Spreading the learning love

by 16 Sep 2008

Fully leveraging the investment in a learning management system takes some doing. Teresa Russell talks with two companies that chose less expensive systems which exceeded their functional requirements, but had an immediate positive impact on the bottom line, and continue to do so

What fraction of your computer’s functionality do you use? Maybe 20 per cent? Perhaps 50 per cent if you’re a real tech-head? Yet you pay for all the extra bells and whistles, even though they never get used. Do you use all functionalities of your learning management systems (LMS)?

An LMS can range in cost from under $10,000 to over $500,000, depending on the system purchased and the reputation of the brand. The price does not always depend on the numbers of employees that can use a system, nor on the level of functionality that meets the needs of many businesses.

Steven Brown is national training manager at Boost Juice Bars, the juice and smoothie franchise that has 185 stores in Australia and operates in 10 other countries around the world. Brown says that historically, there was no central record of training at Boost and that visibility of what training had been done was held at store level.

Two years ago, Boost had a team of 12 trainers who supported its own registered training organisation (RTO), but according to Brown, the RTO hit a critical point where it needed a large number of resources and the decision was made to de-register it and concentrate on the company’s core business. “We established a relationship with an external RTO to provide retail traineeships, then just manually tracked training that had been completed,” he says. Six months later, they began their search for a learning management system.

Plans for massive corporate growth were the main driver for construction company Laing O’Rourke to invest in its first learning management system according to John Wood, people development manager for their Australian business.

Laing O’Rourke is the largest privately-owned construction company in the UK, with operations across the globe. Its Australian operation began in 2004 and, following the acquisition of Barclay Mowlem in 2006, the company now has over 2,000 employees, with further massive growth expected in the next few years.

“Having the ability to easily track employee training, advertise face-to-face, deliver online programs and simplify the registration process across our rapidly expanding business was what we needed,” says Wood. “The LMS has also enabled us to more easily manage our reporting and compliance commitments on staff training to the various government departments, “he says.

Vendor selection

Both Boost and Laing O’Rourke undertook a wide market review before selecting an LMS. Brown says Boost wrote a detailed functional requirement specification and looked at nine different learning management systems in detail.

“The most valuable function we needed was a direct line of communication to every one of our almost 3,000 frontline team members, rather than just to the store managers or franchisees. We needed content creation tools, but wouldn’t pay the large sums of money required by some vendors for this feature,”says Brown. Boost’s franchisees also had to see value for money, as they were to be charged a monthly fee to access the system.

Brown says that Boost chose the World Manager system, which was tailored to suit the retail market. The provider customised a lot of the tools within the platform to make it work for Boost, and Brown says the provider has performed over and above their service agreement because it has benefited them as they branch into the retail sector.

Boost’s LMS, known as BEN (Boost e-network), includes online induction and other skills and marketing training, a survey tool, a performance appraisal function, a course scheduler, a “great visual dashboard display of training results,” mystery shopper management function, an online contact directory and three different online forums for exchange of ideas. Although BEN’s price is commercial-in-confidence, Brown says they paid a modest up-front fee and very reasonable monthly license fees.

At Laing O’Rourke, Wood says they wanted to host their own LMS so they could modify it to suit their brand as rapid growth occurred. “We wanted a system that was simple to use for everybody working across our whole business. It had to give us the functionality we wanted at a good price,” he says. They chose a system called the DOTS LMS platform and have christened it eQuip.

Wood says that the deciding factor in the purchase was the opportunity they took to view the system operating in another workplace.

Laing O’Rourke’s eQuip system contains a course catalogue, calendar and scheduler, e-learning courses and authoring tools, an e-library, a survey function, training transcripts, training and development plans for each employee and blogs for particular courses –each leadership program has its own blog).

Implementation

Laing O’Rourke spent seven months looking for the right system and then took just three months to launch it across the Australian business. Wood says that one of the keys to success of the launch was ensuring the system had fast connections and maximum bandwidth. “Some of our remote sites are still on dial-up, so the Flash-based e-learning does not work as effectively there,” admits Wood. “We haven’t fully leveraged all aspects of the system because we want to make sure that what we roll out has been well tested,” he says.

At Boost, BEN was first trailed in Victorian company stores before being launched to all its franchisees and managers. The key message of this launch was that the system would save them time and money. This was followed by an invitation to all company and franchise employees to attend a state launch night that included a Boost Sing Star competition, the winner of which took away a plasma TV or PlayStation 3. “We had pre-loaded all employees’ details into the system so they could log on at the launch and try it out immediately. It was very successful,” says Brown.

Return on investment

Boost’s L&D team has dropped from 12 down to 2.5 FTEs in the last 18 months, so Brown reports significant savings in team costs. The company has also realised savings in printing costs because induction is now conducted online and operations and marketing manuals are now located in the LMS resource library. The system paid for itself within 12 months.

“One month after the national launch, the next level of BEN tools was rolled out to our franchisees. We have kept the price fixed for 18 months and have continued to add value for them as platform development work continues,” says Brown.

Wood has been able to clearly allocate L&D costs at Laing O’Rourke as well as realise big savings thanks to the e-learning function. “The company is rolling out a sustainability agenda, educating staff about reducing carbon emissions. Our e-learning function not only saves us money, but is good for sustainability and carbon credits because people don’t have to travel to attend training or have training materials printed,” he says.

Things have gone so well with eQuip in Australiathat Laing O’Rourke has introduced the LMS into its UK business, with plans for global reach.

Advice

Brown says it is important to invest time building the business case and to have a CEO who sponsors the project. “The fact that we made online learning results part of the KPIs for all our stores has also been key,” he says. Boost stores must have a minimum of 85 per cent of all notices read and training completed.

Wood urges others to allocate a dedicated resource to manage back of house administration and flash animation on the LMS. “The most important thing is to find a company similar to your own and ask to view their LMS. Don’t be over-awed by all the bells and whistles. Understand exactly what you need from a system first,” he says.