E-learning: supplier selection

Here we look at how to go about choosing a supplier, how to ensure you’re making the right decision and what to do once you have selected your e-learning provider.

  1. Research the market and look for suppliers with a good track record in your sector.


  2. Invite a few suppliers to visit you. Quiz them about their offerings­ – ask a representative of your IT department to attend, and to submit questions to the suppliers.


  3. Ask counterparts at organisations similar to your own for advice.


  4. Tell suppliers about your IT infrastructure and ask if that creates difficulties.


  5. Know your budget and share that with suppliers – some will only do large-scale jobs, say £40,000 plus per year.


  6. Put the project out to tender, desribing your e-learning needs, IT infrastructure and projected number of users and locations.


  7. Give a cut-off date for tendering.


  8. Ask for a demonstration to be created if it is a high-value job.


  9. Give details of your Learning Management System (LMS) – this is a key ingredient for e-learning systems.


  10. Establish criteria for selection – a tick-box list is common for IT projects.


  11. Ask for customer references.


  12. E-learning is a long-term commitment – look for flexibility in a supplier.

Supplier vetting

Once you have a shortlist of potential suppliers, you should:

  • Ask for a breakdown of costs
  • Check the supplier’s background and financial position
  • Ask how much they invest in technology and development
  • Ask who will staff the project
  • Ask what assurances they can give that service will be first class
  • Ask what back-up provision they have
  • Ask for assurances they can provide the content you want in the forms you want.

“Financial stability is particularly apposite at the moment. If you are entering into a long-term agreement, you need to know that your potential partner is sound”, says Kevin Young, general manager EMEA, SkillSoft.


Advice from a supplier

“Before entering into a contract with an e-learning provider, all organisations should take three extremely important issues into consideration: strategy, performance and relationship building. They should then ask themselves the following questions:

  • To what particular business stakes do they wish to correlate their e-learning strategy?
  • What are the project’s KPIs?
  • Is my supplier capable of being my partner for the next five years?”

Mickaël Ohana, head of business development and strategy, CrossKnowledge

This is where the hard work begins. You must agree a project plan with an agreed timetable and milestones. You must also decide on the detail of the content to be provided. And you will need a service level agreement (SLA) that specifies what you expect from the supplier on a continuing basis and who is responsible for what. The more the supplier is responsible for – such as maintaining 24/7 service and access – the more it will cost you. But IT provision is complex and costly and the more the supplier looks after, the better for you.

Service level agreements (SLAs)

SLAs are an esssential part of any an e-learning deal. They specify what the client expects the supplier to deliver in its fulfilment of the contract. They must be negotiated upfront. Features include:

  • What services and content will be supplied
  • What will not be included
  • How service will be measured
  • How performance data will be reported
  • Conflict-resolution procedures
  • Descriptions of priorities and responsibilities
  • Definition of level of service, such as response times
  • The penalties that the supplier will incur if they fall short of the agreement
  • 24/7 service guarantee

And make sure the supplier agrees, in the SLA, to provide usage data on a regular basis. Senior management may wish to see this information.

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