Over the next year or more, many of us will be going through the process of selecting a new LMS vendor. This process usually requires a request for proposal (RFP) process.

When talking about enterprise systems, it’s easy to talk about all the cool bells and whistles. However, there is much more to this process than just getting a demo, selecting the vendor and going live with your new system.

If you are part of an internal learning and development (L&D) team, you may need to connect to an human resources (HR) talent system (like Workday or a similar platform) or to your intranet via a single-sign-on (SSO). You may need to have a separate content library you access through the LMS (like LinkedIn Learning or a similar platform). How will you need to handle live classes? Will it be through a virtual environment (like through Microsoft Teams) or will it be in person?

If you are part of an external L&D team, you must consider how your customer or clients access the system. Will internal employees also get access to this system? How fast will your user base grow as your number of clients grows? How will you handle end-user license costs? Will these clients need to be granted any level of administrative rights?

Here are some tips to assist your team as you go through this process.

Start Early

Give yourself time and don’t rush the process. Know when your company’s budgeting period is, and then back off from that point almost a year. Do you already have an existing contract with an LMS vendor? If so, determine if you will need to run these systems in parallel for any amount of time. Make sure you know the cost impacts of that requirement.

In your project plan, also include time for meetings with the vendors to prepare for your demos, holding multiple demo sessions (potentially with different teams), vendor discussions on preparing and using the LMS for testing, the actual testing periods, team meetings between staff members to discuss the results of testing, and opportunities for the vendor to respond to those questions. It’s possible for this to easily take 3-4 months.

Keep in mind that this is on top of any other job duties your teams may have. So, this process probably won’t move as fast as you want.

While all this is happening, be frank with your current provider on your intentions to look at other options and give your current provider ample opportunity to retain your business.

It Takes a Team

There are a lot of things to test out and different aspects to how it impacts the administrative staff and the learners using the system. If you have a small team and only give yourself a short window of time to work with, expect them to struggle with fully testing out this complex system.

Consider splitting the demo and testing duties across teams. Instead of asking people to look at everything, assign different groups to review different aspects of the system. You could have at least four distinct groups — course developers and creators, the LMS admin team, live class instructors and training coordinators. You can then track all the testing data within a large spreadsheet and share what you learned in weekly team meetings.

As you go through this process, don’t forget to evaluate the gaps in your current solution and capture requirements that fill those gaps. Expect to most likely have this LMS for the next 3-5 years. Therefore, you want to make sure your requirements can sustain and grow over that period and align as much as possible to your long-term strategic goals.

Maintain Objectivity

How do you feel about a vendor when they offer you a free pass to a user conference or to join other customers at some sporting event? These things happen if a large tech vendor thinks they may be a strong contender for your business. However, you must maintain objectivity in dealing with your potential vendors. As you work through this process, you will be in many meetings and these folks and they will become “friends” for a period. In this situation, you can’t play favorites and get influenced by potential favors or any personal feelings toward your vendor contacts.

Some companies even bring in a consultant to manage these relationships and to help remove possible favoritism. Vet any favors or benefits they offer you against your company’s ethics policies. You want to maintain professionalism and objectivity.

Aim for Automation and Functionality

Do you want to improve user experience? How about more robust reporting? Are you trying to offer badges and learning paths? Maybe you want to leverage newer artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

Whatever your reasons are for seeking a new LMS, keep these goals in the forefront of your review process.

When we partnered with our current LMS vendor, we had a series of features that seemed valuable at the time.

  • Being able to provide points and then rewards through a reward store.
  • An LMS mobile app.
  • Badging and leaderboards.
  • Communities of practice and chat boards.
  • Internal virtual classroom environments.

Interestingly, some features didn’t work as well in real situations as we thought they might. Others worked well, until you turned other features on (or off) because they were dependent on each other. Some of these features seemed like a great idea, but in practice they only created confusion and support issues. We even had some features that worked with our internal teams because that’s what they were designed for. Unfortunately, we couldn’t use them with external clients because they involved things like “pop-up” windows that needed to be turned off.

Features can be interesting and “sexy,” but you will certainly get more value from automation. Therefore, consider pushing those higher on your list. If you can automate portions of a person’s role, they can focus energy on new and more valuable tasks they couldn’t previously focus on. You can define this list by asking your team about tasks they wish you could automate.

Get Your Hands Dirty With a Sandbox

Did you know LMS vendors will give you a sandbox (i.e., a virtual testing environment) to play in? It won’t be perfect or match your final environment. But it will give you a feel for what you can or can’t do with the system. Before you spend the large amount of money on your enterprise system, insist on a testing period.

This also demonstrates how complex it is to manage the system. Are your team members able to log in and start working in the system without much effort? It can also give you a window into the level of support you will require when working with the system or with people who will be using this new system.

We didn’t pursue a sandbox with our current vendor, and it provided a hard-learned lesson: Administrative complexity doesn’t always equal more valuable features. Sometimes it’s just more complexity, which means more administrative effort and support.

You can build a matrix to see how the trials stack up against each other. There are plenty of complexities and features. Many of them will be similar but have nuances across the different vendors. After a few demos and sandboxes, they will blur together. Expect to struggle keeping it all straight. As you work across teams, have them add comments into your spreadsheet, so you can go back and reference their notes to refresh your memory when needed.

Understand the Vendor Procurement Process

You’ve found the LMS vendor you like, and your management team has approved the purchase — awesome! However, even with a selected vendor and budget approval, most companies have very established processes for finalizing a new capital investment.

Expect lots of paperwork and contract approvals for new vendors. This process might even include another round of pricing negotiations with your procurement team. It’s possible that the team demoing and testing won’t immediately be provided with this pricing information, so that the information won’t cloud their reviews.

Depending on the size of your organization, also expect an approval process through your legal and risk teams. Because modern LMS systems tend to be cloud-based and have AI components as part of their infrastructure, your information technology (IT) teams, and any AI approval groups you have, may need to also approve the system. This all takes time and becomes another milestone on your project timeline.

Have a Robust Communication Plan

Introducing a large, enterprise-level system into your organization requires communication. People need to know the new system exists, how to use it and what new resources are available to them.

A training and communications plan that alerts internal stakeholders, administrative teams, and internal and external end-users should be part of your plan. Once you make your decision and you know the LMS is coming, you need to help people adjust to the change. Communicate the transition schedule, training approach, and marketing the benefits of the new system early and often. If you store all the training material about how to use the new LMS within your LMS, people need to know how to access that system, log in to get to it, and be able to find that information to be able to learn how to use your new LMS.

Consider an external location, such as a SharePoint site, a Microsoft Teams channel or a standalone website, for this material.

By following the tips outlined in this article, you will be well positioned to guide your team though the LMS RFP process for a successful launch.