October 31, 2011
When SaaS Gets Sassy (Part One)
Would You Like Fries With That LMS Order? I recently hosted a webinar on “How to Choose an LMS for Your Business” in which I explored the current state of the LMS market. A key point was that I have observed a resurgence of rising client expectations around customization of the LMS user interface. I think almost everyone would agree that SaaS products are great. They provide relatively low-cost, feature-rich products that quite often require zero involvement of your I.T. department to launch and support. They are frequently updated and usually configurable to the degree that you can turn features on and off, set variables and parameters to support your business rules and usually offer the ability for you to “brand” the user interface. Throughout the configuration and branding processes, however, a client will typically make several concessions and compromises because no matter what, SaaS products are still very much by their nature “one size fits all”. Still, the cost-benefit of SaaS typically makes any compromises worthwhile. The 80s: When ‘Custom’ Was Still King (and so was New Wave Music) Let’s take a step back for a moment. It’s 1982 and your organization needs an LMS. What do you do? Probably build one from scratch. You would likely spend a minimum of several hundreds of thousands of dollars and end up with a system that met only some of your original requirements, was extremely expensive to maintain and support and was difficult to upgrade. Hopefully the system was well documented should any of the key developers leave the organization and take all of their product knowledge with them. Several years later, your business will have changed and you likely needed to either replace or rebuild the system at great expense. Yes, you had your LMS but there was much to be desired about this model. The 90s: A Host of Choices (or a Choice of Hosts) Fast forward to the early 1990s. More commercial LMS products were now on the market. Competition had driven prices down to slightly less than what you would pay to build a system internally, but you now had the added benefit of being able to have the application deployed more quickly and hosted and supported remotely by your software vendors (who were now calling themselves Application Service Providers or ASPs). I.T. now only needed to be involved to review the vendor’s security and hosting practices and to help with any 3rd party system integrations (such as with your HRIS system). All in all, this was a vast improvement over building and hosting the system yourself but these systems were still out of reach for small and medium businesses and for the vendors, things had improved but were still not ideal. Yes, their client LMS implementations were now hosted in a central data centre but each client likely still had their own highly customized version of the LMS. Vendors were supporting multiple code bases, having to take months to upgrade all clients to new product releases, and having their development teams tied up building new custom features to keep their largest clients happy. There had to be a better way - and there was! But you’ll have to wait a few days. Please come back for Part Two: The Rise of Mass Customization in the LMS World.