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The Consumerization of Learning: Vendors Must Step Up Their Games

by Chip Ramsey

October 23, 2012

Column

by Chip Ramsey

October 23, 2012

“We vendors have an obligation to build our businesses and our products on the best, most modern technologies and tools available. And buyers need to start demanding new pricing models and more consumer-like functionality.”

Based on decades of experience, corporate technology buyers and users have learned to expect a host of challenges when installing any enterprise application. These would include integration issues, painful and lengthy implementations, expensive customization, steep learning curves, and never-ending maintenance bills.

But, thanks to modern development tools and changes in application design, corporate systems—including learning management systems (LMSs)—can be as simple to use and functionally rich as the consumer applications we all use in our everyday lives.  

It’s time for buyers to say “enough!” to the status quo established by legacy solutions. And it’s time for enterprise vendors to join the 21st century and rethink their business models as well as their product offerings.

Following is my personal manifesto. I hereby lay down the gauntlet and invite all solution providers to join me in rethinking enterprise software.  

Business models shouldn’t be based on poorly designed software

Companies shouldn’t pay extra for the privilege of using bad software. And yet they do every day, year after year. Enterprise software vendors make millions of dollars from maintenance and support fees. Sure, some of this revenue pays for the personnel required to fix bugs and handle customer issues. But the truth is that well-designed software should require very little ongoing support. And when software needs fixes or updates, they should be a non-event for the user.

Hefty fees for implementation, customization, or support should be red flags to corporate buyers. Besides running up ownership costs, fees are most likely signs of poorly designed, outdated software. Rather than basing purchases primarily on meaningless feature checklists, we advise buyers to strongly factor into decisions the ongoing extra costs associated with any enterprise purchase.  

Integration shouldn’t require herculean effort—or big bags of money

Don’t you love how LinkedIn automatically links with Outlook? Or how you can quickly share an article you’ve just read over Twitter? We believe enterprise software should work in much the same way. Once purchased, a software system should automatically work and integrate with any other relevant applications.

While our own LMS software isn’t quite there yet (although we’re getting close), we make integration with virtually any other enterprise application amazingly easy and fast with a proprietary integration application. Our customers are regularly shocked when we accomplish in less than a week what it would take other vendors a month or more.

Ease of integration maximizes the functionality of an LMS and greatly reduces the cost of ownership. Just as importantly, it gives corporate buyers the ability to choose best-of-breed applications, rather than shackling them to bloated suites that almost never get fully implemented.

Mobile usability shouldn’t be an afterthought

I take my iPhone everywhere and use it hundreds of times a day. We believe enterprise applications should, by design, work on your smartphone or tablet equally as well as your laptop computer. In order for this to happen, mobile functionality must be built into the application.

This means that an LMS must optimize the user experience—as well as learning content—for mobile devices. We see video quickly displacing slideware as the content medium of choice, especially on mobile devices. Therefore, video handling by the LMS should be dead simple. Rather than requiring the use of extra tools and different procedures for different file formats, the LMS should be capable of uploading and optimizing any kind of video content with a single click.

Enterprise software shouldn’t require training

My third grader can figure out how to use virtually any application on the App Store. That’s how easy enterprise software should be. Ease of use is much more than page design and information layout. Hundreds of little things—such as page load speed, keyboard shortcuts, scrolling, and place holding—can make a huge difference in user experience and usability.

Many corporate buyers minimize the importance of application usability. Yet usability directly impacts adoption, support requirements, and productivity. Furthermore, ease of use is also an important sign of good software design.

Conclusion

This list certainly isn’t exhaustive. Don’t get me started about lousy reporting, language adaptability, or customization. The point of my ranting is that the standards set for enterprise software in the ‘90s shouldn’t be the ones we live with 20 years later.

We vendors have an obligation to build our businesses and our products on the best, most modern technologies and tools available. And buyers need to start demanding new pricing models and more consumer-like functionality.  

It’s time for us all to rethink enterprise software.   

More information

Visit Intellum in Booth 217 at DevLearn 2012 in Las Vegas, October 31 – November 1, 2012, or visit the Intellum website at http://www.intellum.com.

 


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