If you selected a vendor, did they mention the maintenance aspect to you? Did you request specific information about maintenance schedules, contact requirements and issues? What about maintenance times?
If you have not selected a vendor, then the above questions are what we will address in today’s article, because you will have maintenance from your provider and without assurances on certain items, your employees/customers will be upset, your administrator (if you have one) will be irritated and frankly you will be taking some heat.
What is Maintenance?
LMS maintenance occurs when the vendor needs to update or make enhancements or minor fixes to your LMS. The maintenance aspect occurs in a “shotgun” approach, that is everyone who has the same LMS as you do (i.e. the core and not customized or branded) receives the same maintenance. The maintenance may come in a “package” (everything is in the package) which is downloaded into your system OR in a series of tweaks downloaded in your system. I repeat – every customer who has that LMS, receives the same maintenance.
When does it occur – Time?
Ahh, the bonus! Maintenance SHOULD occur at night – after midnight – when end users are unlikely to be on the system. If your vendor does their maintenance during work hours or early evening hours – and you allow your end users access at home – then you WILL run into problems. The goal is limit disruption to your end users, so a late night – some vendors start at 10 p.m. (which is fine, as well) is the route to go.
As for days of the week – ideally the weekend – preferably Sunday, if it can be done. Typically maintenance is setup automatically, that is the vendor sets a scheduled time in their system to download the “package” or set tweaks into the LMS, so automation, and thus no one has to be there at their location. Again, limit disruption to your end users.
Downtime – Your system is Off-Line
How long will your LMS be off-line, which means that your system will be inaccessible to your end users during the maintenance. Make sure to ask this question, each time there is maintenance on your solution. If they do an overnight, maintenance is typically the entire overnight – six hours or so, depending on what they are doing. Thus, by 7 a.m. your system should be up and running.
If they are doing maintenance in the evening hours, say between 6-10 p.m. as their starting time or during the day, it is crucial you know the downtime. Again, you want minimal disruption to your end users. There is nothing worse then an offline system, your end users can’t access it and who are they going to call and complain to? YOU. If it is your customers, they may not complain, they just may not come back.
Schedule – Get your Schedule!
You want to make sure that your vendor provides you a schedule of when they plan to do maintenance on your LMS. Now, they cannot give you a maintenance plan for months in advance, but they can give you notification at least one week in advance of their maintenance. This will give you enough time to send out an email to your end users regarding downtime for the system. I do not recommend telling your end users what modifications, tweaks, fixes, whatever your vendor will be doing in the LMS, nor go into a detailed explanation of why the system is offline. A good response is to say, that you are adding enhancements to “whatever you call it” to improve their learning experience or something along those lines.
Maintenance is Finished..uh oh… LMS we have a problem
In the unlikely event, that after maintenance you find out there are problems with your system – new errors, things do not work, etc. – you should have a game plan (ahead of time) of what you will do.
1. Contacting your vendor – your point of contact (the person they assigned to you). They often will have you call tech support, who will color code you (at their location) depending on the severity. My philosophy has always been, if it is a serious issue and my end users are having serious problems and it is a result of their maintenance, then my point of contact is getting the call and they will get involved. You want someone at high level in tech support at that point and not the person who picks up the phone. BTW: This is very important. Sometimes, people do this first before #2, but it all depends on when you find out this happened. Thus, I often do #2 first, then make a call – #1.
2. Notification to your end users that they may run into some issues with the system. “Please be aware that we are working on it and will have it fixed as soon as possible”. I like using that message and approach. Easy to understand and will significantly reduce end users contacting you. You should have the email prepared ahead of time and stored so you can send it when needed or have the text saved, so you can cut/paste and blast out the email. I am not a fan of calling the “LMS” the “LMS” to the end users or the system or the learning management system, etc. Call it: XYZ college, ZYZ community, whatever, but try to avoid the jargon – it will only confuse your end users. Putting in your email, about the learning management system (and calling it that), will create problems for you, and who needs that?
3. Questions. How will your administrator or if it is yourself that is overseeing the LMS (and you do not have an administrator) going to follow-up or handle the maintenance errors? In other words, what is your plan of action? How do you want the vendor to follow up with you? Email? Phone? When do you want updates of what is being done to solve this issue and timeline (if they know)? End of the day updates? What if the vendor’s tech person says they will call you back by end of business and you do not hear back from them. Who do you follow up with? Them? Your point of contact? Both – in an email? What if the fix is going to take a few days, do you have a response you can provide to your end users if they call? You want the message to be on target, polite but consistent, while the solution is being fixed.
Vendor Negotiations and Maintenance
Always ask upfront with your vendor (in the selection phase or if you already have them on board), regarding maintenance of LMS systems. Within the maintenance do you receive updates for the LMS, i.e. new features and capabilities? Is this included in your contract at no additional cost? What about tech support and maintenance issues, does this cost extra to call tech support (this only applies to those vendors who charge you a fee to call their tech support)? If this is the case, you want it for free – including email inquiries.
Next week’s topic: Multi-year contracts – How to cut costs, maximize investment for you and your company