You are neck deep in evaluating various features that are offered by an LMS. It’s been almost a month since you started the search for a new one, and have spent at least 5 hours every day researching, reading, comparing, calling up vendors, scheduling demos. You’re really at the end of your tether, and want to conclude this & get on with the business of learning, training and employee satisfaction. It’s been a long day, and you’re almost convinced about this LMS – given that it has some ‘great’ features, some great learning scenarios. Suddenly, your HR head walks in and tells you – Hey, just make sure that the employee’s performance in the LMS is also reflected in the Performance Tracking and Talent Management system that we use! 🙂 Your eyes strain to find mentions of any ‘integrations’ in the LMS Prospectus handed out to you by this particular LMS vendor! Rats! Nothing! 🙁 This prospectus is going to land in the trash can, just like the 5 hours spent today firming up your case to purchase this one!
Why do Integrations Matter So Much for an LMS Anyway?
Simply put, no company wants their L&D team to work like clerks or like a part of an assembly line, that keeps doing things one after the other, and spends time only in administration of the LMS. If you don’t work with LMSes where data automatically gets passed to and fro the LMS to your other internal Enterprise Application tools, your Learning & Development team is going to spend the entire financial year, in just consolidating employee performance data across multiple applications. They’ll become ‘Microsoft Excel’ experts, and not ‘Learning’ experts. You sure, didn’t sign them up for this.
How will it help my Organisation?
You have always wished that you’d spend more of your time trying to improve company culture through learning! But how will that happen if you invest time only in maintaining Excel-sheets, and creating reports for your management! In fact, even after days of consolidating all of the employee’s individual data points across multiple systems, you’re still unable to get a holistic view of the employee’s performance.
LMS performance is just one part (albeit, a very significant one!) of an employee’s growth and performance in an organisation. If you’re not able to understand where every individual employee stands, you’ll never be able to actually help talent grow in your company. If you keep working on aggregate data like setting course paths for learner groups as a whole, you’ll just create standard learning paths that work for cohorts as a group, but doesn’t really match individual learning needs.
For you, to build and sustain a learning culture in your organisation, you need to continually come up with new learning scenarios that will motivate employees to keep investing time in up-skilling themselves. You were brought in, to make a difference, not create reports! Having an LMS that will automatically send data to your primary employee performance or talent management system, will ensure that the data being sent is sanitised & you don’t break your head over just verifying if employees’ LMS performance data is being reflected correctly in your primary HRIS.
Factors to Consider for LMS Integration:-
You should look for LMSes that integrate or have the capability to integrate with your Employee Active Directory or a Human Resource Information System that stores all of the employee’s information in a central location. Such an HRIS system would typically have details like-
- Employee’s background
- Company specific details like employee code, joining date
You should be careful with this integration because your company might be using an ERP application like SAP to store and manage employee performance data. In most organisations, this would also store payroll information with details like Salary, Compensation Benefits, Salary breakdown, Medical Insurance information etc. So you need to be careful to check with the LMS vendor on what data is being fetched from or being stored into the HRIS. Following is a great infographic on the questions you need to consider before integrating your HRIS with any other system:-
As a footnote, eLucid ensures that the power of Integrations is passed on to our clients.
2. Single Sign On with Active Directory
Your employees are going to make it pretty tough on you, when they start using a new Learning Management System. Problems like failure to sign in, failure to find their access credentials are going to come up. Some of those things might not even exist, but people being people, these small glitches are going to dog the initial roll-out of your LMS. To make things much smoother, you need an LMS that implements Single Sign On with the active directory your employees are using. Your employees will already have account credentials to their email addresses, or it might be one single portal that they’re using as an access point to all their applications. You need an LMS that provides easy single sign on, so that people who’re already logged into their portal don’t need to generate or remember a new set of access credentials for themselves. Ideally, a single sign-on would simply mean that a link to the LMS is present inside the employee portal, and the employee just has to click on the link, and they’ll be automatically signed in to the LMS.
3. Speed of Implementation
Typically, every LMS vendor will not automatically support integration with whichever business application you’re using, but they, for sure, will have the capability to build custom integration modules that will ensure a healthy flow of data, to and from your LMS and your other applications. Now, if you’re a typical enterprise, you would generally be using some standard business tools for running your operations like Cisco WebEx for internal chat communication, Microsoft Sharepoint for internal file sharing, in some cases GoToMeeting for hosting internal webinars for training purposes. Even if the tool you’re using is not a very popular one, your internal enterprise applications would typically fall in the below categories:-
- Internal File Sharing – tools like Microsoft Sharepoint, Google Drive, Dropbox & Box, etc.
- Internal Communication – tools like WebEx and Zoom
- Customer Support – Zendesk
- Customer Relationship Management(CRMs) – Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce, Hubspot, etc.
- ERP – SAP, ERPNext, Oracle SAP, Business Suite, etc.
- Payroll Processing & Tracking
My point is – irrespective of any category of business application, it shouldn’t take you an inordinately large amount of time to get it integrated with your business tools. If you’re going to spend the first 3 quarters of your FY, in just making sure the data flow is automatic, then you’re probably doing it wrong, or there’s some overkill in terms of the data that you’re sending back to your ERP. So be careful, discuss these things before-hand, and plan out a schedule for integration. So an integration that is timely is much more critical than something that’s very comprehensive.
4. Security & Employee Privacy
Most LMSes will come in 2 configurations – Cloud hosted, with the hosting taken care of, by the LMS vendor OR an On-Premise(in other words Self-Hosted) installation where you, as the company using the LMS, hosts it on your internal server, that might be on the cloud or at your premises. Here, the hosting doesn’t matter so much as the security protocols being used to transfer data to and fro the LMS to your application. They should conform to any internal IT or Security Compliance standards you might be enforcing. Also, employee data needs to be protected at all times. It is easier for you to protect the data if it is stored on a server managed by you, but you need to doubly check with your LMS provider if you’re going for the relatively cheaper cloud-hosted(and managed by LMS vendor) option.
You should also consider the prevalent Personal Data Protection and Privacy laws that are in effect in your local country or state. Remember, companies DO NOT own employee data, and an employee’s learning performance will attract the same level of compliance that other personal data protection does. So, you will have to ask these questions both to your IT team and to the LMS vendor on what security protocol is being used while implementing Single Sign On, or when the LMS makes API calls to your application.
Note – Better Safe, than Sorry – follow this and you should do well!
5. Scope for Integration with Applications in the Future
As an organisation, you would keep conducting audit of all your assets, and you would keep adopting newer applications for use internally. Ideally, the API structure of your LMS should be Extendable or Scalable to ensure that future integrations would be smooth, won’t drag on for months, or burn a huge hole in your Learning Budget for the year. This also means that you will need to allocate a good portion of your budget to implementing these custom integrations.
Remember, the LMS can’t provide everything for free. For the LMS, every customer comes with a different set of business tools, and it’s not always possible for them to give you a default integration. So, be prepared, to pay for a one-time custom integration with your business tools, and obtain documentation from the LMS vendor to ensure that even if the LMS is upgraded, the existing integration works seamlessly, or there are contingency plans in case data stops flowing after an upgrade. It’s an old Sales gimmick – Be Future Ready – a better version would be – Be ‘Prepared’ for the Future.
For now, above mentioned are the factors that should be given top priority when evaluating whether a particular LMS is good for integrating with your internal business or enterprise applications. This list might get updated in the future, as we come across more complex integrations, but this should act as a good primer for you when you take care of this part during your LMS adoption journey.