It seems like a simple question, but at every turn there are strategic, financial —of course— and increasingly social and even humanitarian considerations to make.
It seems clear at first that having a one-stop shop should be a more cost-effective choice. But is it? Economic logic dictates that when companies can offer a higher volume of goods, they can reduce individual margins and prices for the consumer, and still come out ahead and with a larger piece of the market. Of course, economics is more grammar than science and there’s a long list of exceptions to the rule.
The ‘reduced complexity’ pitch
It’s fairly common among LMS vendors, almost ubiquitious, to present themselves as a “one-stop shop.” They will do their best to give you all the technology, support, and expert consulting you need to get your system up and running.
There is nothing wrong with that. If well executed, in fact, it could rise you to the top of the pack, increase your public reputation and earn you undisputed levels of satisfaction. Also, it’s hard as hell. If for no other reason —and there are lots of them— because it is really hard to be passionate about more than a handful aspects of the whole enterprise. If you find a company competent enough in most elearning areas, hang on for dear life!
Reducing complexity is difficult. Rewarding if done right. Given the skills involved, true “one-stop shops” offer high value at a premium.
Open ecosystem and social capital
For the less fortunate among us, there are still a lot of differences to be made among those who only offer part of the solution. In broad strokes, we have those who try to steer you away from the idea that they’re a complete solution; and we have those who embrace a business model that inhabits an ecosystem. In some cases, the latter thrive thanks to this relationship with the ecosystem, in an example of network effects. Accomplishing this requires some amount of skill, both technical and on the delicate balance of having a fruitful relationship with a larger, sometimes headless monster.
But ultimately, those who cannot be all and end all, would find it more suitable to promote themselves as the most essential connection to the whole. A growing backlash against large companies will likely revert some amount of power back to the end user, who shall favor the ability to build their own.
Of course, this leaves some complexity to be addressed. Fortunately, these industry has a respectable amount of “complexity lovers,” who thrive in bringing order. (Or as we like to say, Alignment.)
A consultant can play a vital role whose value relies on elements that are already present in the organization, and whose absence will likely make the effort moot.
- Digital openmindedness. A consultant can help you find a technology mix and an optimal configuration. It can even help you determine skill gaps among teachers and leaders. But a culture that fails to recognize the value of digital solutions is a nonstarter.
- A Core mission or Value Proposition (CVP). A consultant can “Align” daily action, plans, campaigns and programs in a way that they all contribute to the same global objective. But the effort can be wasted, or at least hard to account for, if they are not tallied in a common frame.
- Budget, financial and otherwise. As lean as an organization can be, there is a budget threshold under which initiatives cannot simply be secured and its outcomes might fail. Above this level, financial concerns step aside, and more critical issues about buy-in, relationships and leadership emerge. A consultant who is not seen as part of the team, who doesn’t seem to speak the same language, does not bode well for the odds of success of the project going forward.
Values all along
Let’s say you found your vendors, or mix thereof; your place in the ecosystem and the integrated solutions. And you found a knowledgeable ally that can help you make sens of what you have and where you want to go.
You might guess at where I’m going with this. The elearning journey is only beginning.
It would be like being content after having assembled a car. Yes, building it was a laudable effort of engineering and management. But don’t you want to take it for a spin?
This is a surprising crossroads the companies who are above average find themselves: What is all this digital maturity for? Should these advantages should be used for profit or impact? Is there a higher meaning, a way to share lessons farther out?