John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst of Talented Learning, tells PeopleFleunt about some of the LMS trends to look out for.
Hi John. In your LMS trends update, the first point you make is about the resurgence of the LMS. Tell us more.
John: Ten years ago, the idea that the LMS was dead (or dying) started making its way into the industry. At the time, there were only about 12-15 competitors—but overnight there were hundreds.
Having sold LMSs for 13 years, I quit my sales job to figure out why. What I found is that the LMS is so thriving it’s unbelievable.
If you wanted to deploy an LMS back then, you had to spend $100,000 dollars to set it up, however large your company was. Even though smaller companies knew it was a good idea, they couldn’t do it.
But the cloud means that smaller companies can get involved without on-site deployment of the LMS. For LMS suppliers, the cloud means they can start targeting extended enterprise, academia, selling their own content, selling to channel partners, customer learning and much more, beyond the previous dominance of compliance.
In the end, it’s getting content to learners and using that as a way to change your business.
How do you think the volume of solutions available today is affecting the quality of choices being implemented?
John: It’s made it better and worse for buyers at the same time. Do they look at four or 40 solutions, or spend six months or six years researching?
As the lead analyst at Talented Learning, I’ve only got through 200 of them in five years of constant research, so it takes a lot of time.
What I don’t see is quality problems. LMSs got bad names previously because you had to deploy them locally. You had to buy the servers, get the right version of Windows, databases and all this crazy stuff that no one really understands.
Now that’s out of the way, because of the cloud, it takes that technology factor out. Since clients only have one version of a product, more often than not the technology is brand new and cloud-based.
You’ve spoken about the need for buyers to not simply look for a multitude of bells and whistles in their LMS. How would you approach putting together a list of questions to ask a potential vendor today?
John: You need to find the LMS companies that specialize in what your problem is. If it’s global compliance, that’s going to lead you to a different subset than if you need CPD courses.
What integrations do you need? Some LMSs are just HR-related, whereas others relate to a CRM. What is the business impact and what are you trying to drive? Is it about employees or customers? Compliance or sales?
Your requirements—from the technology and the behaviors you want to change—are the foundation of working out what your needs are. A mistake I’ve seen thousands of times is companies go and get an RFP spreadsheet template off Google with 1,000 requirements in it. There are columns that say ‘mandatory’, ‘optional’ or ‘nice to have’. Then 998 requirements will go down as must-haves.
When everything’s mandatory, you have no choice but to find the most boring, generalistic systems that can do everything, and they’re always the most expensive. But if you can narrow down and be realistic about your requirements then you can find vendors who specialize in that. And that’s good because you and your customers are going to be more successful.
If a vendor has a bunch of customers who all have the same type of problems, then all research and development and new features and enhancements are really to the benefit of all their clients.
We know that training customers, partners, and resellers can be a trickier challenge than internal employee training. How are the most effective specialized extended enterprise training platforms addressing this?
John: You don’t just wake up one day and say ‘let’s train our customers.’ You’re training your customers because you’re trying to solve some problem.
It might be low satisfaction, low renewals, low adoption, bad social media comments—those are the kind of things that drive it. You can measure the improvement straight away, and every one of these initiatives is a profit center within an organization.
Every software company is selling certifications. For example, you can pay Microsoft to take their content and become a certified engineer. They provide customer training to generate revenue, but also because their main business is recurring revenue, like software SaaS revenue, and they want customers to stay forever. I’ve seen impact into the hundreds of millions of dollars for organizations doing this.
As we look to the LMS trends of the future, how do you see the role of the LMS now?
John: It’s gone from a cost-saving mechanism to a business tool for competitive differentiation. Now, rather than focusing on how powerful they are, LMSs are often very light administratively.
Organizations in high-consequence, highly-regulated industries still need heavy duty, muscular LMSs. They have no choice because they’ve got regulatory requirements in every environment they own. But they can also be really engaging from a learning standpoint.
Just like social media, there’s a lot of sharing, collaborating, following, thumbs-up and down and commenting, rather than solely compliance. A lot of organizations right now are struggling with how much to make their interface like Facebook, balanced with the mandatory and regulatory needs of an LMS.
In any case, the LMS is not going anywhere for a long time, in my opinion. The days of ‘take the training or you’re fired’ are a whole different ball game to what’s happening today.