Moving from an On-premise LMS to a SaaS LMS: Key Considerations


Chatting with an industry analyst, recently, about UpsideLMS, I was asked about the 1M+ users that we serve worldwide. No brainer that. Having been a part of the UpsideLMS team for over 8 years, I know almost all our clients and their use cases like the back of my hand. So I was happy to share the stats on the user-base: ~90% on Cloud and remaining 10% on-premise. I went on to explain that the latter are our clients from our pre-SaaS LMS. Prior to this (since our inception in 2004), we offered our proprietary Learning Management System as a behind-the-firewall implementation. It's only post January 2013, that UpsideLMS has been available as a Cloud-hosted LMS (which, BTW can be deployed on-premise too, based on the criticality of the requirement).

But this post is not about choosing between a Hosted and a Behind-the-firewall LMS. It's the analyst's next question that followed that compelled me to write this blog post.

"How do you help your on-premise clients move to the cloud?"

Here's my answer.

In most cases, the client recognizes the advantages of a Cloud-based LMS over an in-house hosted one, making the switch (if moving from another LMS to a new SaaS LMS)/ upgrade (if continuing with the same LMS vendor) easy. Sometimes, even though the pros might be glaring and significant, it's the nature of the industry/ sensitive nature of the training content on the platform/ policies, amongst other things, that deter a company from changing its existing LMS model. But if you find yourself in the first boat, wanting to make a move, below are some key considerations that will help you to transition successfully from a Hosted LMS to a SaaS, Cloud-based LMS.

1. LMS: Isolated or Integrated?

In today's technology-driven world, a software rarely can work in isolation. With productivity being a key objective for all automation, it's important to consider if the LMS needs to talk to other business systems – ERP, HRMS, Performance Systems, Authentication systems, etc. Integration can be achieved through the Internet by using LMS' (and/or another system’s) web services without a compromise on the functionality.

Before you upgrade your LMS to the SaaS version/ switch to a new one, think of if and how the LMS will exchange data with other systems. Most good Learning Management Systems have ready API and Integration libraries, which make the handshake easy and time- and cost-effective. So talk to the vendor and get the required documentation beforehand to avoid last minute surprises.

2. Consider your Security Considerations

'Security' of data and other intellectual elements is a critical aspect of all L&D programs. However, with the increase in data security breaches and ransom ware attacks worldwide, business are reluctant to share their data with LMS vendors, a key characteristic of Cloud-hosted Learning Management Systems that host all client data on the vendor purchased cloud servers. This is more pronounced in highly-regulated industries (and some geographies too). However, most good SaaS LMSes today offer high security owing to their architecture, adherence to security protocols and OWASP methodologies, physical separation of the database, etc., which reduces the switching/ upgrading barrier for businesses.

It then helps to upgrade/ switch to an LMS vendor that allows a Hybrid SaaS model i.e one which gives a choice between Cloud Hosting and On-premise Hosting, and also between dedicated LMS instance and shared LMS instance. More about this here.

3. Data, Content and Customer Migration

When moving from a behind-the-firewall implemented LMS to a Cloud-based one from a different vendor, Migration becomes the most critical piece of the switching process. (Plz note: In case of upgrading to a SaaS LMS from the same vendor, data migration comes in play too, however the level and depth of migration is relatively lesser compared to the switch case). While implementing a new LMS is critical, the key challenge lies in being able to migrate all data - including content and customer - from your current LMS to the new LMS with zero-loss. Given that the two systems would have completely different databases and different workflows, this component of the switching process is a real challenge and needs to planned and scoped in detail and with careful deliberation.

Here are two articles that can help you with your migration planning and implementation - 2 Critical Factors Of LMS Switching and Seven Tips for an Easy and Effective LMS Switch.

4. Don't forget IT

The control of on-premise LMSes largely reside with the IT team of the company. However this changes completely with the SaaS model, as the entire hosting and maintenance is handled by the LMS vendor.

For organizations with IT teams handling and (partly) owning the LMS functioning, aspects like disaster recovery management, ownership of the LMS, etc. need to be discussed and informed to the respective team(s) before the switch/ upgrade. It also helps to understand the entire maintenance and upgrade process from the LMS vendor to avoid delays in upgrades in the long run.

5. Account for Un-learning and Re-learning

There is a strong possibility that the new (SaaS) version of the LMS, even if from the same vendor, has undergone a major transformation (for better) in terms of its UI, navigation, and workflows. So for all users accustomed to the primitive/ pre-SaaS versions of the learning platform, it's crucial to let go of their earlier knowledge and be open to absorbing the new. Needless to say, users (learners, admin, instructors, etc. that actually use the LMS) need to unlearn in order to move forward alongside their company so they can move ahead, work more effectively, and further the company’s mission.

Ask for training sessions, how-to videos and guides, FAQs from the vendor, which can help people to go through the un-learning and re-learning process better. Setting up support desks that provide instant help as and when needed are a great addition too.

If you carefully consider the above, you will find that going pro-SaaS has sure shot advantages that you cannot ignore. Yes, it is involves a couple of steps and considerations, but keeping the guidelines in mind while doing so, ensures the end result is positive and the process will be less intimidating and confusing.

I’d love to hear from people who have been on both sides of the table – vendors who helped their customers move from a non-SaaS to a SaaS LMS and customers who have been through this cycle of switching/ upgrading to a Cloud-based LMS.