Let’s pose a hypothetical:

You are close to deciding on your LMS/LCMS, however you notice there are items or components or reports you want to include or have, but they are not available on your solution.  So, what do you do?

A. Nothing and just move forward figuring that it really doesn’t matter

B. Ask and see what can be done by the vendor – Customize it!

Customization can be a big deal when it comes to your LMS/LCMS for a simple fact, many of times what you are purchasing is “off the shelf” and comes with standard features, capabilities. Plus many vendors will include special “customized” options for you – and then tell you what they are – during your discussions or upon your final negotiations.

I want to stress that nearly every LMS/LCMS you purchase will include customization features for you and your company and/or identify that you can customize in your system – i.e. turn on/off options, change text headers, labels, etc.

But, what if you want an add-on function or capability or report that is not part of your system, but you really need it or want it?

For example, every LMS/LCMS system will come with “standard reports”.  But what if you want a report on data x and z with y, and it is not one of your “standard reports”?  Hello, customization!

Two Keys on Customization

1. Additional cost. It will cost you for customizations. Some vendors will charge you per customization. Maybe you need specific reports that are not currently available in your system (extra charge), maybe you want an e-commerce component and the vendor does not offer it (extra charge), etc.

2. Time. Every customization you include will extend your timeline/deadline for your system deliverable. Some vendors like to stretch this out, but for reports (depending on what you want), the data more often then not, already exists in the system database – so they merely have to create/generate a report that can pull that information for you and then integrate it into your system.

Yes I can Do it OR Maybe not…

Depending on what you are seeking in a customization, some vendors will tell you that it is either doable or not.  In some cases, if it is not doable because of their system’s capabilities, structure, functionality or services, you will need to make a decision. How important is that customization  important to your learning goals/objectives.  If it is very important — then read on!

Now, what if you do not want to walk away, but really want that customization option and your sales person really isn’t helping you out.  What can you do? What can you do?

Vendor Won’t Budge – But you really need that customization option!

If you are a client you do have the option – to ask to speak to the VP of sales or whoever is the Big Dog of sales, regarding that “must-have” customization component.

Talk to them and see what they can do with your system. Be polite though and do not get nasty. The greater the number of end users who are using the system or higher the number of customers or projected higher numbers will definitely help you, but there is no guarantee.  Always rave or think highly of your sales person, since you will have to deal with them after going this route. Trust me, there is no point in bashing your sales rep (unless they themselves are nasty to you) to the VP and then getting them in trouble and you are still using them.

Cost and Protect – U

Always get the cost upfront and have them send you an addendum or document, which includes the customization piece, total cost and a place where they sign and you sign. Then fax it back to them and keep a copy (make sure they sign it first). This becomes a key document, especially if there is a problem down the road. Some vendors will identify the projected number of days or weeks to complete the customization piece. If not, ask. An estimate is better than nothing at all, and again it will enable you to develop your project plan more effectively and efficiently as well hold them accountable.

Future Upgrade

Let me be honest here. I have worked at tech companies and fully understand the “future upgrade” angle.  “Future Upgrade” means in the future, which means it may be done at x date or y date or sometime in the future.  If it is going to include your special customized feature at x date, please be aware that the date they give you is a “projected” x date, not necessarily a guaranteed date.

Future Upgrade” is also a way out for your sales rep. (not all of them do this, mind you) to sell you on the system and say “yes, it is going to be done”.  Since, it is a “future upgrade” it leaves the door open, because at a later point you can say, “Oh, I thought you said it is in a future upgrade” and they can say, “Yeah, it was going to be, but they decided to hold off on that OR based on customer feedback it was not identified as a must need”.  If they tell you “future upgrade” ask them when? They should tell you either a projected date or that they don’t know.

Make them find out the information, rather than just push out the “future upgrade” angle. I can state that some sales reps, love to say “future upgrade”, just to avoid answering the question.

Open Source LMSs

Moodle and other open source LMSs: Yes, you can do any type of customization that you want with the systems, but please understand that when you choose to go “open source” LMS, you will need someone who has programming knowledge or skill sets and who can be a stakeholder in the system. Unless your administrator or perhaps yourself has programming skills such as CSS, DHTML, PHP, HTML, MYSQL, etc. – this can be a challenge.

Personally, I love open source and think it is absolutely wonderful – I use OS all the time. That said, I am not a fan of open source LMSs for the specific reasons of the programming dedication angle.

If there is a problem, that person has to be there ready to fix – and what happens if they are unavailable – do you have back up? Often, people at companies do not have a back up person who knows the coding nor can be dedicated time wise in their work schedules to make the fixes or issues that come up, in reasonable amount of time.

Final Thought

When it comes to full upgraded functionality that is not part of your system or a report that you need that is unavailable as part of your system, customization will come into play. Unless you ask, you will never know if it can be done or not by the vendor.  If you have two vendors in mind, ask both them about your specific requests that you need (assuming that neither system includes it as part of it). Then find out who is your true LMS partner!

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