Do you feel like giving your learning platform a heave-ho out the door? But you can’t, not yet anyways. As dysfunctional and frustrating as that old learning management system (LMS) is, your association still relies upon it.
But, let’s face it, your current LMS is holding you back. Maybe it wasn’t designed for associations in the first place. Or, it doesn’t have the functionality to allow your online learning business to grow.
You need a better LMS but the powers that be aren’t going to like that news. Your argument for a new LMS has to be rock solid, so first we’re going to explain how to prepare a business case for a new LMS. Then, in our next post, we’ll explain how to make a compelling presentation of that case.
Preparing Your Case for a New LMS
This won’t come as a surprise: preparing a business case takes time. Somehow you have to work on your case while meeting all your other responsibilities. But look at it this way:
- You’ll develop skills that will come in handy in the future.
- You’ll have opportunities to collaborate with colleagues in other departments
- And, you’ll solve a huge challenge while positioning your association for the future.
Analyze the existing situation.
How is your existing learning platform holding your association back? How is it negatively impacting learners? See if these issues apply. Document what you learn.
- Limited functionality
- Integration: instructional design, workflow, and data problems
- User experience: searching catalog and purchasing (eCommerce)
- Reporting limitations
- Scalability (or lack of it)
- Efficiency issues for staff: wasted time, manual processes, and lack of automation
- Vendor support
- Technical issues: configurations, software upgrades, and security risks
Document any missed opportunities because of your system’s limited functionality.
- Can learners access programs on their phone or tablet?
- Can they interact with classmates in an online community?
- Can you deliver content in any way you wish?
How do your programs compare to the competition? Don’t overlook competing programs from other associations, higher education institutions, MOOCs, and for-profit companies, like LinkedIn, Udemy, and firms in your industry. What do they offer that you can’t? What do you need in a system to differentiate your programs?
Gather supporting evidence for your case.
Talk to stakeholders: people (customers and staff) who use the system or who work with data and transactions produced by the system.
Analyze program evaluations. What do students say about your existing learning platform? Go one step further: talk with recent students so you can learn about their learning preferences and needs, especially needs that are unfulfilled by your existing online learning program. Can you find members who haven’t taken your online courses but have taken courses elsewhere? Find out how your courses come up short.
Staff interviews are a critical element in preparing a business case: you’ll gather information to support your argument and you’ll identify project allies. Don’t assume you know how others feel about the LMS, you may be in for a surprise. Listen objectively as you ask them about their objectives, needs, and expectations.
- How does the existing system help or hinder their work and their department’s work?
- What could they do if you had better technology?
- What’s on their “must-have” list and on their “nice-to-have” list?
When discussing workflow, try to quantify the amount of time spent (and wasted) dealing with inefficient processes, fulfilling requests for data or reports, or troubleshooting problems. How else could they use that time if you had a better LMS?
If member surveys have shown an interest in online education but your registration numbers reflect otherwise, bring that discrepancy to light. See if you can find any industry workforce research or forecasts that show or predict market demand for the type of education you could offer.
Describe a brighter future.
When presenting your case, you’ll want to contrast the bleak status quo with a brighter future. Once you identify your “must-have” requirements for a new LMS, talk to several vendors to get an idea about potential solutions. Seek recommendations from association peers in online forums and LMS review sites.
One of the first questions you’ll be asked by decision-makers is: “How much is this going to cost?” LMS vendors can help you figure out a budget once you have a good handle on your requirements. Do a cost-benefit analysis of implementing a new LMS versus staying with the status quo.
The brighter future you promise is full of new market opportunities—and new revenue—but don’t assume decision-makers know that. Spell out all the ways a new LMS can help you bring in new revenue:
- Conference management and recordings
- Live and on-demand webinars
- Online courses: mini and full-length
- Certification programs and digital badges
- Pre- and post-conference programs
Describe how a new LMS will help your association respond to industry training (or retraining) needs and workforce skills gaps. You’ll meet the educational needs of members who can’t or won’t travel to conferences. You’ll develop lifelong relationship with learners as you help them manage and track their professional development.
Be ready to share success stories or case studies from other associations that are doing what you’d like to do. Ask LMS vendors if they can connect you with similar organizations—those who have been in your situation. Your peers at these associations can provide budget and timeline guidance, and prepare you for the “unknowns” you might encounter.
Map out how you’ll get to that brighter future.
Don’t give decision-makers any excuse for hesitation. Show them that you’re ready to take on this project. Sketch out the next steps: requirements analysis, request for proposals, system selection, and system implementation. By now, you can identify staff stakeholders who will be on your project team.
One of your most valuable allies will be someone from IT. You need to find out how an LMS project will fit into their workload.
- Do they have a project prioritization method?
- Does this project meet their criteria?
- Does the IT department and the association have the bandwidth to take on this project?
Your IT colleagues will have their own concerns about new technology, including hosting, security, integrations, and software upgrades.
Be ready to identify the internal and external resources you’ll need for the project. How much time will you and other project team members have to dedicate to this project during the requirements, selection, testing, and training phases? Will you need external help, for example, an LMS consultant to help with requirements analysis and/or selection, or a project manager to help with implementation?
Technology projects are change management projects. How will processes and workflows in other departments change with a new LMS? Think about any objection that might be thrown your way and be ready to address and overcome it.
Gather your allies.
Find your new LMS champions: future members of the project team who will support your case for a new LMS. Other departments may have their own concerns but make sure everyone agrees on common project goals.
- IT: You won’t get anywhere without the IT department on your side.
- Marketing: They’ll help you promote new programs and can leverage those programs for their own content marketing purposes.
- Meetings: A new LMS makes possible “value add” ideas for in-person events, such as flipped learning and post-conference education. Online learning programs can be audience development tools too.
- Membership: Think about exclusive programs that will attract the attention (and dues dollars) of your target audience, for example, CEOs, HR professionals, young professionals—and the membership testimonials you’ll gather.
- Accounting: Solve their process challenges and you’ll have allies forever.
- HR: A new LMS can host staff orientation and other training and compliance programs.
Find a project sponsor.
Run your case for a new LMS by one or more people who will be part of the decision, or who are close enough to decision-makers to understand their process and priorities. Ask for their advice on making a stronger case. See if they will stand by you and support your case when it’s showtime.
Next week, our post will explain how to present your case for a new LMS. In the meantime, you have some work to do. Please let us know if we can help you prepare a business case for a new LMS.