation services or is it a 3rd party? Some vendors will have their own team members conduct the implementation of the LMS. But some vendors, as soon as the contract is signed, will send the client to a third party to complete the software implementation.
Will there be a dedicated project manager or will I work with a new person each week? Ask how stable the project manager will be during your implementation process. Many clients will experience a smoother transition if there is a dedicated project manager.
How much time do I need to allocate in order to successfully complete a project? Be sure to discuss timelines with your vendor. This answer will vary based on the vendor and your company’s needs.
What does the cost of the implementation cover? Costs of implementation services vary wildly. It’s tempting to see it as different prices for the same service, but generally, you get what you pay for with implementation. Different vendors offer different levels of customization and involvement. For this area, it’s important to consider how complicated implementation will be for your company’s needs and choose a vendor with an implementation service that can meet (or exceed) those needs.