LMS and ISS: Interview with Dan Bennett


Dan Bennett, Group Learning & Development Manager, ISS Facility Services, is an L&D veteran who has worked in the education field for over a decade. At ISS Facility Services, Dan and his team manage online training and solution design for this leading facility services provider at a global level, to the tune of 500,000+ users worldwide across over 50 countries.

Dan’s experience includes the design and delivery of online and offline training, large-scale project management, and HR system strategy. His efforts at ISS have been recognised through global company awards and national accolades, including the Australian HRD Magazine and Australian HR Awards.

Prior to joining ISS, Dan has worked in the UK education system, spending a number of years as a Department Head and Director, where his love of education and teaching first developed. Dan has BA (Hons.) from University College Falmouth and has completed his post-graduate study at the University of Oxford.

His relationship with Learning Management Systems has been a rapid adjustment after moving from one side of the world to the other, and starting his career again in the Learning & Development sector after a number of years as a high school Department Head and Director. It’s been a quite a change, but Dan simply accepts that his students are now just a bit taller!

In a candid conversation with UpsideLMS, Dan shares his perspectives on Learning Management Systems; what users really need, what future-proofing learning/training means, and a word of advice for LMS providers.

Q: Which, according to you, are the must-have LMS features for a large enterprise organisation like ISS?

Dan: In a large organisation like ours, with a heavily decentralized, primarily front-line workforce working in many different service streams (including Security, Cleaning, Catering, Facility Management, Grounds Maintenance and more), an absolute must-have is a high level of flexibility. This could include being able to deliver and track the same piece of training in multiple ways (online and offline), managing multiple reporting lines and approval workflows, having the ability to customize the automatic assignment of training and being able to automate the provision of different levels of system access to large numbers of administrators, managers and end users. In particular, any LMS used by an operation of our scale (over half a million potential users) would need to be extremely robust and deliver excellent big data management and analytics. Ease of use is also key to ensuring the system embeds within the organisation, since the volume of e-learning being accessed and data being entered and reported upon is significant – if users and administrators are not having a good experience, they will let us know!

As the majority of our workforce (over 90%) are not office-based, the ability to access an LMS from a mobile, non-networked solution is crucial. This also means that compatibility is a top priority; delivering a feature set that only works on the latest technology is simply not practical in an environment where we rely on BYOD with older devices and operating systems in areas where connectivity may be poor.

From an end-user perspective, perhaps the most important requirement is not a feature as much as a design philosophy: if a user needs to be trained in how the system works, the design is not intuitive. This is particularly important when members of a user group may not necessarily be IT-literate and familiar with the standard interface icons and symbols that are instantly recognizable to regular app and website users. This means that the number of screens to navigate must be kept to an absolute minimum, and all system labels and signposting should be unambiguous and easy to understand.

Q: And the good-to-have?

Dan: From experience, the vendor’s ability (and willingness) to understand the operational needs of their client’s business can make the implementation and uptake of a new platform much more successful, especially if the vendor is also open to responding to these needs by exploring customization opportunities instead of delivering a standard product. While this may fly in the face of some SaaS delivery models, our organisation had researched and tested a number of LMS options before finding a vendor who was both willing to dedicate time and energy to really getting to understand what we were looking for in the LMS (rather than telling us what they thought we needed), and then tailoring and redesigning their system to deliver a product with a much closer fit to our business needs.

Another good-to-have feature – one which comes up regularly when discussing LMSs with Learning & Development specialists – is the capability of a system to help with cost management and the calculation of ROI on training. While the ROI for the LMS itself is more straightforward to quantify, particularly in areas where the LMS can be used to drive legislative compliance and mitigate legal and contractual risks, the ROI on specific pieces of training – especially in ‘softer’ skill areas like leadership development – is not always as easy to measure. While I am not suggesting an LMS should be able to achieve an instant ROI calculation, the capability of delivering quick and flexible cost reporting can help an organisation with their L&D analytics.

A greater number of organisations are also keen to treat their LMS as an extension of existing HR systems to help reduce the risk of people become fatigued and overwhelmed by a ‘too many systems’ dilemma, which continues to grow as a consequence of workplace systemisation. To this end, branding and customization is being treated as a higher priority; we look for more than simply being able to change the logo in the corner of the screen of a vendor’s pre-branded product. Consider custom interfaces, backgrounds, images and video – which could change depending on user category – or embedded feeds as a way to tie the LMS into an existing infrastructure and ecosystem without needing to reinvent the wheel (or provide an explanation for why another new system is being brought in).

Q.  Which are the new/innovative features to look out for in terms of future proofing your learning/ training program?

Dan: For our organisation, the key word for us is "mobility". When the number of users regularly sitting in front of desktop or laptop within an organisation like ours can be measured as a single-figure percentage, there is an expectation that any system delivered online should be fully mobile-friendly with a high level of device compatibility. This doesn’t necessarily mean creating and maintaining native mobile applications, since LMSs built with a responsive design can offer an equally good experience. While we all accept that technology evolves and the cycle of obsolescence seems to shorten with every new generation of technology (anyone who has a library of Flash content will be able to relate to this!), it often feels that future-proofing a learning platform involves looking backward as much as forward – nobody wants to be the person who introduced a new design or feature only to discover the 20% of your user base with the oldest equipment are suddenly unable to access the platform, especially in an environment where BYOD is becoming the norm.

This also means content needs to be designed from the ground up with mobile accessibility in mind. We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of design tools and vendors promoting their capability for responsive/adaptive options, and it has become a regular question raised with any vendor with whom we engage; while we always keep our intended audience for content in mind, including desktop users, lack of mobile capability can now be expected to raise eyebrows.

Another area where we see a growing appetite is a capability for offline completion of e-learning. This could take the form of users downloading a module when on company Wi-Fi (avoiding costs for personal data allowance on BYOD), offline completion at home, while commuting or when working at a location with no internet connection, such as a remote or underground area – then a synchronization of completion data when reconnected. The technical hurdles to implementing this are not insignificant, but the payoff is substantial.

This blog post is a part of UpsideLMS’ Guest Post series wherein the who’s who of eLearning, L&D and HR share their views, experience, insights on all things learning.