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Right Features, Right Price, Right Choice

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Down to Earth
A few years back at the Corporate University Conference in Orlando, I was actively seeking an LMS vendor who could market a solution to an organization of 150 employees. I could not find one. All vendors present were focused on Enterprise-level implementations. The price structure just for deployment alone was cost prohibitive for the small company I was representing. This was true despite the fact that:
  • Small and Medium sized businesses are the largest growing business sector in the world
  • They have an increasing demand for more institutional training and
  • They have an increasing demand for training with regulatory reporting requirements (HIPPA, Sarbanes, anyone?...)

The LMS options to support Small to Medium size organizations was so bad that I wrote up a business plan to resolve the issue. My proposal required me to acquire a license from one of these Enterprise LMS behemoths (let’s say 100,000 users), and parse out my licensed seats across many businesses. It would be like buying an apartment complex: as long as occupancy and price were high enough to cover my expenses and make a profit, but low enough to attract enough clients, the model would work.

LMS Directory
Thank goodness I didn’t follow through on the plan, because this market is finally being addresses with optimized tools. In his blog post LMS News. Directory. Plus E-Learning Notes Craig Weiss looks at the LMS market in general and specifically at products available for Small and Medium sized Enterprises - often referred to as the LMS Lite market. His LMS Directory lists the Accord LMS and provides links to the Accord free trials and documentation:

Right Features
Accord LMS is very different from other LMS in two important ways. First, the Accord is built on the open source DotNetNuke (DNN) Framework – which was built with flexibility and extensibility from the ground up. It is also free (a commercial version with SLA is available). Second, there are hundreds of low cost third party applications (modules) available from SnowCovered such as blogs, forums, eCommerce, document managements, etc. that plug and play into DNN and the Accord LMS. You aren’t tunneled into a biased selection processes of traditional “monolithic” LMS that favor specific partnerships or solutions. You may freely browse the SnowCovered marketplace (or others), evaluate the features you want, and select from Best of Class (or Best for your Objectives). All pricing and license arrangements are transparently noted.

Accord also offers features like auto-login from remote servers and an extensive API that allows clients to mash up all or just part of what the Accord has to offer.

Right Price
When estimating the cost of an LMS one must look beyond the core license cost (that can usually be ascertained after a few calls to sales) and consider add-on costs. Most LMS systems have add-on components for items like course building tools, e-commerce, social media tools, webcasting, etc… Although these are readily available from the vendors; the pricing is not. It is extremely rare that a customer can review options in an a la carte style pricing and transparently understand the total cost required to build the system meeting their needs.

This presents a challenge. Customers purchase based on core LMS features, and then get surprised with total cost to acquire the add-ons. Vendors often have pre-selected solutions ready to integrate with their LMS. However, if you want something else - surprise! There is a new cost. Most vendors are up front about mentioning “this is an add-on that costs extra” during demos but most are hesitant to volunteer the cost. Even when asked, a common reply is “it depends on your usage levels”.

Vendors do give price breaks on bundled solutions, but then there are integration costs. And like the add-ons, integration comes at many levels. If you want a Best of Class third party solution, it will most likely cost more. If and when the vendor can get it “working” it may seem less than seamless.

Right Choice
Craig notes a fear factor for most vendors to post their prices. With a free portal framework and an unbeatable price/value for the Accord LMS and hundreds of low cost add-on applications at SnowCovered, it is no wonder why other “monolithic” LMS are hesitant to advertise – they can’t compete.
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