Special Post – Why the Big Four are not on my latest Top 10 LMS List

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Since my Top 10 list of LMS vendors has been posted online, I have received quite a bit of e-mail wondering why the biggest names: Cornerstone On Demand, Saba, SumTotal and SuccessFactors are not on the list.

A LMS should first be a LMS

When I talk about a LMS, I am saying specifically a learning management system and the vendors themselves should see their own product first and foremost as a LMS, not as a TM/PM or whatever.  You can have TM features – regardless if it is an add-on or included (turn on/off), but it shouldn’t really be the core.

Best Selling doesn’t mean the Best

There is a wide assumption that if a product sells a lot it means that it is better than anyone else.  Yet if you look at the marketplace of any consumer product you will see that is not always the case.

The car company Honda is listed as a best seller. But can you tell me it is a better made product than BMW, which has less sales than Honda?

From a general product standpoint, go take a look at Amazon.com or Consumer Reports. You will always find products that are not well known yet receive rave reviews or “best buy”.

How many times do you go into your local supermarket and compare the generic version X to the brand name?  How many times do you go with the Brand name because of the name itself?   There are plenty of generic products that are equal or superior to the brand. 

You might be surprised at the number of generic products actually made by the same brand name – but white labeled.  Yet, for many of us, we still see generic as less superior to its brand name counterpart.

Branding and name recognition will boost sales – that is why marketing and advertising is so important in any industry. If your product is better known it is more likely to do well than if product X is not well known. 

Think about it.  Do you own a product that isn’t well known to your friends?  I know I do.  Heck, I bet you have products that you love and are not well known to the masses.

2012 Lists

In my final 2012 list, SuccessFactors actually appeared as number six, but I stated the following, “Their product is more geared towards a human capital management system, especially with the BizX Suite”…. “I want to be very clear on this – as a standalone LMS I would not go with them, but as a human capital management system (HCM), I would.”

The Latest

I viewed a SuccessFactors presentation – put on by the company to me and saw that they listed their platform as a human capital management system (it appeared on a slide). 

I have always seen then as talent/performance management platform which was becoming more of a HCM and this only re-confirmed it.  Plateau is long gone and buried and people should realize that.

SuccessFactors UI itself is slick and it offers a very nice extended enterprise (which is noted in my last blog post), but if I was to post a list of top ten LMS vendors they would not be there – reason? See above.


“While the pricing is outrageous and the Saba as a whole seems better suited as a HCM, their learning suite is a better alternative than those who want Cornerstone OnDemand.”  They were listed number 20 in 2012.


A few years back I had a call with Saba and in the call they told me that 63% of their customers were using their platform as a talent and performance management system and not as a LMS.  I recall that in the past year with them, the numbers of people who used them as a pure LMS were in the same range if not a bit lower.


I have some real concerns on what is taking place with Saba today. They are being sued by shareholders due to alleged financial irregularities and were delisted by NASDAQ – although they still appear in the pink sheets (OTC). 

Their own accounting firm,  Ernst & Young LLP, announced they would resign following the completion of the restatement by Saba.

If you go and review their net income for 2011 you will see they were negative seven million dollars. What about 2012 you say?

“On March 28, 2012 the company announced a delay in releasing its earnings for its fiscal third quarter 2012, “to allow the Company additional time to complete an internal review of the accounting treatment of certain international transactions.”” (Empowered News)

Granted this is not tied to the LMS per se, but still I would have serious reservations about buying their product.

Cornerstone On Demand

It is one of the worst UIs I have ever seen and I see them more as a HCM anyway.  But if you have any doubts on why they are not in my Top 20 read my product review.  Cornerstone On Demand Review


Oh where to begin. Another example of an over inflated platform (IMO) whose name recognition is what drives them to big numbers. 

Or better yet, let me provide you with some details

  • Service and support is lackluster
  • Back end UI is confusing and not user friendly
  • Look at their product lines:  SumTotal Talent (uh, Talent/PM), SumTotal Work (includes Payroll), SumTotal elixHR (HR), SumTotal Learn – okay, three are HR/OD related and one is pure learning. 
  • Their own mini description under their name in Google, “The only HR vendor to offer a complete portfolio which includes; talent, learning, workforce, payroll, analytics, mobile and social delivered via SaaS, on-premise..”  

For us training purists and I know there are plenty of us out there – HR is not the same as training and at many companies those who run training would fight tooth and nail to not be under HR.  Nothing against HR but it is not the same as a pure training/learning department.

Bottom Line

I can’t tell you the number of people who are always surprised at the number of LMS vendors in the marketplace – and this includes other LMS vendors. 

While these four win awards from some of the bigger names in the industry – it doesn’t mean they are the best, in everyone’s eyes.

Because frankly, they’re not.

E-Learning 24/7


  1. Craig, I respect your opinions and appreciate your blog. One thing regarding Cornerstone OnDemand (CSOD), it appears that most customers don’t agree with you. I have had the opportunity to interface with hundreds of customers, as recent as last week, and the feedback is uniformly positive. The functionality and feature-rich platform is clearly regarded as best in class. That feedback is consistent for the LMS as well as its Performance Management modules. Even more exciting, is the early feedback on its recruiting module is very strong. Moreover, customer service, implementations and overall system performance get top marks. Certainly also important variables when considering a purchase decision.
    Admittedly, the feedback on the UI was good but not as strong as the other aspects of the suite. However, the company has publically stated that it will be unveiling a much improved UI in June, which most customers are excited about. At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. There is a reason why CSOD has been growing at 60% a year since inception including very strong growth at the start of 2013. 11mm users and growing certainly says it all! I hope you take an objective, fresh look at its new UI in June, Id be interested in hearing your thoughts. Thank you, Ken

    1. Ken,

      One thing you can always be guaranteed is that I am 100% independent and thus objective. My goal isn’t to punish the big four or on the flip side give them rave reviews if it is not justified.

      When Cornerstone updates their UI, I am willing to do a product review – but it will be up to them on whether they will want that or not.

      And would they be willing to do it without any type of restrictions.

      If yes, then I am all on board.

  2. Thanks Craig that’s great to know and I really appreciate hearing that, all the best, Ken

  3. If you need Learning AND Talent AND Performance, it makes no sense to not consider the vendors who have a unified platform. And that’s not just my opinion, it’s one shared by people like Thomas Otter, recently of Gartner. Learning is not and end in itself and so why not have a PM or TM tool which doesn’t have Learning as the core? In the case of two of the missing “top 4”, their apps started in the learning space – does it really matter if 63% of Saba customers use it for Performance or Talent?
    I have a foot in both camps – Learning and Technology – there is already too much back end integration going on that to suggest a stand alone LMS is a preferred position would not cut much ice with any large Corporate that I know or have worked with.

    On those occasions where a stand alone solution might be the answer, then I think you probably have a better knowledge than most on the smaller LMS only vendors – which of course, has it place.

    1. Couple of notes.

      a. Based on what I have seen the vast majority of corporate customers still are seeking a LMS only – which is one of the reasons the LMS market is not anywhere near dead. I mean over 560 LMSs today and growing says something.

      Heck, a huge growth market are training providers/firms selling to other businesses or channel partners. Guess what? They are seeking only LMSs – but they want a multi-tenant and e-commerce.

      I had a client who has over 100,000 users (and growing) and they are in the B2B and B2C space. They specifically stated they only wanted a LMS and did not want any LMS that had performance/talent management components – regardless if they were included or not.

      Trust me there are plenty, plenty more out there like that.

      1. A different view just in from leading European consultancy http://www.elearnity.com/EKCLoad.html?load=ByKey/DWIN97JC78 who found “For many respondents, there is a clear focus on the delivery of global solutions through the use of one common platform.”.
        It doesn’t make any sense at all to be saying “because you also have a Talent/Performance module, which we are not buying, then we will not buy an LMS from you either”.

      2. Well, that is what I have seen. And BTW there are a lot of analysts firms out there and while I totally respect eLearninty – I know David Wilson personally, that is their take. Mine is different. I mean some folks love Bersin and their take, doesn’t mean they are wrong – but that is their perspective.

        If you or whomever trusts their analysis over someone else – that’s cool. That is why we are not robots nor clones. Every person gets to think for themselves – and I believe that is what you would want to do.

        Maybe I’m wrong, but again – that is just one perspective.

  4. Craig, I certainly have to go along with much of your SumTotal commentary. I do have to note that they have come a huge distance on the service and support issue. We open problems and are now getting call backs within minutes and hours with useful and actionable information. In the past that would have been measured in days and the information would have limited utility.

  5. Great list. And it makes sense. Just because you product sells, doesn’t necessarily mean it is quality. A lot of the times people are looking for a deal, which is fine but the deal needs to involve a quality product. I think an alternative option to proprietary is open source. A lot of the time, the cost ends up being a lot less than proprietary and the customer of open source still get quality and has a lot more flexibility.

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