For an eLearning initiative to be successful, strong leaders and champions are needed in the organization. It also needs a robust and reliable LMS solution amongst others (great courses, proper alignment of the training function with the LMS, technical support for the entire setup, etc.) The LMS remains a key link in the success chain.

Is it any wonder that selecting the right LMS is not easy? I’d written a few posts on how to decide between hosted and behind-the-firewall option, what typical things training companies look in an LMS for, and a recent one on five things not to do while selecting an LMS. These posts were focused around making your LMS purchase easier, smoother and giving a positive return on the time invested in the process. These posts remain pertinent regardless of whether it’s your first LMS purchase or it’s a switch-over to a new LMS as they dwell on some basic, underlying principles.

However, in this post I am trying to stress on specific concerns to take care of while ‘switching an LMS’. Why? Read on.

A recent survey on customers’ happiness with their LMS (conducted in Jan 2009, published in Mar 2009) by Bersin & Associates observed: “The study found that a significant proportion of LMS customers – fully one-quarter of customers – are dissatisfied with their systems and say they are likely to switch vendors within the next year.”  Even though the study does find a big number of switch-overs possible in the coming time (and some of these will definitely happen) it’ll still be a great challenge for customers to switch-over in a manner that will increase their satisfaction after the switch. Otherwise the same study may find an even higher number of customers not happy with their LMS next year as well.

Here are some of my tips for decision makers to make the process easier – eventually enabling the setup of a system that’s long term and adds the desired value to the training and development function.

  1. Understand that switching LMS vendors is inherently different from looking for your first LMS. This typically holds true for almost every service/product purchase we do; switching a product/service demands a different type of attention from a new purchase. The key point here is NOT to forget this is true. It is important to sensitize the stakeholders and the key members of the team evaluating the options towards this.
  2. List the key reasons that are driving you to look for a new LMS in the first place. Some could be:
    • The current system is unable to scale up to the growth in usage, it’s started becoming a bottleneck and outages are a regular feature due to user load. Without a concrete solution it will start affecting the experience of the users severely. This is a major concern.
    • The current LMS has become outdated and its features and the technology itself have not been upgraded by the vendor. The current system is functioning reasonably well but is showing signs of ageing, and no longer aligns with how the technological change in the learning world. The vendor’s focus on the system and investment in its development is limited or the vendor doesn’t have the capacity and capability to do either. It’s a sure sign that the system won’t survive for long and will need replacement.
  3. One of the first things to do is a thorough evaluation of new systems with reference to the pain points of your first experience. Focus on these:
    • The history of the vendor for LMS upgrades and continued LMS development. This will indicate how focused the vendor is on the LMS as a product and service offering.
    • The vendor’s experience in LMS replacements. A vendor who implemented LMS replacements similar to yours in scale will be able to drive your switch-over faster and in an effective manner.
  4. Make sure you cover the following areas comprehensively in the demos and trial access phases:
    • Standards compliance – SCORM, AICC. What versions?
    • User interface for administrators and learners – easy to use, intuitiveness, designed as per currently accepted trends, etc.
    • Technical capability – robustness, scalability, reliability, security.
    • Customer Support philosophy and commitments.
  5. Data migration. With all the user and training record data on your current system its imperative to have it moved to the new system before it can go live. It is important at this time to involve the technical teams of the current and new LMS systems to talk to each other in detail and submit a data migration plan to you which will have, at the very least, the following information:
    • Clear outlining of data migration requirements.
    • Broad level mapping of data entity and elements. Which data from the old system is being easily mapped to new system? This section should also clearly indicate the gaps in mapping and a brief approach to resolve that gap. This not only ensures that the new vendor has a complete view to the required data migration but it also helps them estimate the cost of such an activity accurately.
    • Risks in data migration include the loss of data, and the reformatting of critical data in a manner to affect reports.
    • Approach to data migration – manual or automated or mixed. An automated approach indicates less human errors and faster turnaround.
  6. Content migration. In addition to data migration the other part is migrating courses and content to the new system. If some content isn’t in a standard format (like SCORM) then there needs to be specific discussion on how to migrate it.
  7. Customer migration. If you are a training company and switching your LMS this is a critical issue for you, a bigger task than content and data migration. You also need to look at branding elements, look and feel. A recent experience with a new customer who switched their current LMS to UpsideLMS included porting over 150 customers each with more than 75000 users has been a great learning experience. With each customer having a different brand and different access controls this ended up as the key discussion. This was fairly so because for our customer the main concern was obviously what happens to the current customers. Scoping this out in detail with the vendor is an absolute essential.

A submission here as a vendor myself – give vendors a reasonable amount of time to evaluate things at technical level. To rush at this point in coming to a decision on the basis of guesstimates may cost far more in the long run. Our customer understood this and our technical team were able to present an accurate picture of the work and cost involved. A few days more at this point will save many days and a lot of heartburn later.

If you carefully consider the above, you will find that switching your LMS is not as difficult as you might imagine. Yes, it is challenging; but keeping the guidelines in mind while doing so, ensures the end result is positive and the process will be less intimidating and confusing.

I’ll be happy to help if anyone needs more detailed inputs on an LMS switch-over or about learning technology (especially on the LMS side). Reach me direct at amitgautam@upsidelearning.com.

I’d love to receive comments from people who have been on both sides of the table – vendors who migrated customers to their LMS from another or customers who have been through this cycle of switching the LMS.

Happy switching!

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