Learning Portals – The Build vs. Buy Dilemma

Why You Should Proceed With Caution When Planning Your Next Portal

By Mohana Radhakrishnan, VP Client Services, Expertus

Mohana Radhakrishnan, VP Client Services, Expertus

Mohana Radhakrishnan,
VP Client Services,

Recently, the chief learning officer of a major U.S. software company made one seemingly small tactical error that morphed into a horror story of massive proportions – for him and his company.

The terror began in one of those meetings with way too many attendees: the CLO, his learning executives, a few business line managers, some of the IT team and a vendor. All wanted to build a learning portal, which would (hopefully) solve the company’s biggest problem – a “shockingly unknowledgeable sales force.”

But 2 years and almost 1 million dollars later, their learning portal still hasn’t seen the light of day – and probably never will.

How did this happen?

  • The CLO and his IT team became deeply distracted by competing priorities…
  • This created chronic cost-overruns and development delays…
  • As a result, other mission-critical learning projects fell by the wayside.

In fact, the effectiveness of the company’s learning organization sank to a 10-year low! Which is why the CLO was eventually let go, and left wondering why his IT team (the people who recommended this custom-build “solution”) were left unfazed.

Is This Your Reality?

Yes, this real-life example is extreme. But you’d be surprised at how common this scenario is. Of course, the CLO doesn’t always get fired and the portal doesn’t always fail. But in too many instances, the decision to build a learning portal internally has come back to haunt almost everyone involved.

So What’s the Temptation?

It seems obvious that building a learning portal from scratch is an unnecessary endeavor – a poor allocation of risk and resources, and generally a bad idea. Why, then, does it keep happening? What’s the temptation?

Build or buy a learning portalThe “Gotchas”

The crux of the problem is the word “portal.” Often IT teams are able to successfully build corporate or business-unit portals with off-the-shelf solutions. However, getting a learning portal to interface with your existing LMS and other enterprise applications requires a much more sophisticated understanding of your underlying LMS technology, business rules and corporate learning drivers.

Here are a few tips that will help you avoid common “gotchas” that often derail custom learning portal projects.  So, how should you proceed?

Tip #1: Choose an Established Technology

There’s a significant learning curve in picking the technology that’s best for your custom learning portal and will stand the test of time. Many companies invest in standard IT portal technology, which may be out-of-date by project end.

In other cases, the selected technology simply doesn’t work well (i.e. exposing the data elements of a legacy LMS system) – or it doesn’t add any processing (“mini-application” intelligence) to the portal information – or it’s hard to work with, so the portal is cumbersome to build.

To improve your odds for success, you should choose established technology that is proven to work seamlessly in a learning environment. It should be flexible, scalable, and have a future-proofed infrastructure, so that you won’t have to rebuild your portal in 2-3 years.

Tip #2: Set a Realistic Budget and Timeline

Internal stakeholders are inclined to think it’s cheaper to build a portal in-house – but that’s because it’s difficult (if not impossible) to truly understand a learning portal project’s scope and complexity.

Build or Buy an LMS Whitepaper

Download the “Build or Buy” whitepaper

Supporting the learning department is usually not a top priority for IT. So, they tend to be a bit detached from its many nuances. The learning department, and other business owners, usually learn this the hard way when they uncover hidden costs, and must personally make a massive time commitment to oversee the project, themselves.

Sponsors often find themselves over their heads as they become responsible for creating an effective user interface, and developing requirements that reflect the intricacies of an enterprise LMS (typically deployed to multiple audiences).

To avoid this outcome, you need to see a working portal prototype before you buy into the solution. This way, you’ll know exactly what to expect, and you can rest assured that it can be implemented and deployed within a reasonable timeframe.

Tip #3: Don’t Lose Sight of Your Core Competency – Learning

This is often the most overlooked, and possibly the most critical “gotcha.”

In a custom portal development project, business unit owners and learning executives don’t realize how much of THEIR time will be consumed and how steep the learning curve can be. So, unfortunately, while they go through the tedious process of figuring out how to design a learning portal, they often lose sight of their “day job” and what’s mission-critical.

Note from Kathleen: Would you like to read more? Download the full “BUILD vs BUY” whitepaper – including the 5 Learning Portal Gotchas and the 8 Benefits of a Buy Decision.

Or, if you’d like to discuss your learning portal needs and questions, contact me anytime by email at: kathleenw@expertus.com.

Image Credit: Stock.xchng

One thought on “Learning Portals – The Build vs. Buy Dilemma

  1. Pingback: Learning Tech Innovation — Risky Business? (Part 2) | Learning In The Cloud

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