If you are looking into eLearning solutions, you already know how vital regular, software-based training is for the success of your organization. But at the same time, understanding that fact is only the first step toward building online training modules that actually help your employees. The next step is finding the right learning management software for your needs. In your search for an online training platform, you will have to make a significant choice early on: SaaS, or Custom? This article will guide you through the various factors you need to consider to find a platform that will be the best fit for your needs (and your budget).

Understanding SaaS Learning Solutions

SaaS, short for Software as a Service, has become a buzzword across industries in recent years. The idea is to run a software platform that you don’t have to host, instead of paying a monthly subscription fee for cloud access to an existing solution. Think of it as a car lease: rather than buying (and being responsible for) the platform outright, you take a vehicle the dealership gives you and act as its steward for the duration of the contract. In many ways, SaaS LMS act the same way.

The Pros and Cons of SaaS Learning Management Systems

The SaaS-based LMS is designed to achieve a variety of benefits for your business: 

  • Cost effectiveness. The monthly subscription cost of SaaS solutions tends to be lower than the initial fee and ongoing maintenance costs of a customized LMS solution and is typically billed on user-tier basis—meaning you only have to pay for what you use. If you opt to build or buy a custom LMS, there isn’t typically a cost advantage for having less usage on the platform.
  • External hosting. The software will not be hosted on your own server, which means that you will not be responsible for its security, performance, or reliability. Issues such as downtimes or slow loads are managed by the provider instead. This can take the pressure off of your internal IT team.
  • Maintenance and updates. Software becomes outdated, bugs are found, and users report issues. Any software needs to be updated, and for SaaS solutions, these updates are part of the contract. Put simply, your platform will remain updated for the length of the contract. With a custom LMS solution, these updates may not be regular or even available at all.
  • Fast implementation. Because SaaS learning management systems are pre-built, implementation tends to be fast. It’s not unheard of to stand up a workable eLearning solution for your employees within a couple of weeks.

However, don’t underestimate the drawbacks of this option. SaaS platforms have become undeniably popular in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that they are the best fit for every organization. In many circumstances, the SaaS-based options available don’t meet all the business needs for the organization, in which case a custom LMS is a better alternative.

The Benefits of a Custom LMS

What training needs does your organization have? Chances are that they will be different than those of other businesses, even within your industry. As their name suggests, custom learning management systems allow you to address these issues and optimize your online training platform specifically for your needs. These customizations can come in a variety of forms. For instance, you can fully customize the look and feel of your LMS so that it appears as if it’s an extension of your corporate website. You might also want functionality that SaaS offerings don’t include—requiring you to add additional capabilities to the system or create a home-grown LMS that includes the functionality that you need. The same concept also extends to the delivery of your training modules. Custom solutions allow you to both determine how the content is delivered and how your learners can access it. Depending on your audience, you may find webinars, live video coaching, or other methods to be most effective. Increasingly, companies also move toward non-traditional work environments in which employees don’t work in a centralized office. In that case, your LMS may need to be easily accessible remotely, and especially on mobile devices. Customizing your solution to address these needs becomes vital. Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of relevant integrations. SaaS solutions can be integrated with some content, social media, and analytics systems your company already uses. But if your existing platforms are not on that list, you may need a custom solution that can build the integration bridge for more seamless training capabilities.

Which Learning Management Solution is Right for Your Needs?

Ultimately, the answer to that question comes down to three variables: budget, time frame, and IT capabilities. In a vacuum, and given the above benefits, a custom LMS is undeniably preferable to its SaaS alternative. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean it’s right for every situation. Having every feature under the sun won’t help you in the long run if you don’t have a way of maintaining those features, or paying for their development. Budget naturally makes an impact. Building a custom platform will cost more, especially initially—making it difficult to afford for some smaller businesses. In that case, you may need to trade a truly optimized solution for more basic functionality and get an LMS for small business. The time frame of implementation also matters. A custom LMS takes time to build, and if your organization does not have that time, an alternative may be necessary. The short implementation time needed for most SaaS LMS solution will mean less customization, but a quicker way to get your trainees started. Finally, your own companies IT capabilities should be a major decision factor. If you have the resources and expertise to maintain and update a custom solution, the long-term costs could potentially be lower than expected after the initial fee to build. These capabilities, of course, can be difficult to acquire, though they are vital for secure and reliable software operation. Or you could go with a solution that, while maintained externally, still comes with the customization options you need to truly optimize your training. From integration assistance to consistent branding, Knowledge Anywhere’s Enterprise LMS can be the solution for your needs.

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