Do LMS users have to lose out in the technology tender process?

To cut to the chase, I believe they do. At least, they are highly likely to. I hope they don’t have to though. This is bothersome to me. It is also a major obstacle to progress in the learning technology world where traditional technology vendors seem to have the structural upper hand in the tendering process. As the world beyond our industry borders changes at ever more rapid pace, largely in favour of the user, any barriers to keeping up are a real problem for the relevance and utility of our services.

Dissatisfaction with Learning Management Systems is widespread. The user experience challenges are an open secret. Yet they are pervasive across organisations large and small. This distribution rests on the utility they offer to a customer organisation as a means of controlling the assignment and access to training. Compliance management is not a user problem either

The root of the malaise is that user experience and usability are demoted to also ran criteria in the typical systems procurement process. This challenge is more acute the larger the organisation is and the more complex the route through the procurement jungle is

A typical tender process will involve these players: procuement; finance; IT; the relevant department (L&D, HR); perhaps programme management and perhaps policy.

There is one department there with custodianship of the user. The others will have a range of other priorities. This is not to say these are wrong headed priorities, just to state that they are not preoccupations of user experience, usability and user choice. They are in service of other concerns. (To offer an exception, I have recently worked with a tech team who are setting the progressive pace in their organisation and trying to modernise the decisions of their colleagues. It can happen but I wonder how rare that is?).

A typical invitation to tender will include a detailed feature list against which competing systems are scored. Each of the representatives of the departments above will offer a view on which features are most significant. At best UX concerns are in there as a highly weighted variable. At worst they are in there as an equal amongst a range of hygiene factors. Having lots of features ticked wins the day. Quality of experience probably doesn’t.

I have no evidence of the scarcity of user evaluation in tendering. If it is there, it has yet to be mentioned widely. For such a large purchase, user evaluation (or even just a net promoter score) is not too much to expect. Vendors could cover the (minimal) cost of this as part of their required documentation. This practice is not widespread.

Whilst there is still a little momentum in this rant, I will make one more point. The tender process favours the technology ‘one stop shop’ (always be wary of these pitches). The arms race of features that systems have been engineered to run has created bloated, over complicated products that baffle or wear down their users. That is often at both front and back end. With enough feature boxes ticked on the vendor evaluation sheets, the one stop shop looks like a no brainer. Unless you are a customer. In which case it looks like a shop you don’t choose to shop in. It is a major reason for the enduring commercial success of many ERP and LMS vendors. Sales success is not predicated on user satisfaction.

Thank you for listening, assuming you have.

One comment

  1. Yep! And when user experience is mentioned, the conversation can be limited to usability: how easy is it to use? An important question. But secondary to whether users actually need it: ‘what problem will it help users solve that they can’t solve already?’

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